The best books on the anthropology of parenting

Meredith Small Author Of Our Babies, Ourselves: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Parent
By Meredith Small

The Books I Picked & Why

The Afterlife Is Where We Come from: The Culture of Infancy in West Africa

By Alma Gottlieb

The Afterlife Is Where We Come from: The Culture of Infancy in West Africa

Why this book?

This book is the only ethnography of infants, the Beng of Ivory Coast, West Africa. Gottlieb does a masterful job of explaining what is “normal” for the Beng and how very different their attitudes about parenting and babies are from Western Culture, and why the Beng believe their parenting ways are better. Gottlieb’s telling of the Beng baby story, like her writing, is engaging and life-changing.


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Do Parents Matter?: Why Japanese Babies Sleep Soundly, Mexican Siblings Don't Fight, and American Families Should Just Relax

By Robert A. LeVine, Sarah LeVine

Do Parents Matter?: Why Japanese Babies Sleep Soundly, Mexican Siblings Don't Fight, and American Families Should Just Relax

Why this book?

The Levines have studied the Gusii of Western Kenya for decades and in this book, they look at childhood in all its glory and compare Gusii parenting and parenting philosophy to Western culture.


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The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

By Anne Fadiman

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures

Why this book?

Perhaps the most important book ever written that compares what happens when parents come from one culture into another and have to deal with a different parenting belief system. In this case, it’s the story of immigrant Hmong parents into the US and a child with epilepsy. The parents seek help from pediatricians when their daughter is ill, but they are in conflict because they believe their child is a sacred and blessed being. Which advice do they follow? Medical or traditional spiritual?


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Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection

By Deborah Blum

Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection

Why this book?

If you want to know the real story about “attachment theory” this is the book. Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Blum, it’s the tale of psychologist Harry Harlow and his experiments with rhesus monkeys and how that changed parenting in America. Fabulous read.


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Childhood: A Multicultural View

By Melvin Konner

Childhood: A Multicultural View

Why this book?

Konner is an anthropologist and physician who spent time with the !Kung hunters and gatherers studying children. This book is based on the PBS show Childhood, and it is everything you might want to know about childhood because it traverses both biology and culture. A dense read, but worth it.


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