The best books on Margaret Mead

Elesha Coffman Author Of Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith
By Elesha Coffman

The Books I Picked & Why

With a Daughter's Eye: Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson

By Mary Catherine Bateson

With a Daughter's Eye: Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson

Why this book?

The reader gets a three-for-one deal in this incredibly thoughtful book: an intimate look at two towering anthropologists by their daughter, a distinguished anthropologist herself. Mary Catherine Bateson understood her difficult parents and their groundbreaking work as well as anyone could.

Talking to her father, she wrote, was “a form of argument that was also a dance.” Her mother was “a one-person conference.” The reader gets to know each member of this remarkable family through insightful anecdotes, rare family photos, conceptual diagrams, and lucid prose.


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

By Charles King

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

Why this book?

Margaret Mead belonged to a rambunctious generation of anthropologists who were trained by Franz Boas at Columbia. His star students were unconventional women—Mead, Ruth Benedict, Ella Deloria, and Zora Neal Hurston—who asked different questions and told different stories than any scholars before them. Were gender and race merely cultural constructions, and what would it take to overhaul them? How did Native Americans and Black Americans understand themselves, without the distortion of the white gaze? Could humans learn to live with their differences, or would the fascists win?

King unpacks the human drama in which these scholars participated on both the interpersonal and the global scale.


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The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy

By Paul Shankman

The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy

Why this book?

In her first book, Coming of Age in Samoa, Mead argued that Americans could un-learn a lot of bad ideas about gender and sexuality by studying faraway cultures. She was alternately thanked and blamed for setting in motion the sexual revolution of the 1960s. A few years after her death, a rival anthropologist, Derek Freeman, claimed that her original research was wrong, because she was too naïve to realize that the Samoans were lying to her. People who knew nothing about anthropology but disdained the sexual revolution jumped in on Freeman’s side, blowing up a scholarly debate (that was rooted in a deep, personal grudge) into a cultural firestorm. Anthropologist Paul Shankman waded through the mess to determine that Mead was mostly correct, and Freeman was mostly just bitter. Shankman’s definitive book on the controversy demonstrates how the scientific process works, eventually.


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Euphoria

By Lily King

Euphoria

Why this book?

Euphoria is a novel based on the love triangle that developed between Margaret Mead; her second husband, Reo Fortune; and the man who would become her third husband, Gregory Bateson. King did not attempt to recount the actual events that transpired in New Guinea in the early 1930s, but her research (she lists dozens of books in her acknowledgments, led by Jane Howard’s comprehensive 1984 biography, Margaret Mead: A Life) enabled her to recreate the personalities involved and the feverish atmosphere of remote fieldwork. Some of the details in the novel are invented, but the overwhelming, disjointed intensity of the story rings true.


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To Cherish the Life of the World: The Selected Letters of Margaret Mead

By Margaret M. Caffrey, Patricia A. Francis

To Cherish the Life of the World: The Selected Letters of Margaret Mead

Why this book?

Mead wrote thousands of letters, a reflection of her era, her many travels, and her astonishing ability to make new connections constantly without dropping any of her old friends. She became who she was and processed what she observed of the world through relationships. In these letters, the reader gains a multifaceted sense of her personality and gets a taste of what it is like to delve into her archive—the largest personal collection in the Library of Congress, with more than 530,000 items. The editors’ headings for the sections indicate how well they knew what the various relationships meant to Mead: Husbands: Starved for Likemindedness; Lovers: Continuingly Meaningful; Friends: A Genius for Friendship; Colleagues: What Is Important Is the Work.


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