Napoleon Chagnon has been called the “most controversial anthropologist” in the United States in a New York Times Magazine profile preceding the publication of his book, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes — the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists, a scientific memoir.
He is best known for his long-term ethnographic fieldwork among the Yanomamö, a society of indigenous Amazonians that live in the border area between Venezuela and Brazil, his contributions to evolutionary theory in cultural anthropology, and to the study of warfare. Chagnon conducted fieldwork among the Yanomamö people from the mid-1960s until the latter half of 1990s, during which he collaborated with ethnographic filmmaker Timothy Asch to produce a series of films documenting the Yanomamö. The resulting Yanomamö films series was a groundbreaking ethnographic media project consisting of 21 finished films that expanded the boundaries of documentary, including the seminal film The Ax Fight.
Chagnon was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 2012, and his Yanomamö films were among the founding collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Anthropological Film Collection.