and Other Stories of Cultures in Conflict
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An anthropologist’s collection of essays formed at the tectonic plates of colliding cultures. Most of the pieces here, expanded from their first appearance in Natural History magazine, involve Europeans and the New World cultures they encountered. Wilson (Anthropology/Univ. of Texas, Austin) conveys the excitement of his field work in such passages as his description of excavating a 2,000-year-old Midwest storage pit and fitting his hand into the handprint of the original digger. The essays are largely engaging, and the book underscores just how rich the half-millennium since Columbus has been in inter-cultural contact. Wilson opens with four articles on Columbus himself, asserting against the common belief that the explorer died neglected and penniless that in fact Columbus died rich and married off his son to an aristocratic family. Another bit of myth-busting involves the benign Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth Colony and their interpreter, Squanto. It seems, writes Wilson, that Squanto used his European contacts to extort wealth from the fearful natives, and the warm and fuzzy Thanksgiving Day feast to celebrate racial harmony may be a historical turkey. European exploration and colonization remains a central theme; one essay debates the Viking-Eskimo discovery of North America. The title piece concerns a Ming dynasty explorer who in 1414 led a fleet of “62 massive trading galleons, any of which could have held Columbus’ three small ships on its decks.”Yes, there was a giraffe (from modern-day Kenya) that made its way to the Chinese court by way of Bengal. Other essays of note explore the cultural mix of refugees in the Caribbean islands and the reactions of Native Americans who appreciate the ancient artifacts that archeologists recover but disdain their grave robbing. A fine anthropological read and another spade of dirt tossed on the coffin of Eurocentrism.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-8133-3585-X
Page count: 256pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 2000