Reviews for Savage Harvest : A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

Booklist Reviews 2014 February #2
*Starred Review* Award-winning travel writer Hoffman's (The Lunatic Express, 2010) penchant for extremes fueled his demanding quest for the truth about Michael Rockefeller's disappearance in New Guinea in 1961. Freshly graduated from Harvard and eager to emulate his art collector father, Nelson Rockefeller, then governor of New York, Michael became enthralled with the Asmat's extraordinary wood carvings and was dashing from village to village, buying as many pieces as he could find, when his boat capsized in rough seas. 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. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2014 February #2
A bare-knuckle, adventure-filled journey in search of the answer to a half-century–old cold case: Whatever happened to Nelson Rockefeller's son, Michael? Michael was 23 when he disappeared off the coast of southwestern New Guinea, having nearly made land after swimming for 18 hours when his catamaran capsized. Dutch officials (for this was still colonial territory in 1961) eventually reported that the renowned explorer and collector of so-called primitive art had drowned. National Geographic Traveler contributing editor Hoffman (The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World…via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes, 2010, etc.) writes that, all this time later, the story compelled him: "I was a half-Jewish middle-class mutt with a public education, not a blue-blooded scion, but Rockefeller's journey resonated with me." Empathetically channeling Rockefeller as someone who wasn't out in such remote territory merely to acquire stuff but was instead challenging himself in anything but the privileged surroundings of his youth, Hoffman set out to reconstruct that last voyage. He encountered evidence that the young man's end was greatly different from the one depicted in the official records. Moreover, he notes, it was an open secret that Rockefeller had been killed after having been plucked from the sea. But why? In a daring ethnographic turn, Hoffman spent months among the descendants of killers, lending specific weight to the old clashing-of-worlds trope and addressing questions of why people go to war, commit cannibalism and other tangled matters. He never loses sight of his goal, but Hoffman is also sympathetic to the plight of the Asmat people, who themselves were changed by the events of 53 years ago: "The world had been one way when Michael Rockefeller came to Asmat, another by the time he was dead." A searching, discomfiting journey yields an elegant, memorable report. Copyright Kirkus 2014 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 October #1

Author of The Lunatic Express and a contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler, the award-winning Hoffman here journeys to New Guinea to investigate the 1961 disappearance of Michael C. Rockefeller, youngest son of then New York State governor Nelson Rockefeller, who had gone to New Guinea to study Asmat art and culture. His body was never found after his boat capsized and he attempted to swim ashore, and theories about his death include cannibalism. Living in an Asmat village, Hoffman collects hints that the villagers know what happened and considers the Asmat belief that cannibalism (no longer practiced) balanced the spiritual demands of the universe. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

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Library Journal Reviews 2014 April #2

What really happened to Michael Rockefeller, son of former New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, when he disappeared on an art-collecting expedition in the Asmat tribal region of Dutch New Guinea (now called Papua and a part of Indonesia) in 1961? That is the question posed by Hoffman, a journalist and contributing editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine in this absorbing account of his search to unravel the true facts of the case. Hoffman has done impressive and meticulous investigation on the disappearance in the Dutch governmental and Catholic Church archives, through interviews with Dutch priests and government officials who were in the Asmat region at the time that Rockefeller went missing, and by making two trips in 2012 to the lowland region of southern Papua where the Asmat tribe still lives. There the author stayed in a local village for a month. Although Rockefeller's official cause of death was listed as drowning after his boat overturned, Hoffman makes a very strong case for the shocking conclusion that Rockefeller may actually have been killed and eaten by Asmat tribesmen after he swam to shore. No trace of him has ever been found, but substantive circumstantial evidence exists in local lore and in the material and interviews that are presented. Like the Asmat people, whose history comes alive through oral tradition, Hoffman is an excellent storyteller. VERDICT This enthralling real-life mystery will appeal to general readers with interests in history, anthropology, and exploration.--Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2013 November #3

Born into one of the world's richest and most influential families, Michael Rockefeller was immersed in the art scene virtually from birth and eventually developed an affinity for primitive artwork that would lead to his disappearance in 1961 off the coast of New Guinea in an area populated by cannibals. Whether then-23-year-old Rockefeller was eaten by those inhabitants was the source of a tremendous amount of speculation and, as Hoffman (The Lunatic Express) shows, an intricate conspiracy involving the Dutch government and the Catholic Church. 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. Aware of his own biases as well as Rockefeller's hubris in collecting items now housed in the Michael C. Rockefeller Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 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. Photos. Agent: Joe Regal and Markus Hoffmann, Regal Literary. (Mar.)

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