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Like the well-known Battle-Axe People (1968) and New Worm Beginnings (1971) this is, on its face, a breathtaking accomplishment. Clearly Vlahos has immersed herself in the anthropological literature and her grand sweep, from paleolithic beginnings to present-day remnants of hunting, gathering, and herding peoples, is packed with the fascinating observations of field researchers and scholars. Yet, as a survey for beginners, this has its share of faults. The first is Vlahos' style, which is coy and tortuous by turns. (Of discoveries proving that homo sapiens existed longer ago than we once thought, she says, ""The human span on earth began a lengthening process that still shows no sign of slowing."") Nor are linguistic groupings and apparent word borrowings ever made meaningful to the reader despite Vlahos' obvious interest in them. Accounts of nomadic peoples are often superficially romanticized and are curiously selective: there are pages on the Senoi, but no mention of their well-known interest in dream analysis. And the author's authoritative manner often gives undue weight to what is essentially offhand speculation--on, say, connections among Mongol belief in the mystical significance of the number three, the Christian trinity, and the modern superstition against three on a match. We're sympathetic to the undertaking and tempted by Vlahos' coverage of so much specialized and intriguing source material, but we caution that the parts, on close inspection, turn out to be a good deal less impressive than the whole.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1976
Publisher: Viking