Harris' Major Works:

Patterns of Race in the Americas

1964. Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing Group.

From the Publisher:
"By boldly outlining the pattern of race relations in the Americas based on the concrete facts of social life rather than on the soul traits of the Iberic and Anglo-Saxon peoples, [the author] has performed a significant service to the study of social history in the Western Hemisphere." 
--American Anthropologist

The Rise of Anthropological Theory: A History of Theories of Culture

1968.  (Reissued 2001) New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

From the Publisher:
The best known, most often cited history of anthropological theory....First published in 1968, Harris's book has been cited in over 1,000 works and is one of the key documents explaining cultural materialism, the theory associated with Harris's work. This updated edition included the complete 1968 text plus a new introduction by the author, which discusses the impact of the book and highlights some of the major trends in anthropological theory since its original publication. RAT, as it is affectionately known to three decades of graduate students, comprehensively traces the history of anthropology and anthropological theory, culminating in a strong argument for the use of a scientific, behaviorally-based, etic approach to the understanding of human culture known as cultural materialism. Despite its popularity and influence on anthropological thinking, RAT has never been available in paperback. . . until now. It is an essential volume for the library of all anthropologists, their graduate students, and other theorists in the social sciences. 


  • Introduction
  • Enlightenment
  • Reaction and Recovery: The Early Nineteenth Century
  • Rise of Racial Determinism
  • Spencerism
  • Evolutionism: Methods
  • The Evolutionists: Results
  • Dialectical Materialism
  • Historical Particularism: Boas
  • The Boasian Milieu
  • The Ethnographic Basis of Particularism
  • Kroeber
  • Lowie
  • Diffusionism
  • Culture and Personality: Pre-Freudian
  • Culture and Personality: Freudian
  • Culture and Personality: New Directions
  • French Structuralism
  • British Social Anthropology
  • Emics, Etics, and the New Ethnography
  • Statistical Survey and Nomothetic Revival
  • Cultural Materialism: General Evolution
  • Cultural Materialism: Cultural Ecology
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Culture, People, and Nature: An Introduction to General Anthropology

1971. (In 7th edition, 1997) New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company.

From the Publisher:
This is a comprehensive introduction to the four fields of general anthropology. It includes a meticulous updating of research and scholarship, especially in the very active fields of physical anthropology and archaeology.


  • Introduction
  • Evolution
  • The Human Pedigree and Human Nature
  • The Significance of Mankind's "Apehood"
  • The First Human Beings
  • The Origin of Racial Differences
  • The Nature of Language
  • Sociocultural Systems and Processes
  • Archaeology and the Evolution of Culture
  • Ecology, Demography, and War
  • The Organization of Production and Exchange
  • The Organization of Domestic Life
  • Exogamy and the Prohibition of Incest
  • Kinship and Kinship Groups
  • Kinship Terminologies
  • Law and Order in Egalitarian Societies
  • Law and Order in Stratified Societies
  • Class, Caste, and Minority
  • Underdevelopment and Colonialism
  • The Causes of Poverty
  • The Significance of Racial Differences
  • Religion and Ritual
  • Personality and Individual Freedom
  • Bibliographical References
  • Glossary Index

Cows, Pigs, Wars, and Witches: The Riddles of Culture

1974.  (Reissued 1991) New York: Vintage. 

From the Publisher:
Why do Hindus worship cows?  Why do Jews and Moslems refuse to eat pork?  Why did so many people in post-medieval Europe believe in witches?  And wy have witches managed to stage such a successful comeback in today's popular culture?

Marvin Harris answers these and other perplexing questions about human behavior, showing that no matter how bizarre a people's behavior may seem, it always stems from identifiable and intelligible sources.

"Lively and controversial...An altogether engaging adventure in sociological and anthropological understanding." 
--Robert K. Merton

"An exhilarating intellectual adventure...exciting, controversial, ornery--and illuminating."
--Peter Farb

"An enchanting book.  It solves and suggests the solution to a number of problems that have puzzled anthropologists for years."
--Ashley Montagu

This book challenges those who argue that we can change the world by changing the way people think. Harris shows that no matter how bizarre a people's behavior may seem, it always stems from concrete social and economic conditions. 


