Carl Hoffman’s outstanding 2014 book,Savage Harvest, offers a compelling answer to the question that’s haunted the Rockefeller legacy since 1961: What happened to eager young Michael Rockefeller, who vanished while collecting indigenous art among the Asmat tribe of what was then Netherlands New Guinea? Though his father, New York State governor and future Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, had the means and clout to launch a formidable search, no trace of the 23-year-old recent Harvard grad was ever found.
Hoffman’s well-researched exploration suggests that Michael, long rumored to have met his demise at the hands of locals (gifted woodcarvers who were also documented to be cannibals and headhunters), may have unknowingly upset a delicate peace between warring villages in the region, and been targeted simply for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (If that were true, it would make Michael’s disappearance more tragic cultural misunderstanding than “crime.”) For followers of the case, this theory is the most satisfying one we’ll probably ever encounter.
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