“Affluence without abundance” – James Suzman

This was the first book I read in 2020, and the first book I’ve actually read from start to finish in many years. I picked it up hoping to hear some philosophical wisdom on human happiness, or social commentary on the state of Western late-stage capitalism and obsessive consumerism culture. In hindsight, perhaps I was seeking for some form of validation of my own personal feelings.

Needless to say, I found none of that in the book. Instead, it was an incredibly rich description of life in Southern Africa. It was a good reminder how humans lived as hunters and gatherers for hundreds of thousand of years where they only take as much as they needed for a few days at a time from their surroundings. While there were lean periods, in general they do not spend more than 15-20 hours a week in the pursuit of sustenance. Land rights are one of the many modern concepts that upended that way of life, even though it has been around for much longer than what we think of “modern” human history, whether you measure that in thousand of years, or hundred of years since the industrial revolution. One could argue that where we are today is an inevitable destination of the human psychological evolution journey, and I certainly don’t have the knowledge or insight to affirm or deny that. Nonetheless, it was interesting to be presented with the incredible research and understanding on how life was and how it has been drastically altered in the course of recent human history.

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