Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century

Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century Review

A dazzling group portrait of Franz Boas, the founder of cultural anthropology, and his circle of women scientists, who upended American notions of race, gender, and sexuality in the 1920s and 1930s--a sweeping chronicle of how our society began to question the basic ways we understand other cultures and ourselves.

At the end of the 19th century, everyone knew that people were defined by their race and sex and were fated by birth and biology to be more or less intelligent, able, nurturing, or warlike. But one rogue researcher looked at the data and decided everyone was wrong. Franz Boas was the very image of a mad scientist: a wild-haired immigrant with a thick German accent. By the 1920s he was also the foundational thinker and public face of a new school of thought at Columbia University called cultural anthropology. He proposed that cultures did not exist on a continuum from primitive to advanced. Instead, every society solves the same basic problems--from childrearing to how to live well--with its own set of rules, beliefs, and taboos.

Boas's students were some of the century's intellectual stars: Margaret Mead, the outspoken field researcher whose Coming of Age in Samoa is one of the most widely read works of social science of all time; Ruth Benedict, the great love of Mead's life, whose research shaped post-Second World War Japan; Ella Deloria, the Dakota Sioux activist who preserved the traditions of Native Americans of the Great Plains; and Zora Neale Hurston, whose studies under Boas fed directly into her now-classic novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Together, they mapped vanishing civilizations from the Arctic to the South Pacific and overturned the relationship between biology and behavior. Their work reshaped how we think of women and men, normalcy and deviance, and re-created our place in a world of many cultures and value systems.

Gods of the Upper Air is a page-turning narrative of radical ideas and adventurous lives, a history rich in scandal, romance, and rivalry, and a genesis story of the fluid conceptions of identity that define our present moment.

Title:Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century
Edition Language:English

    Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century Reviews

  • Peter Tillman

    Nice Jennifer Szalai review of a promising new book: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/30/bo...Excerpt: During the 1930s, the New York-based anthropologist Franz Boas grew increasingly worried about eve...

  • Mehrsa

    A really fascinating history of Margaret Mead, Boaz, Hurston and others who challenged and upended (at least for a little while) some crazy backwards thinking on the essentiality of race. Cultural rel...

  • Ryan Boissonneault

    We should all be thankful that racism and eugenics are no longer part of the scientific mainstream, but how many of us are familiar with the story of how this happened? In this gripping intellectual h...

  • Marks54

    This is a collective biography of one of the principal groups behind the rise of cultural anthropology and the idea of cultural relativism. The key individuals of this group include Franz Boas, Ruth B...

  • Peter A

    This is a brilliantly told story of the lives of several important individuals; their collective story addressing with data and science issues of race, sex, and gender; the scientific and social conte...

  • Rose

    This is nonfiction written in novel form. It is a wonderful read for any fan of anthropology or anyone who wants tho learn about cultures. I highly enjoyed this book recommend it. I would like to than...

  • Steve

    Lovely book about the Columbia University anthropologists led by Franz Boas who developed important ideas about our common humanity. I learned a ton of history from the book. Was great to read after D...

  • Mac Hendrickson

    Masterpiece. Recommended reading for every American...

  • Peg (Marianna) DeMott

    Powerful! Recommended reading for people who wonder where we are in the world and just how we got here!...

  • Stephanie G. Lewis

    Learned a lot. Want to read again....