  • Mother Cow
  • Pig Lovers and Pig Haters
  • Primitive War
  • The Savage Male
  • Potlatch
  • Phantom Cargo
  • Messiahs
  • The Secret of the Prince of Peace
  • Broomsticks and Sabbats
  • The Great Witch Craze
  • Return of the Witch
  • Epilogue
  • References and Acknowledgments

Cannibals and Kings: The Origins of Cultures

1977. New York: Vintage. 

From the Publisher:
In this brilliant and profound study the distinguished American anthropologist Marvin Harris shows how the endless varieties of cultural behavior -- often so puzzling at first glance -- can be explained as adaptations to particular ecological conditions. His aim is to account for the evolution of cultural forms as Darwin accounted for the evolution of biological forms: to show how cultures adopt their characteristic forms in response to changing ecological modes.

"[A] magisterial interpretation of the rise and fall of human cultures and societies."
--Robert Lekachman, The Washington Post Book World

"Its persuasive arguments asserting the primacy of cultural rather than genetic or psychological factors in human life deserve the widest possible audience."
--Gloria Levitas, The New Leader

"[An] original and ...urgent theory about the nature of man and the reason that human cultures take so many diverse shapes."
--The New Yorker

"Lively and controversial."
--I. Bernard Cohen, New York Times Book Review


  • Culture and Nature
  • Murders in Eden
  • The Origin of Agriculture
  • Proteins and the Fierce People
  • The Origin of Male Supremacy and of the Oedipus Complex
  • The Origin of Pristine States
  • The Pre-Columbian States of Mesoamerica
  • The Cannibal Kingdom
  • The Lamb of Mercy
  • Forbidden Flesh
  • The Origin of the Sacred Cow
  • The Hydraulic Trap
  • The Origin of Capitalism
  • The Industrial Bubble
  • Epilogue and Moral Soliloquy
  • Acknowledgments, References, and Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture

1979.  (Reissued 2001) New York: Random House.

From the Publisher:
"...one of the most coherent and most provocative pieces of academic anthropology to appear in years.  Harris provides a comprehensive strategy for research in a field best characterized by the fragmentation of its research...the ensuing arguments promise to be fountainheads of intellectual progress."
--Library Journal

What are the proper aims and methods of anthropology, and what does it mean to call this discipline the science of culture?  Why are such theories of culture as those of Claude Levi-Strauss, Edward O. Wilson, Carlos Castaneda, and Marvin Harris so widely read and debated? What do these theories reveal about the people who hold them? How do cultures really originate and develop?

Marvin Harris, the distinguished American anthropologist, addresses these questions directly in this important, controversial, and comprehensive study of the theory and practice of his science.  The foremost authority on cultural materialism, Harris suggests that this strategy is the best approach to the many puzzles of anthropology and demonstrates how cultural materialism explains the endless variety of cultural behavior--from female infanticide to to the sacred cow, from North American Indian myths of the coyote tot he marital customs of the aboriginal Australians--as the adaptations of societies to their particular environments. Harris's aim is to account for cultural evolution by the same objective and scientific methods that Darwin used to explain biological evolution and that Marx attempted to apply to social evolution.

In formulating the principles of cultural materialism, Harris analyzes and exposes the errors of his fellow anthropologists, directing his argument at their unscientific-- and often anti-scientific methods.  These alternative approaches, some merely faddish and others intellectually fashionable, include Levi-Strauss's structuralism, Freudian psychodynamics, humanistic idealism, Wilson's sociobiology, dialectical materialism, structural Marxism, Castaneda's mysticism, and aimless eclecticism--all of which, according to Harris, deny in their own ways and to varying degrees the foundations necessary for a science of culture.

