Summary and book reviews of Tribe by Sebastian Junger

Tribe

On Homecoming and Belonging

by Sebastian Junger

Tribe by Sebastian Junger
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  • Published:
    May 2016, 192 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
James Broderick

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About this Book

Book Summary

We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding--"tribes." This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.

Decades before the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin lamented that English settlers were constantly fleeing over to the Indians-but Indians almost never did the same. Tribal society has been exerting an almost gravitational pull on Westerners for hundreds of years, and the reason lies deep in our evolutionary past as a communal species. The most recent example of that attraction is combat veterans who come home to find themselves missing the incredibly intimate bonds of platoon life. The loss of closeness that comes at the end of deployment may explain the high rates of post-traumatic stress disorder suffered by military veterans today.

Combining history, psychology, and anthropology, Tribe explores what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty, belonging, and the eternal human quest for meaning. It explains the irony that-for many veterans as well as civilians-war feels better than peace, adversity can turn out to be a blessing, and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Tribe explains why we are stronger when we come together, and how that can be achieved even in today's divided world.

INTRODUCTION

In the fall of 1986, just out of college, I set out to hitchhike across the northwestern part of the United States. I'd hardly ever been west of the Hudson River, and in my mind what waited for me out in Dakota and Wyoming and Montana was not only the real America but the real me as well. I'd grown up in a Boston suburb where people's homes were set behind deep hedges or protected by huge yards and neighbors hardly knew each other. And they didn't need to: nothing ever happened in my town that required anything close to a collective effort. Anything bad that happened was taken care of by the police or the fire department, or at the very least the town maintenance crews. (I worked for them one summer. I remember shoveling a little too hard one day and the foreman telling me to slow down because, as he said, "Some of us have to get through a lifetime of this.")

The sheer predictability of life in an American suburb left me hoping - somewhat ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Junger is content to diagnose the problem as he sees it, and other than a couple of feel-good examples of "giving back" from a World War II vet and a businessman who volunteered to cut his salary to keep paying his employees, the book offers no substantive solutions to the problem of the loss of tribalism in modern American culture. I wish he had looked more closely at countries outside of the U.S.—Italy, for example—where the idea of "family" still implies a more cohesive social bond. Still, the evidence of a diminished sense of social cohesion in modern society is undeniable, and Tribe offers a compelling brief for those who long for the sense of community America once had—before it even became America.   (Reviewed by James Broderick).

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Media Reviews

The New York Times

Tribe is not a typical Junger book. He doesn't tell one knockout story, as he did in the The Perfect Storm …or as he did in War…Rather, he gives us an extended-play version of an article he wrote last summer for Vanity Fair—one that's part ethnography, part history, part social science primer, part cri de coeur.

The New York Times

Junger has raised one of the most provocative ideas of this campaign season - and accidentally written one of its most intriguing political books.

The Boston Globe

Compelling...Junger...offers a starting point for mending some of the toxic divisiveness rampant in our current political and cultural climate.

O Magazine

Junger argues with candor and grace for the everlasting remedies of community and connectedness.

The Washington Post

Thought-provoking...a gem.

Publishers Weekly

For all the comfort of modern society, Junger thinks, its 'profound alienation' has led in America to income inequality, behaviors destructive to the environment, high rates of suicide and mental illness (including PTSD), and rampage shootings. Ending with a look at the country's divisive political rhetoric, Junger suggests that the U.S. could cure its ills if we could only focus on the collective good.

Booklist

Junger uses every word in this slim volume to make a passionate, compelling case for a more egalitarian society.

Kirkus Reviews

The author resists the temptation to glorify war as the solution to a nation's mental ills and warns against the tendency "to romanticize Indian life," but he does succeed in showing "the complicated blessings of 'civilization,' " while issuing warnings about divisiveness and selfishness that should resonate in an election year. The themes implicit in the author's bestsellers are explicit in this slim yet illuminating volume.

The Times (UK)

Tribe is a fascinating, eloquent and thought-provoking book..packed with ideas...It could help us to think more deeply about how to help men and women battered by war to find a new purpose in peace.

The Times Literary Supplement (UK)

Junger has identified one of the last cohesive tribes in America and, through an examination of its culture of self-subjugation grasps for a remedy that might reunite a fragmented civilian society.

The Guardian (UK)

An electrifying tapestry of history, anthropology, psychology and memoir that punctures the stereotype of the veteran as a war-damaged victim in need of salvation. Rather than asking how we can save our returning servicemen and women, Junger challenges us to take a hard look in the mirror and ask whether we can save ourselves.

Author Blurb Karl Marlantes, New York Times bestselling author of Matterhorn and What It Is Like to Go to War
Sebastian Junger has turned the multifaceted problem of returning veterans on its head. It's not so much about what's wrong with the veterans, but what's wrong with us. If we made the changes suggested in Tribe, not only our returning veterans, but all of us, would be happier and healthier. Please read this book.

Reader Reviews

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Beyond the Book

The Kung Tribe

Africa's Kalahari desert might seem an unlikely model for American society. But the Kalahari—a sparsely populated swath of sun-baked bushland that boasts temperatures regularly above 100 degrees during the day and just a few inches of rainfall every year—is home to a tribe of nomadic people called the Kung (part of the San people, also known as Bushmen). In Tribe, Sebastian Junger celebrates the virtues of the Kung people, suggesting their tribal ways might just hold the solution to our modern American sense of isolation and emptiness.

"The relatively relaxed pace of Kung life—even during times of adversity—challenged long-standing ideas that modern society created a surplus of leisure time. It created exactly the...

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