The Way of the Human Being


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Calvin Luther Martin

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From Native Americans, Europeans learned about corn and beans, toboggans and canoes, and finding their way around an unfamiliar landscape. Yet the Europeans learned what they wished to learn—not necessarily what the natives actually meant by their stories and their lives—says Calvin Luther Martin in this unique and powerfully insightful book. By focusing on their own questions, Martin observes, those arriving in the New World have failed to grasp the deepest meaning of Native America.

Drawing on his own experiences with native people and on their stories, Martin brings us to a new conceptual landscape—the mythworld that seems unfamiliar and strange to those accustomed to western ways of thinking. He shows how native people understand the world and how human beings can and should conduct themselves within it. Taking up the profound philosophical challenge of the Native American “way of the human being,”

Martin leads us to rethink our entire sense of what is real and how we know the real.

Calvin Luther Martin, formerly a professor of history at Rutgers University, now lives and writes in the Adirondacks. He spent a summer on the Navajo reservation and lived for two years with Yup’ik Eskimos in southwestern Alaska. His books on Native America include Keepers of the Game: Indian-Animal Relation-ships and the Fur Trade, winner of the American Historical Association’s Albert J. Beveridge Award for the year’s best book in American history.

“Martin asked the natives he lived among to teach him, and he remains true to those teachings even as he relays what he has learned to us. This is one of the most compelling books I have read in a long time.”—Kai Erikson

"This book is a real book—important, heartbreaking, and deeply beautiful."—Louise Erdrich

"Reading Calvin Martin is a rich experience. The human condition is his subject. In this new book he brings us to an understanding of ourselves that is clear and compelling. In these pages there is a celebration of human being, a ceremony of the spirit."—Scott Momaday

“Martin . . . has written a fascinating account. . . . Martin’s analysis will lead historians to re-read the earliest European observations of Native Americans. Often these observers did not listen carefully enough, didn’t comprehend what was being said, or had cultural myopia towards the Native Americans. . . . Martin, who intersperses history, oral literature, and personal experience, has written and impressive book.”—Laurence M. Hauptman, American Studies

"Into a marketplace crowded with trance-’n’-tell books that purport to reveal the spiritual secrets of Native America comes a quiet, powerful, authoritative voice. . . . . Martin wages a lover’s quarrel with his discipline in ravishingly unacademic prose. He urges us to move beyond logic, to find a new means of discourse that embraces both the historical and the mythic perspectives. This is a subtle, complex, and important work."—Patricia Monaghan, Booklist

“What an astonishing book! Told in a narrative style that owes deep allegiance to the true art of storytelling, Martin draws on native mythology, quantum theory, and his experiences. Beautifully written, this is the most poignant & provocative book I’ve read in years.”—Sheryl Cotleur, Bookselling This Week

"Written by a former historian who has renounced history in favor of a Native American worldview, this is a thought-provoking book. It is a highly personal work, drawing on the author’s several years of experience with Navajos and Yup’ik Eskimos. . . . This work is an excellent introduction to traditional Native American belief systems, and it naturally will appeal to some environmentalists. But anyone will benefit from reading it."—Choice

"[Martin] looks at Native Americans, their myths, and the philosophical challenge of their way of thinking, wrestling with ontological and ideological ways of interpreting the Native American world. . . . He also addresses the despiritualization of present-day Native Americans. . . . A fresh viewpoint on Native American landscape and legend."—Library Journal

"Meditation of the meaning of Native American versions of the way the world works. Martin has listened to indigenous peoples—he has lived with Navajos and Eskimos—without falling into Western habits of dismissive interpretation. He is especially insightful on the inadequacies of the western demand for ’measurement’ and 'facts’ when reality, in native eyes, is riddled with spirituality and story."—Anthony Brandt, Men's Journal

"Like [Martin’s] earlier books, The Way of the Human Being presents stimulating ideas. . . . In a sometimes elegant and gentle book, the author share the embarrassments, mistakes, and myopia of his personal journey through an elusive world, as well as his discoveries along the way."—Colin G. Calloway, Natural History

"[Martin] brilliantly traces the historical roots of how Europeans arriving in North America rejected Native America. . . . Thousand-year-old traditions are vanishing as Native Americans suffer alcoholism, despair and suicide. Yet their stories—both ancient and modern—and their capacity for storytelling survive. The Way of the Human Being sparkles with dozens of these native stories."—Stephen J. Lyons, New Age

"Martin has written a searching exploration of Native American ways of being and seeing. . . . These deeply personal essays represent an engaging departure from Martin’s more academic books on Native America."—Publishers Weekly

“The text works very well in both undergraduate and graduate settings. Because it maps a scholar’s journey with his subject of study, while also successfully relating it to history and science, this text is destined to be a classic in a wide variety of disciplines.”—Philip P. Arnold, Religious Studies Review

“I cannot but admire the skill and sheer poetic force of Martin’s prose. . . . This is a highly literate book, disturbing but difficult to set aside, and one I found myself re-reading several times.”—Adrian Tanner, H-Net Book Review

Co-winner of the Fifth Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award sponsored by the Westchester County Library System
ISBN: 9780300085525
Publication Date: July 11, 2000
256 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4