The Economic Systems of Foraging, Agricultural, and Industrial Societies.

Author:DeGregori, Thomas R.
Position:Book Review

The Economic Systems of Foraging, Agricultural, and Industrial Societies, by Frederic L. Pryor. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 2005. Cloth, ISBN: 0521849047, $75.00; paper, $29.99. 316 pages.

Frederic L. Pryor is an incredibly prolific scholar with a distinguished and enviable record of research and publication. His citation of his own works in the bibliography ran to over a page and a half and included several that piqued my curiosity, particularly a co-authored article titled "What Did Adam and Eve Do for a Living?" in BR: Bible Review. In addition, he has been called upon to be a consultant to a number of prestigious organizations and serves on the boards of several nonprofit institutions.

The level of research that went into this book is astounding as the author mentions researching one point for over a year. The book is rich and dense with data and at times difficult to read. Page after page has multiple substantive footnotes, and one is never sure whether or when to interrupt the narrative to read them. My early books had the same problem, but I later learned to work most everything into the text itself so as not to lose my readers. The data amassed and statistically massaged is truly monumental, but the question remains open as to whether the outcome was worth the effort.

The goal of this book is nothing less than to analyze the vast array of economic systems, past and present, and "make sense of this exuberant profusion, which represents a tribute to humanity's ingenuity at organizing itself" (p. 3). Quite honestly and frankly, I am probably the worst possible reviewer for this book. To me, it was largely a taxonomic enterprise and I rarely find taxonomies to be useful. Given this "exuberant profusion" of "humanity's ingenuity at organizing itself," I had trouble from the beginning believing that a useful outcome would emerge. At times, the author himself seems to have reached that conclusion as he sometimes remarks on the impossibility of generalizing a particular condition.

The book's title is an accurate indicator of the content as three of the five parts are (2) "Foraging Societies," (3) "Agricultural Societies," and (4) "Industrial/Service Societies,"...

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