Book of the Week: Savage Harvest – Carl Hoffman

Usually I post books trailers at the bottom of my reviews but in this case 90 seconds of video might be worth a thousand words.

The author’s breathless narration captures the sense of drama he brings to this story of the death of 23-year-old Michael Rockefeller in primitive New Guinea. The son of millionaire New York State Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Michael was a Harvard graduate student on an expedition to collection primitive art in New Guinea when he disappeared in 1961. For over 50 years, his disappearance has been an unsolved mystery with the most lurid speculation suggesting that he was eaten by cannibals. Hoffman feels he’s solved a mystery that involves cover ups by both the Dutch government and the Catholic Church. As compelling as the disappearance itself is, three starred advance reviews point out that Hoffman’s research and writing are what really make the book a thrill ride.

Publicity starts with NPR’s Weekend Edition w/Jackie Lyden on March 15. The book will be an April Indie Next pick and review coverage kicks off with an NPR/Fresh Air interview the week of on sale along with reviews in the NYTBR, Chicago and Tribune WSJ. This one seems bound for the bestseller lists.

Death by drowning was the official finding, but rumors of a far more horrific fate persisted. After arduous sojourns among the enigmatic Asmat, Hoffman came to understand how their ancient cosmology was enacted through ‘reciprocal violence,’ headhunting, and cannibalism. He also realized just how risky Rockefeller’s buying spree was, given the bloody conflicts raging between the Asmat and the Dutch colonial authorities, and how little the novice collector knew about the spiritual significance of the art he was acquiring, including monumental works on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. By dint of grueling fieldwork, startling archival discoveries, revelatory visits with a Dutch missionary relieved to break his 50-year silence, profound insights, and muscular writing, Hoffman tells the unforgettable story of a soothing and politically expedient cover-up and a brutal and tragic collision of cultures.”
Booklist (starred review)

“In an expertly told tale that is begging for a film adaptation, Hoffman travels to the area to speak with members of the Asmat tribe, hoping to gain insight about their practices and complex social structure. By understanding how a possibly unrelated event—the slaughter of a handful of Asmat men by a panicked Dutchman years earlier—led to Rockefeller’s death, Hoffman shows readers the larger picture, and the ways this tragic event had terrible consequences for Rockefeller as well as the tribe….Hoffman crafts a remarkable, balanced examination of this sensational case. While the truth of Rockefeller’s disappearance may never be known, Hoffman deserves much credit for this riveting, multilayered tale.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A bare-knuckle, adventure-filled journey in search of the answer to a half-century–old cold case….A searching, discomfiting journey yields an elegant, memorable report.”
Kirkus (starred review)

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art (9780062116154) by Carl Hoffman. $26.99 hardcover. 3/18/14 on sale.

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