I am very conflicted on how I feel about this book. I appreciate the interdisciplinary view of the topic. Harris skillfully uses economics, political science, history, philosophy, and anthropology to support his argument. He draws adept connections between seemingly unrelated topics. His knowledge of ancient populations is unmatched. It is evident how intelligent and intellectual Harris is, and how he can wield language to prove his point.
I was disappointed to find how inaccessible the book is for non-professionals. It is unlikely that a layman could pick up Harris’s book and understand the points Harris made. I have concluded that Harris’s sentence structure and diction makes the book impassable for those wanting a brief overview of the topics, those who are novices in anthropology, or those who are not highly motivated to work to understand his ideas. The amount of background information needed to understand even one chapter is overwhelming. I would suggest having a computer and reliable Internet service available when reading Cannibals and Kings. Harris provides some background on the groups that he refers to, but often these populations are mentioned without reference to dates or accessory details about their culture. The book is complex with layers and layers of nuances. To get the most out of Cannibals and Kings, I recommend reading the book, stepping away for a while, and then re-engaging with the book to fully appreciate the intricacies of it.
If you are able to overcome the abstractness of the book, you’ll find how focused his points actually are. The book is unmatched in its focus on core themes: the historical interconnectedness of population growth, production, and diet. He provides abundant evidence from many populations to support his ideas. Unfortunately, Harris uses modern hunting tribes as unsightly analogs for ancient populations. Although the book was published in the 1970s when this practices was still not frowned upon, it is hard not to grimace when reading racist trends like this.
When rating Cannibals and Kings on my Goodreads app, I gave it 3.5 stars out of 5. I appreciated how focused and interesting Harris’s theories are, but thought his style was unnecessarily unwelcoming and did not appreciate the racist analogs he provided. I would recommend the book to anyone who wants to do a deep dive into researching this topic and has ample time to commit to working through the material. It was genuinely interesting to learn about a different view and contributing factors for the history of diets.