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.

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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.

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  • “…an expertly told tale that is begging for a film adaptation…. While the truth of Rockefeller’s disappearance may never be known, Hoffman deserves much credit for this riveting, multilayered tale.”

  • "...a hypnotic journey into otherness, a wild detective story amid cannibals and headhunters. But it’s also ... an exploration into secrecy and the unknowable yearnings of the heart. A thrilling, one-of-a-kind tale –I couldn’t stop reading."

    Andrew McCarthyThe Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down
  • "Carl Hoffman’s acute eye for detail is something to envy, as is his ability to stitch together an absorbing narrative about what is essentially an alien realm."

    Brendan I. KoernerThe Skies Belong To Us
  • "...this gripping book..."

  • "In his terrific … new book … journalist Carl Hoffman … reopens the case, traveling to New Guinea and coming back with a riveting tale. What’s surprising about this book is not the revelation of Rockefeller’s fate but rather the author’s portrayal of a unique cultural encounter, between the scion of the most powerful family on Earth and a group of people who did not care at all about his money, power and influence. In the course of solving one mystery, he reveals the existence of another, far deeper one."

    Washington Post
  • "Savage Harvest is a gripping read…. Hoffman [has] erected a solid foundation of reporting that … is likely to make this the definitive account."

    Slate
  • "...a page turner that brings vividly to life the struggles an ancient culture under full-scale assault from the modern world."

    Scott Wallace The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes
  • "By dint of grueling fieldwork, startling archival discoveries, revelatory visits with a Dutch missionary relieved to break his 50-year silence, profound insights, and muscular writing, Hoffman tells the unforgettable story of a soothing and politically expedient cover-up and a brutal and tragic collision of cultures."

    BooklistStarred Review
  • "… an intelligent and significant piece of journalism.”

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