A True Story of Death and Treasure

Two modern adventurers sought a treasure possessed by the legendary “Wild Men of Borneo.” One found riches. The other vanished forever into an endless jungle. Had he shed civilization—or lost his mind? Global headlines suspected murder. Lured by these mysteries, New York Times bestselling author Carl Hoffman journeyed to find the truth, discovering that nothing is as it seems in the world’s last Eden, where the lines between sinner, saint and myth converge.

In 1984, Swiss traveler Bruno Manser joined an expedition to the Mulu caves on Borneo, the planet’s third largest island. There he slipped into the forest interior to make contact with the Penan, an indigenous tribe of peace-loving nomads living among the Dayak people, the legendary “Headhunters of Borneo.”

  • “The Last Wild Men of Borneo is the best book about the ‘Western hunger for Eastern solace,’ as Carl Hoffman neatly puts it, you’ll probably ever read.  

    William FinneganPulitzer Prize winning author of Barbarian Days

Bruno lived for years with the Penan, gaining acceptance as a member of the tribe. However, when commercial logging began devouring the Penan’s homeland, Bruno led the tribe against these outside forces, earning him status as an enemy of the state, but also worldwide fame as an environmental hero. He escaped captivity under gunfire twice, but the strain took a psychological toll. Then, in 2000, Bruno disappeared without a trace. Had he become a madman, a hermit, or a martyr?

behind the story

American Michael Palmieri is, in many ways, Bruno’s opposite. Evading the Vietnam War, the Californian wandered the world, finally settling in Bali in the 1970s. From there, he staged expeditions into the Bornean jungle to acquire astonishing art and artifacts from the Dayaks. He would become one of the world’s most successful tribal-art field collectors, supplying sacred works to prestigious museums and wealthy private collectors. And yet suspicion shadowed this self-styled buccaneer who made his living extracting the treasure of the Dayak: Was he preserving or exploiting native culture?

 

As Carl Hoffman unravels the deepening riddle of Bruno’s disappearance and seeks answers to the questions surrounding both men, it becomes clear saint and sinner are not so easily defined and Michael and Bruno are, in a sense, two parts of one whole: each spent his life in pursuit of the sacred fire of indigenous people. The Last Wild Men of Borneo is the product of Hoffman’s extensive travels to the region, guided by Penan through jungle paths traveled by Bruno and by Palmieri himself up rivers to remote villages. Hoffman also draws on exclusive interviews with Manser’s family and colleagues, and rare access to his letters and journals. Here is a peerless adventure propelled by the entwined lives of two singular, enigmatic men whose stories reveal both the grandeur and the precarious fate of the wildest place on earth.

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  • “The Last Wild Men of Borneo is the best book about the ‘Western hunger for Eastern solace,’ as Carl Hoffman neatly puts it, you’ll probably ever read.  Besides the two remarkable men he portrays, the Swiss purist and the swashbuckling American dealer in tribal art, there is Hoffman himself, grappling literally and eloquently with his own fantasies about the world being destroyed in Borneo.”

    William FinneganPulitzer Prize winning author of Barbarian Days
  • “A marvelously told and important story: Carl Hoffman guides us on a compelling and disturbing journey in the footsteps of two Western adventurers who penetrated to the wildest heart of Borneo on two very different paths.  At the same time, international forces of greed and corruption closed in on the huge island.  Hoffman tells a heart-breaking story of environmental and cultural loss and human resilience.  He grasps the emotional power of wildness both for Westerners from afar and for indigenous peoples who call it home. ”

    Peter Starkauthor of Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire
  • "I finished The Last Wild Men of Borneo in one long delicious gulp.  It is a tree bristling with goodies: descriptions of the complex forest; the Penan; Hoffman's treasure hunts; above all, the strange dynamic between Bruno Manser and Michael Palmieri – opposites but also equals – and himself. He earns the right to be among them, a firefly lighting up their cul-de-sacs to bring back a shimmering cornucopia of adventure, biography, mystery, tragedy.”

    Nicholas Shakespeareauthor of Bruce Chatwin and In Tasmania
  • “Carl Hoffman's thrilling The Last Wild Men of Borneo explores both the allure and dangers of the world's most untamed environment. At once a psychological inquiry, a portrait of a disappearing tribal culture, and an on-the-ground adventure story, Hoffman's narrative is above all a mesmerizing tale of two men who break their bonds with civilization in pursuit of deeper meaning - and the tragedy that befalls one of them.”

    Joshua Hammerauthor of The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu