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Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes: Life and Language in the Amazonian Jungle [Hardcover]

Daniel L. Everett
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Nov. 11 2008
A riveting account of the astonishing experiences and discoveries made by linguist Daniel Everett while he lived with the Pirahã, a small tribe of Amazonian Indians in central Brazil.

Everett, then a Christian missionary, arrived among the Pirahã in 1977–with his wife and three young children–intending to convert them. What he found was a language that defies all existing linguistic theories and reflects a way of life that evades contemporary understanding: The Pirahã have no counting system and no fixed terms for color. They have no concept of war or of personal property. They live entirely in the present. Everett became obsessed with their language and its cultural and linguistic implications, and with the remarkable contentment with which they live–so much so that he eventually lost his faith in the God he’d hoped to introduce to them.

Over three decades, Everett spent a total of seven years among the Pirahã, and his account of this lasting sojourn is an engrossing exploration of language that questions modern linguistic theory. It is also an anthropological investigation, an adventure story, and a riveting memoir of a life profoundly affected by exposure to a different culture. Written with extraordinary acuity, sensitivity, and openness, it is fascinating from first to last, rich with unparalleled insight into the nature of language, thought, and life itself.

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Review

"Absorbing. . . . Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes . . . shares its author's best traits: perseverance, insight, humor and humility. Both the Pirahas and their interpreter make splendid company, especially for readers drawn to the way language underpins how we mediate our world."--Cleveland Plain Dealer

"In this fascinating and candid account of life with the Pirahã, Everett describes how he learned to speak fluent Pirahã (pausing occasionally to club the snakes that harassed him in his Amazonian "office"). He also explains his discoveries about the language-findings that have kicked off more than one academic brouhaha."--Publishers Weekly, Signature Review

"Rich account of fieldwork among a tribe of hunter-gatherers in Brazil . . . introduce[s] non-specialists to the fascinating ongoing debate about the origin of languages. . . . Everett's experiences and findings fairly explode from these pages and will reverberate in the minds of readers."--Kirkus, starred review

Dan Everett has written an excellent book. First, it is a very powerful autobiographical account of his stay with the Pirahã in the jungles of the Amazon basin. Second, it is a brilliant piece of ethnographical description of life among the Pirahã. And third, and perhaps most important in the long run, his data and his conclusions about the language of the Pirahã run dead counter to the prevailing orthodoxy in linguistics. If he is right, he will permanently change our conception of human language.”
–John Searle, Slusser Professor of Philosophy, University of California, Berkeley

“Dan Everett is the most interesting man I have ever met. This story about his life among the Pirahãs is a fascinating read. His observations and claims about the culture and language of the Pirahãs are astounding. Whether or not all of his hypotheses turn out to be correct, Everett has forced many researchers to reevaluate basic assumptions about the relationship among culture, language and cognition. I strongly recommend the book.”
–Edward Gibson, Professor of Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

About the Author

Daniel L. Everett is the Chair of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures at Illinois State University.

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Customer Reviews

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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely Riveting! Feb. 10 2014
By Richard
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have read many missionary books over the years, but this one is the best... not just because I'm an atheist now, but because of the amazingly clear way he writes and presents such a detailed description of the Piraha. It's as if you really get to know them.

I can't recommend this book highly enough!

My only criticism and complaint (hence the 4 stars) is because I was primarily interested in his deconversion as a result of the Piraha's outlook and lifestyle, and the turmoil that resulted... and the struggles and questions he wrestled with... and the price he paid... BUT THAT WASN'T THERE! AAAHH! I mean, yes, he mentions it... and summarizes it in the last chapter... but with far too little detail.

I hope he writes a second book - and makes it all about that. I will definitely buy it.

This book definitely left me wanting more... and if I hadn't been so looking forward to more information about his deconversion, I would definitely have given it 5 stars. Excellent book. Will recommend.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Making sense of non-sense. July 26 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Everett brings his personal experience int an accessible story about strangeness and discovery of self in such strangeness.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Loved it cover to cover April 6 2011
Format:Paperback
I had been sent a lenghty article on Everett's book and work and I had seen very interesting videos and interviews on the web about his book and his life. Even so, the book proved fascinating.

This book is about the Pirahas, a life lived like no other live life, and a study of their language through culture. We learn about them, we learn about ourselves.

It is rich and detailed. It is easy to read, even the part about the language per se. Every now and then, I found myself thinking: "Those are real people, and this is how they see life, this is how they live life! For real!" The way their language is built is also fascinating.

While reading, I was also wondering on whether someone can really adapt completely to a change of life, to a change of culture. What makes us alike, what makes us different. Can we change our mind on the importance we've given to certain things, certain values, certain ways? This book, without trying to, goes beyond the "simple" telling of who, how and why the Pirahas are. It tells of humanity.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Worlds apart Nov. 27 2010
Format:Hardcover
Is this a memoir? An anthropological study of a remote and isolated people? Or a travelogue? Answer: a wonderful mix of all three, and then some. Every now and then stories pop up in the news about so-called primitive people, maybe because they have just been "discovered", or they suffer from logging, farming, whatever it may be. Perhaps far worst, a lot of "primitive" societies have been pestered by missionaries for centuries now - but lo and behold, there is at least one tribe of unconquered people deep in the Amazon forest which has been resisting against assimilation for over three centuries, thanks to their unique culture. This book makes it clear that we have much to learn from the "primitive" humans who still inhabit our world, despite our best efforts to civilize them. This is an intelligent read, well written and engaging, which I warmly recommend to any curious mind.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Reality Bites Feb. 28 2009
Format:Hardcover
Starry-eyed bible-basher meets reality. Fortunately, he notices.
Most of what you know about "normal human behaviour" is wrong.
Doubly so about Chomsky's theories.
A great book, not too technical, an easy read.
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