I experienced an explosion of insight, elegant thinking, and funny writing.

Christopher Ryan, author of Sex at Dawn

War & the Noble Savage approaches its contested subject matter with elegance, wit and a keen critical intellect, and exposes the role of our modern culture wars in our imaginings of the prehistoric past. Its thrilling historical sweep offers a fresh perspective on our chaotically evolving present.

Mike Jay, author of The Atmosphere of Heaven and The Air Loom Gang

An excellent job on a most central topic.

Dale Pendell, author of Pharmako/Poeia

Lucid explanation and intelligent analysis. (8/10)

Fortean Times

Over the past decade or so, works such as Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate and Lawrence H. Keeley’s War Before Civilization have attacked the idea that indigenous and prehistoric societies were more peaceable than modern states. This brief study surveys this recent literature, digging beneath polarized surfaces using less publicized anthropological scholarship.

The debate’s age-old frame, emerging from an opposition between Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “Noble Savage” and Thomas Hobbes’ vision of primitive life as “nasty, brutish and short,” is analyzed afresh, and related fields, such as studies of chimpanzee violence, are reviewed. Also included is a look at the closely entwined recent controversy over whether tribal cultures have an ecological record as spotless as that often attributed to them.

Always at stake is the inevitable drama of Progress: has the modern world degraded human freedom and the environment, or does it represent an emancipation from millennia of conflict and ignorance?

  • Pages: 88
  • Format: A5 perfect-bound book (2009)
  • ISBN 0955419611
  • ISBN-13 9780955419614
  • Format: PDF eBook (2010)
  • ISBN 095541962X
  • ISBN-13 9780955419621


  • Introduction
  • The Origins of the Noble Savage: Marc Lescarbot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, early ethnography and Victorian racism
  • Solitary, Poor, Nasty, Brutish & Short: The primitive errors of Thomas Hobbes
  • The Violent Past & the Political Present: Hobbes versus Rousseau in modern anthropology and genetics
  • The Tribal Zone: Perceptions and reflections on the violent edge of Empire; analyzing war mortality statistics
  • The Remains of the Past: Discerning prehistoric social structures; the Palaeolithic expanse and the limits of archaeological perception
  • Ape Cousins & Hard-Wired Violence: Primatological problems and the perils of geneticism
  • Complexity & Conflict: Raymond C. Kelly’s thesis on the coevolution of warfare and social structure
  • The Ecologically Noble Savage: Megafauna extinctions and the search for “conservationist intent”
  • Conclusions
  • Appendix I: Society Against the State: Pierre Clastres and societies against the state
  • Appendix II: The Stoned Ape Hypothesis: Terence McKenna’s mushroom hypothesis and the palaeoanthropology of the ’60s
  • Index


This title is no longer in print.

It’s available for free in a number of automatically-generated alternate formats (e.g. plain text, EPUB, Kindle) at archive.org.

You can also download the original print layout as a PDF e-book.


This is from my talk, based on some of this book’s arguments, given at The October Gallery in London on 27th October 2009. Thanks to Mark Pilkington for the recording.

Audio available on SoundCloud:

My book reviews

My blog posts