What Harris upholds is the scientific tradition, in which cultural theory is balanced with a body of specific facts so that theory and research inform--rather than determine-- each other.  One one level a compelling examination of contemporary anthropology, this brilliant and original work is also an essay on knowledge and the search for verifiable truth.  At a time when the Western tradition of empiricism is widely denounced as bankrupt and the enormous contributions of science disallowed, Harris argues convincingly that these methods and achievements are far more viable and constructive than the contemporary retreat into radical relativism, escapist mysticism, and the despair of knowledge itself. And whether one agrees or disagrees with Harris, the fact is that this book will take its place at the center of the most important intellectual controversy in decades.

From the new (2001) edition:
Cultural Materialism, published in 1979, was Marvin Harris's first full-length explication of the theory with which his work has been associated. While Harris has developed and modified some of his ideas over the past two decades, generations of professors have looked to this volume as the essential starting point for explaining the science of culture to students. Now available again after a hiatus, this edition of "Cultural Materialism" contains the complete text of the original book plus a new introduction by Harris (with B.J. Brown) that updates his ideas and examines the impact that the book and theory have had on anthropological theorizing. 


Part I: Cultural Materialism as a Research Strategy

  • Introduction to Part I
  • Research Strategies and the Structure of Science
  • The Epistemology of Cultural Materialism
  • Theoretical Principles of Cultural Materialism
  • The Scope of Cultural Materialist Theories
Part II: The Alternatives
  • Introduction to Part II
  • Sociobiology and Biological Reductionism
  • Dialectical Materialism
  • Structuralism
  • Structural Marxism
  • Psychological and Cognitive Idealism
  • Eclecticism
  • Obscurantism
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Why Nothing Works: The Anthropology of Daily Life

1981. This title was previously available as America Now: The Anthropology of a Changing Culture. New York: Simon & Schuster.

From the Publisher:
Marvin Harris, one of the world's most noted anthropologists, combines his trained mind, discerning eye, and the lessons of his science to take a fresh look at the problems that beset America today.  Explaining a number of seemingly unrelated cultural developments--the disintegration of the family, the rise in urban crime, the emergence of religious cults, the increasing number of shoddy consumer goods, and many others--Harris demonstrates how they are in fact very much related, each a part of a larger and more troubling picture.

In this brilliant and controversial book, Marvin Harris makes sense out of the almost countless changes that have so rapidly overtaken America.  He shows us why America is the way it is today and what the future holds for us.  Most importantly, America Now shows us what must be done if the American nightmare is once again to become the American dream.

This book uncovers some startling answers to the question of what is happening in America today: why our society seems to be in an ever-downward spiral. 

"[A] remarkably concise, angry outcry at the current condition of America...the central argument is powerful enough to be intensely disquieting."
--The New York Times Book Review

"Marvin Harris...reads like the John Updike of social science...[He] presents his notions of why America has changed in bold, unfettered language...his picture emerges as clear as a Polaroid."
--Science '82


  • Introduction
  • Why Nothing Works
  • Why the Help Won't Help You
  • Why the Dollar Shrank
  • Why Women Left Home
  • Why the Gays Came Out of the Closet
  • Why There's Terror on the Streets
  • Why the Cults are Coming
  • Why America Changed
  • References
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Cultural Anthropology
(with Orna Johnson)

1983. (In 5th edition, 1999) Allen & Bacon 

From the Publisher:
Written by one of the most famous modern Anthropologists, the fifth edition of Cultural Anthropology continues to focus on the book's two major objectives. First, it presents a holistic view of sociocultural systems, and secondly, the book provides a unified theoretical framework for explaining these systems. It also remains faithful to the belief that anthropologists must routinely deal with facts and theories that are crucial to informed decisions regarding issues of enduring relevance.

The cultural approach used throughout furnishes a framework for explaining how the parts of sociocultural systems are interrelated and how they change over time.

The book also continues in its effort to identify the many causal strands that help explain the process of sociocultural change. It tries to make sense of the many seemingly irrational or arbitrary customs and institutions in small, technologically simple societies as well as complex nations.

For anyone interested in the study of culture. 

An intelligent, clearly-organized textbook survey of the field.  Noteworthy topics appear in boxes, and America Now Updates at the end of most chapters draw attention to anthropology's relevance to contemporary issues. The appendix offers a brief history of theories of culture. Contains a glossary, ample b&w illustrations, and 16 pages of color photographs. Annotation copyright Book News, Inc. Portland, Or.
--Book News, Inc.


