Affluence Without Abundance by James Suzman

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primal Learnings

Don't be fooled by the title of this book, it is far more of an anthropological tale than one of politics or economics. Taking the bushmen of southern Africa as his case study, Suzman explores the theme of a disappearing way of life within some of the last remaining hunter-gatherer communities on earth. In the process, he offers not only an insight into how such groups survive but also the value system they lived by.

Ancestral health and happiness

Any narrative around the arrival of the white man in Africa is going to have a dark side to it and here the author certainly pulls no punches but he is more taken by ancestral health and primal, paleolithic ways of survival than by the evils of colonialism, no matter how depressing a tale it is to hear how these tribes were mistreated in what became South Africa and Namibia.

Underlying it all though is the implicit suggestion that the Khoisan people may, despite appearances, have been onto something:

"The evolutionary success of Khoisan was based not on their ability to continuously colonize new lands and grow into new spaces, or develop new technologies, but on the fact that they mastered the art of making a living where they were."

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Human evolution

Suzman pinpoints the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to agricultural farming societies as the key inflection point in human evolutionary history that "gave birth to the 'economic problem' that has preoccupied us ever since".

In other words, before there was abundance, our ancestors knew no different and so wanted for nothing. Abundance itself has, ironically, created endless longing for consumption and inevitable suffering in the process. 

The author's obvious fondness not just for various individuals amongst the tribal groups that he was able to study as an anthropologist in Africa but also for what each of them represented equates to a unique insight for the reader into how these groups function at an intimate, social level day by day.

Full of detail and anecdote, this is a highly pleasurable read that packs a genuine punch, offering all paleo, evolution, primal and ancestral health fans a chance to explore the hunter gatherer way of life from a refreshing perspective.

Catch more from James Suzman on his site and on Twitter

LifestyleMatt Morley