Book of the Day – Book Guardians Aotearoa is starting a new occasional series of writing about important books that are or were in the National Library’s Overseas Published Collection, explaining why they are important and should be retained.

Readers who come to this website and want to contribute their own book of the day ‘review’ – please get in touch. (Word limit – 400 words.)

Book of the Day

# 1a

6 October 2021

Social Science and the Ignoble Savage by Ronald L. Meek

Anyone interested in the history of humanity (which includes New Zealanders of any and all ethnic and national origins, who are all humans, last time I looked) will be looking forward to reading the latest take on how and why we got from the social, political and economic arrangements of 100,000 to 10,000 years ago, and so on to contemporary arrangements under which the majority of species on Earth (including humans) are not flourishing, and are suffering over-exploitation on a global scale.

That book – out in October 2021 – is The Dawn of Everything: A New History of Humanity
by the late American anthropologist David Graeber and the British archaeologist David Wengrow. I have been keen to read it ever since watching their presentation The Myth of the Stupid Savage: Rousseau’s Ghost and the Future of Political Anthropology given at the University of Amsterdam in May 2019. In it they talk about the origins of ideas taken up by European colonists from Native Americans in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But wait! Hasn’t someone already written about this? Wasn’t it a New Zealand economist, based at the University of Leicester, UK? And didn’t I already discover that Social Science and the Ignoble Savage by Ronald L. Meek, first published by Cambridge University Press in 1976 and republished by C.U.P. in 2011, has been thrown out of the National Library of New Zealand, along with works by a number of other New Zealand authors who happen to have been published overseas.

Anthropologists take economics seriously, but an economist who looks at current economic arrangements and their origins through an anthropological lens is a rare thing, so I really want to read Meek’s book alongside Graeber and Wengrow’s book. Since neither book meets the National Library’s new ‘smug hermit kingdom’ guidelines for book retention and purchasing, I’m not expecting to see Meek reinstated, or Graeber and Wengrow purchased. So my options are to persuade the local public library to buy the books (currently retailing on-line at $52 for Meek and $60 for Graeber and Wengrow – how good are my chances of success there?) or cough up the money myself. But really – shouldn’t a national library worth the name include important books like these in its collection and retention policies?

Christine Dann (writer and researcher)

Read more about Ron Meek here

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