  • Introduction
  • The Nature of Culture
  • The Evolution of the Capacity for Culture
  • Language and Culture
  • Production
  • Reproduction
  • Human Sexuality
  • Economic Organization
  • Domestic Life
  • Descent, Locality, and Kinship
  • Law, Order, and War in Nonstate Societies
  • Origins and Anatomy of the State
  • Class and Caste
  • Ethnicity, Race, and Racism
  • Gender Hierarchies
  • Psychological Anthropology
  • Religion
  • Art
  • Applied Anthropology
  • APPENDIX: A History of Theories of Culture
  • References
  • Glossary
  • Name Index
  • Subject Index

Good to Eat: Riddles of Food and Culture

1985. This title was previously available as The Sacred Cow and the Abominable Pig. Illinois: Waveland Press, Inc. 

From the Publisher:
Why are human food habits so diverse? Why do Americans recoil at the thought of dog meat? Jews and Moslems, pork? Hindus, beef? Why do Asians abhor milk? In Good to Eat, best-selling author Marvin Harris leads readers on an informative detective adventure to solve the world's major food puzzles. He explains the diversity of the world's gastronomic customs, demonstrating that what appear at first glance to be irrational food tastes turn out really to have been shaped by practical, or economic, or political necessity. In addition, his smart and spirited treatment sheds wisdom on such topics as why there has been an explosion in fast food, why history indicates that it's "bad" to eat people but "good" to kill them, and why children universally reject spinach. Good to Eat is more than an intellectual adventure in food for thought. It is a highly readable, scientifically accurate, and fascinating work that demystifies the causes of myriad human cultural differences. 


  • Good to Think or Good to Eat?
  • Meat Hunger
  • The Riddle of the Sacred Cow
  • The Abominable Pig
  • Hippophagy
  • Holy Beef, U.S.A.
  • Lactophiles and Lactophobes: Milk Lovers and Milk Haters
  • Small Things
  • Dogs, Cats, Dingoes, and other Pets
  • People Eating
  • Better to Eat
  • References
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Our Kind: Who We Are, Where We Came From, and Where We Are Going

1989.  New York: Harper Collins.

From the Publisher:
Before consciousness formed and tools were made, before speech was learned and cultures were established, before religion, society, politics, and war, came simple evolutionary change: one primate, our ancestor, took the first upright step. So begins our family history...the story told by Marvin Harris in Our Kind. The tale explores topics as varied as how the different races arose; why men came to dominate politics; why women have longer life spans; why yuppies are such conspicuous consumers; how war has come to overshadow us, and whether it always will...and a great deal more.

The author discusses the biological, social and cultural evolution of the human race. He argues that "while natural selection gave homo sapiens physical urges, needs, and limitations, along with the mental capacity to build and acquire culture, cultural selection now operates to produce 'organized systems of socially learned behavior and thought that satisfy or attend to the demands and potentialities of human nature.'" (Contemporary Sociology) Bibliography. Index.

"A Big Bang of a book....Marvin Harris seeks to do nothing less than bring us from the dimmest origins of humankind to our present day."
--The Milwaukee Journal

"The best approach to the tricky problem of understanding humans as culture-bearing animals that has appeared in recent years."
--Niles Eldredge, Curator, American Museum of Natural History

"A feast for the reader...the most entertaining, the most informative, the best general book on the origins and role of culture in shaping our lives."
--Dr. Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing


