Savage Harvest

A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller’s Tragic Quest for Primitive Art

The mysterious disappearance of Michael Rockefeller in New Guinea in 1961 has kept the world and his powerful, influential family guessing for years. Now, Carl Hoffman uncovers startling new evidence that finally tells the full, astonishing story.

Despite exhaustive searches, no trace of Rockefeller was ever found. Soon after his disappearance, rumors surfaced that he’d been killed and ceremonially eaten by the local Asmat—a native tribe of warriors whose complex culture was built around sacred, reciprocal violence, head hunting, and ritual cannibalism. The Dutch government and the Rockefeller family denied the story, and Michael’s death was officially ruled a drowning. Yet doubts lingered. Sensational rumors and stories circulated, fueling speculation and intrigue for decades. The real story has long waited to be told—until now.

Retracing Rockefeller’s steps, award-winning journalist Carl Hoffman traveled to the jungles of New Guinea, immersing himself in a world of headhunters and cannibals, secret spirits and customs, and getting to know generations of Asmat. Through exhaustive archival research, he uncovered never-before-seen original documents and located witnesses willing to speak publically after fifty years.

In Savage Harvest he finally solves this decades-old mystery and illuminates a culture transformed by years of colonial rule, whose people continue to be shaped by ancient customs and lore. Combining history, art, colonialism, adventure, and ethnography, Savage Harvest is a mesmerizing whodunit, and a fascinating portrait of the clash between two civilizations that resulted in the death of one of America’s richest and most powerful scions. Read More

The Lunatic Express

Discovering the World . . . via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes

“…a wise and clever book, funny, warm and filled with astonishing characters. But it also represents an important exercise, casting an Argus-eye on a largely invisible but un-ignorable world. It is thus a book that deserves to be read widely.”

—The Wall Street Journal

“Anyone who has ever griped about freeway traffic or being elbowed on the subway should spend some time with Carl Hoffman’s book. I’m glad he made it back in one piece to write this tribute to the millions who every day endure what most of us don’t care to imagine.”

—New York Times Armchair Traveler


—Publisher’s Weekly

“Carl Hoffman has reinvented the travel log as the supreme theater of paradox. … his travels are a search for an unholy grail—something freakish; something dangerous; something authentic. Forget the inoculations. Disregard protection. Take this ride, and find the way to interconnectedness, verity and understanding.”

—Richard Bangs, Producer/Host of the Public Television series, Adventures with Purpose

“Carl Hoffman’s clever, fearsome book takes us into the frantic fear and pitiless extinctions that punctuate the simple struggle to get from home to anywhere, for so many of the world’s people. But it also takes us into the heart of the writer: and that journey, with its beauty and compassion, its conscience and courage, is so thrilling that we hope the ride never ends.”

— Gregory David Roberts, author of SHANTARAM

“The Lunatic Express transcends its masochistic premise to reward readers with an adventurous, humorous, insightful and improbably inspiring narrative.”

—Popular Mechanics

“With adventure, danger and self-discovery in one insightful package, The Lunatic Express is Eat Pray Love for men. But don’t worry. Women will enjoy it, too.”

—The Lost Girls

“So worth reading. Read it, give it, live it, learn it.”

—Backpackers’ Best Travel Books 2010

“Hoffman has an uncanny ability to capture the colorful host of characters encountered on the road…”

—Lonely Planet

“Hoffman gathers insights into the fortitude of third-world travelers, his own competing yearnings for domestic stability and adventure, and the brutal economics of mass transportation in impoverished parts of the globe.”

—The New York Times Book Review

Indonesian Ferry Sinks. Peruvian Bus Plunges Off Cliff. African Train Attacked by Mobs. Whenever he picked up the newspaper, Carl Hoffman noticed those news bulletins, which seemed as far from tourism as it was possible to get.

So off he went, spending six months circumnavigating the globe on the world’s worst conveyances: the statistically most dangerous airlines, the most crowded and dangerous ferries, the slowest buses, and the most rickety trains.

The Lunatic Express takes us into the heart of the world, to some of its most teeming cities and remotest places: from Havana to Bogotá on the perilous Cubana Airways. Lima to the Amazon on crowded night buses where the road is a washed-out track. Across Indonesia and Bangladesh by overcrowded ferries that kill 1,000 passengers a year. On commuter trains in Mumbai so crowded that dozens perish daily, across Afghanistan as the Taliban closes in, and, scariest of all, Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., by Greyhound.

The Lunatic Express is the story of traveling with seatmates and deckmates who have left home without American Express cards on conveyances that don’t take Visa, and seldom take you anywhere you’d want to go. But it’s also the story of traveling as it used to be — a sometimes harrowing trial, of finding adventure in a modern, rapidly urbanizing world and the generosity of poor strangers, from ear cleaners to urban bus drivers to itinerant roughnecks, who make up most of the world’s population.

More than just an adventure story, The Lunatic Express is a funny, harrowing and insightful look at the world as it is, a planet full of hundreds of millions of people, mostly poor, on the move and seeking their fortunes. Read More