Sunday, August 9, 2009

Anthropology for Dummies

Anthropology for Dummies: From Archaeology to Linguistics -- Your Plain-English Guide to the Study of Humankind
© 2008 Cameron Smith with Evan T. Davies
360 pages

"The human species has found many ways to be human." - p. 259

I don't think I've commented on a for Dummies or Complete Idiot's Guide book on here before, although I posses perhaps a dozen of them, all history-related. I've found them to be useful guides for finding out general information and they serve nicely as introductions to subjects I know little about. Although some people do not take them seriously, the television show Jeopardy! has shelves of them in their library: take that as you will.

This book follows the pattern of most for Dummies books: it is highly organized for readers looking for specific chapters and sections, written in an informal matter (the author referring to himself with "I" and to the reader with "you") that incorporates joking statements and witty section titles ("My Career is in Ruins" covers archaeology, for instance), and ends with two "Top Ten" chapters. One contains the top ten things the reader must remember about anthropology if nothing else, and the other contains the top ten movies and books with an anthropological theme, including one of my favorites, Carl Sagan's Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors. The impersonal and simple language make the book easy to read through, although some readers may object to the author offering personal opinions that may not be warranted. (A case can be made for the author referring to the most probable of hypothetical situations, but there were other instances in which I didn't think his opinions had place in the text. This may be personal taste, however.)

Given the book's subject - anthropology being the study of humankind here -- there's a lot to cover. Anthropology and the book incorporate history, linguistics, biology and evolution specifically, sociology, sociological theory, economics, agriculture, religion, and more. Dr. Smith's own speciality seems to have been archaeology, but he explains the other disciplines well, too. Before "The Part of Tens", which is a hallmark of the for Dummies book, Smith ends the book proper with a chapter on how anthropology can be used to inform and plan public policy. I enjoyed the experience, found it helpful to read about the development of the field itself, and may purchase it in the future for my own library. It's a recommendation to those interested in the included subjects or humanity in general.

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