If you have read Jared Diamond’s Collapse, you know that the natives of Easter Island caused the collapse of their own civilization in the course of building their famous statues, causing the deforestation of their island by cutting down trees to transport the giant heads. Hunt and Lipo did not set out to disprove this widely accepted truism when they ventured to Easter Island, called Rapa Nui in the local language, but disprove it they did and, in the course of doing so, they unraveled many of the mysteries surrounding Easter Island: from the true cause of the deforestation of Rapa Nui, to the social structure that supported statue building, to the statues themselves and how they were moved.
One need not be an archaeologist to find The Statues That Walked fascinating. Hunt and Lipo lay out their arguments for the past of Rapa Nui in a clear and articulate manner, providing just enough evidence to lend them credibility, but not so many technical details to lose their lay readers. Assuming their science is valid – and Hunt and Lipo give the reader no reason to assume it is not – this team seems to have made great headway in explaining the history and basic culture of the people of Easter Island, not least the explanation that the statues were moved by ‘walking’ them.
The only real problem with The Statues That Walked is the extent to which its authors inserted themselves in their story, which was either too much, or not enough. In no way did they introduce themselves or give any sense of who they were, and yet they referred to their findings, their state of mind going into the research, etc. Inserting oneself into a story such as this one can lend a greater sense of narrative flow and make it easier to engage readers, but in order to do that, an actual sense of the personality of the authors must come through. The writing was clear and engaging enough that the authors were not a necessary plot device to keep readers interested. In the end, their random insertion served only to distract from the fascinating picture of Easter Island painted by The Statues That Walked.
A solid work of nonfiction, odd insertion of the authors not withstanding. Recommended.
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