  • In the Beginning
  • The Birth of a Chimera
  • The Rise and Fall of Dawson's Man
  • Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds
  • The Tree of Life
  • The Enigma of the Little Handy Man
  • The Dawn of Technology
  • Tools for What?
  • Meat
  • African Genesis Revisited
  • Knapper, Butcher, Scavenger, Hunter
  • The Enigma of H. Erectus
  • Heat, Hair, Sweat, and Marathons
  • The Brain Begins to Think
  • Rudimentary Cultures
  • Linguistic Takeoff
  • Primitive Languages?
  • Ape-Signs
  • The Triumph of Sound
  • On Being Neandertal
  • Neandertal's Fate and the Origin of Our Kind
  • Culture Overshadowing
  • Ancestors
  • How Old Are the Races?
  • How Our Skins got Their Color
  • Why Africa Lags
  • Do the Races Differ in Intelligence
  • A Different Kind of Selection
  • To Breathe
  • To Drink
  • To Eat
  • Why We Eat Too Much
  • Why We Feast
  • Why We Get Fat
  • Innate Tastes
  • Acquired Tastes
  • One for the Genes
  • Sexual Pleasure
  • Carnal Ignorance
  • And Now for Something Completely Different
  • Why Women Have Perennially Enlarged Breasts
  • Giving and Taking
  • How Many Mates?
  • Genes Against Incest?
  • The Myth of the Great Taboo
  • The Myth of the Procreative Imperative
  • How Many Children?
  • Reproductive Failure
  • The Need to Be Loved
  • Why Homosexuality
  • Male with Male
  • Female with Female
  • Sperm Versus Egg?
  • Stolen Pleasures
  • Are Men More Aggressive Than Women?
  • Of Tomboy Girls and Penis-at-Twelve Boys
  • Mind, Math, and the Senses
  • Sex, Hunting, and Deadly Force
  • Female Warriors?
  • War and Sexism
  • Why War?
  • Meat, Nuts, and Cannibals
  • A Dissertation on Fatty Meat
  • Game Wars?
  • Hungry Papuans
  • Where Women Rule the Roost
  • Women Up, Women Down
  • Hoes, Plows, and Computers
  • Why Do Women Live Longer Than Men?
  • The Hidden Cost of Machismo
  • Was there Life Before Chiefs?
  • How to Be a Headman
  • Coping with Freeloaders
  • From Headman to Big Man
  • The Birth of the Great Providers
  • Why We Crave Prestige
  • Why We Consume Conspicuously
  • Why Yuppies?
  • From Big Man to Chief
  • Power: Was it Seized or Given?
  • The Threshold of the State
  • The First States
  • Why We Became Religious
  • The Evolution of the Spirit World
  • The Basic Animistic Rituals
  • Divine Exchanges
  • Meat Offerings
  • Human Sacrifice
  • The Gods Who Would Not Eat People
  • The gods Who Ate People
  • The Nonkilling Religions
  • The Origin of Nonkilling Religions
  • How the Nonkilling Religions Spread
  • A Chinese Puzzle
  • The Future of Belief and Disbelief
  • Did History Repeat Itself?
  • How the Second Earth Began
  • The Evolution of the Second Earth
  • The Pharaohs of the Andes
  • Why the First Earth Conquered the Second
  • Cultural Discontents and the Knowing Mind
  • Will Our Kind Survive?
  • Notes and References
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Theories of Culture in Postmodern Times

1998. California: AltaMira Press.

From the Publisher:
Marvin Harris is arguably the most influential, prolific anthropological theorist of our time. This book brings together many of the strands of his work of the past two decades into a unified, contemporary statement on anthropological theory and practice. In this book, he presents his current views on the nature of culture addressing such issues as the mental/behavioral debate, emics and etics, and anthropological holism. He resoundly critiques many current theoretical trends--from sociobiology to postmodernism to Afrocentrism. And he offers a cultural materialist perspective on diverse contemporary issues such as the IQ question and the fall of communism. Harris' thought-provoking and controversial theoretical views will be required reading for all anthropologists, social theorists, and their students.


Part I: Conceptualizing Culture

  • What Is (Are) Culture(s)?
  • Emics and Etics
  • The Nature of Cultural Things
  • Science, Objectivity, Morality
Part II: Biology and Culture
  • De-Biologizing Culture: The Boasians
  • Biologizing Inequality
  • IQ Is Not Forever
  • Neo-Darwinism
  • Confronting Ethnomania
Part III: Explanatory Principles
  • Holism
  • Cultural Materialism
  • Postmodernism
Part IV: Macroevolution
  • Origins of Capitalism
  • The Soviet Collapse
  • References
  • Index

Other Books on Cultural Materialism:

Science, Materialism, and the Study of Culture

Martin F. Murphy and Maxine L. Margolis (eds.), 1995, Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

From the Publisher:
"Well-argued, clearly written essays by anthropologists committed to understanding culture through theoretically grounded analysis of its material underpinnings. The authors' impassioned call for an anthropology that addresses pressing social problems--exploitation, inequality, violence, hunger, and underdevelopment--is a welcome counterweight to studies that view power primarily as discourse or poetics."
--Marc Edelman, Hunter College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

The social sciences, especially cultural anthropology, are mired in contentious arguments about the desirability --even the applicability--of scientific and causal principles in the study of culture and society.  The authors of these essays come down clearly on the side and significance of these principles, claiming that a cultural materialist approach is the most productive way of explaining cultural differences and similarities and of understanding many "unexplainable" aspects of culture.


  • An Introduction to Cultural Materialism (Martin F. Murphy and Maxine L. Margolis)
Part 1: Theoretical Perspectives
  • Explanation and Ground Truth: The Place of Cultural Materialism in Scientific Anthropology (Allen Johnson)
  • Infrastructural Determinism (R. Brian Feguson)
  • Politics, Theory, and the Nature of Cultural Things (Roger Sanjek)
  • Anthropology and Postmodernism (Marvin Harris)
Part 2: Applications
  • Hunting Patterns and Village Fissioning among the Yanomami: A Cultural Materialist Perspective (Kenneth Good)
  • Water Theft in Egypt's Fayoum Oasis: Emics, Etics, and the Illegal (David H. Price)
  • A Cultural Materialist Approach to the Causes of Hunger and Homelessness in New York City (Anna Lou Dehavenon)
  • "We Are All Chickens for the Colonel": A Cultural Materialist View of Prisons (Jagna Wojcicka Sharff)
  • Peasants, Projects, and Anthropological Models: Fragile Causal Chains and Crooked Causal Arrows (Gerald F. Murray)
  • Bibliography
  • Contributors
  • Index

Industrializing America: Understanding Contemporary Society through Classical Sociological Analysis 

Frank W. Elwell, 1999, Westport Connecticut: Praeger Press

From the Publisher:
"It deserves to be read and used as a textbook in a wide variety of introductory courses in sociology, anthropology and sociocultural theory.  It can also serve as a text for American studies courses since it contains in-depth descriptions of basic trends in American society and culture, shedding new light on the core institutions of government, global corporations, health care bureaucracies, food production, manufacturing and many other features of what is often but erroneously called 'post-industrialism.'  Against the main current of the social sciences, here is a book that returns us to the classical view that societies and cultures can best be understood as entities whose parts fit together to form systems." 
--Marvin Harris, Graduate Research Professor 
Department of Anthropology University of Florida

An analysis of any part of the social system must be firmly rooted in a framework that outlines the whole system and the interrelationships of the various parts.  Building on classical sociological theory, this volume proposes an original and comprehensive systems theory of sociocultural stability and change, which combines fundamental ecological relationships with social structures and culture.  Relationships and concepts developed by Marx, Weber, Malthus, Spencer, and Durkheim are explained and synthesized into a coherent perspective, which is used to examine multiple phenomena in modern industrial societies.

The author argues that recent changes in social structures (for example corporations, education, or the family) and culture (our socially created and shared symbolic understanding of our world) are interrelated and rooted in massive changes in population size and industrial growth.  By systematically relating the analysis of these sociocultural phenomena to the whole and to one another this volume presents a framework that can serve to organize and integrate many diverse theories, insights, and much empirical information into a comprehensive world view. 


  • Cultural Materialism
  • Structure of Power
  • Hyper-industrialism
  • Bureaucracy 
  • Irrationality factor 
  • Globalization 
  • Economic Rationalization 
  • Workplace Turmoil 
  • Family and Community 
  • Industrial Agriculture 
  • Managed Care 
  • Higher Education
  • Political Campaigns 
  • Ideology of Technology
  • Possibilities for the Future

Harris's Cultural Materialism

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