The best Margaret Mead books

4 authors have picked their favorite books about Margaret Mead and why they recommend each book.

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With a Daughter's Eye

By Mary Catherine Bateson,

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

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.

With a Daughter's Eye

By Mary Catherine Bateson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked With a Daughter's Eye as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In "With a Daughter's Eye," writer and cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson looks back on her extraordinary childhood with two of the world's legendary anthropologists, Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson. This deeply human and illuminating portrait sheds new light on her parents' prodigious achievements and stands alone as an important contribution for scholars of Mead and Bateson. But for readers everywhere, this engaging, poignant, and powerful book is first and foremost a singularly candid memoir of a unique family by the only person who could have written it.

Who am I?

Elesha Coffman writes about religion and ideas in twentieth century America. A journalist before she trained as a historian, she’s especially interested in the circulation of ideas—how they were communicated, how they were received, why some ideas gained traction and others did not. Her first book examined how a magazine, The Christian Century, helped define the religious tradition known as the Protestant mainline. She didn’t realize that Margaret Mead belonged to that tradition until she was invited to write about Mead for the Oxford Spiritual Lives series, billed as spiritual biographies of people who are famous for something other than being spiritual. Elesha lives in Texas, but she’d rather be at the beach in North Carolina.


I wrote...

Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

By Elesha Coffman,

Book cover of Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

What is my book about?

The famed anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) made no secret of her Christianity, but most people are surprised to learn that this thrice-divorced, bisexual scholar was also a nearly lifelong Episcopalian who wrote theological essays, preached sermons, and served on countless church committees. She once wrote in a letter, “Shorn of all the things in which I can’t believe—and don’t want to—an omnipotent God, immortality, and original sin—Christianity is still the most beautiful thing I know, and the fact that Jesus lived the most satisfactory justification of life.” My book traces the thread of her spirituality through her many adventures, discoveries, breakthroughs, and heartaches.

Book cover of The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy

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.

The Trashing of Margaret Mead

By Paul Shankman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Trashing of Margaret Mead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 1928 Margaret Mead published ""Coming of Age in Samoa"", a fascinating study of the lives of adolescent girls that transformed Mead herself into an academic celebrity. In 1983 anthropologist Derek Freeman published a scathing critique of Mead's Samoan research, badly damaging her reputation. Resonating beyond academic circles, his case against Mead tapped into important public concerns of the 1980s, including sexual permissiveness, cultural relativism, and the nature/nurture debate. In venues from the ""New York Times"" to the TV show ""Donahue"", Freeman argued that Mead had been 'hoaxed' by Samoans whose innocent lies she took at face value. In ""The…

Who am I?

Elesha Coffman writes about religion and ideas in twentieth century America. A journalist before she trained as a historian, she’s especially interested in the circulation of ideas—how they were communicated, how they were received, why some ideas gained traction and others did not. Her first book examined how a magazine, The Christian Century, helped define the religious tradition known as the Protestant mainline. She didn’t realize that Margaret Mead belonged to that tradition until she was invited to write about Mead for the Oxford Spiritual Lives series, billed as spiritual biographies of people who are famous for something other than being spiritual. Elesha lives in Texas, but she’d rather be at the beach in North Carolina.


I wrote...

Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

By Elesha Coffman,

Book cover of Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

What is my book about?

The famed anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) made no secret of her Christianity, but most people are surprised to learn that this thrice-divorced, bisexual scholar was also a nearly lifelong Episcopalian who wrote theological essays, preached sermons, and served on countless church committees. She once wrote in a letter, “Shorn of all the things in which I can’t believe—and don’t want to—an omnipotent God, immortality, and original sin—Christianity is still the most beautiful thing I know, and the fact that Jesus lived the most satisfactory justification of life.” My book traces the thread of her spirituality through her many adventures, discoveries, breakthroughs, and heartaches.

Euphoria

By Lily King,

Book cover of Euphoria

Add to the list of extraordinary women mentioned above, the anthropologist Margaret Mead. I’m embarrassed to say that I knew little of Mead and her ground-breaking work before reading this book. The novel centers on (another) love triangle between three scientists studying the Kiona tribe in New Guinea in the 1930s. The personal struggles of these three anthropologists living in sometimes harrowing circumstances cover profound emotional territory. I also found the rituals of the tribe fascinating. And the inherent conflicts that abound when observing while living inside a community make for page-turning intrigue. Despite renaming her main character Nell Stone, I heard King speak about her detailed research. This novel offers a rare glimpse into the life of yet another woman for the ages.

Euphoria

By Lily King,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Euphoria as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The New York Times Top Ten Bestseller

From the author of Writers & Lovers, Euphoria is Lily King's gripping novel inspired by the true story of a woman who changed the way we understand our world.

'Pretty much perfect' - Curtis Sittenfeld, author of Rodham

In 1933 three young, gifted anthropologists are thrown together in the jungle of New Guinea. They are Nell Stone, fascinating, magnetic and famous for her controversial work studying South Pacific tribes, her intelligent and aggressive husband Fen, and Andrew Bankson, who stumbles into the lives of this strange couple and becomes totally enthralled. Within months…


Who am I?

I was never much of a history student. Facts and figures rarely stick in my brain until I have a character—their feelings, hopes, fears, and dreams—to pair them with, so I rely a lot on historical fiction to understand different places and times. I’m also a believer that our culture too often serves up the impression that marginalized people have forever hopelessly struggled, held back by those in power. But there are so many true stories that reveal the opposite, in this case, women fighting for their dreams and winning! I aim to bring these stories to light in a way that keeps the pages turning. 


I wrote...

Leaving Coy's Hill

By Katherine Sherbrooke,

Book cover of Leaving Coy's Hill

What is my book about?

Leaving Coy’s Hill is inspired by Lucy Stone, an abolitionist and the first woman to speak out on women’s rights in the US. While she was perhaps the most famous woman in the country in the mid-1800s, she was rather purposely erased from history by her own friend, Susan B. Anthony. In writing this novel I wanted to breathe new life into a woman driven to create change in a deeply divided nation and determined to stand on the right side of history despite painful personal costs. NY Times best-selling author Caroline Leavitt says, “What could be more timely than Sherbrooke’s gorgeously fictionalized and page-turning account of Lucy Stone?... A stunning look at timeless issues…all told through the lens of one extraordinary heroine.”

To Cherish the Life of the World

By Margaret M. Caffrey (editor), Patricia A. Francis (editor),

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

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.

To Cherish the Life of the World

By Margaret M. Caffrey (editor), Patricia A. Francis (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked To Cherish the Life of the World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Often far from home and loved ones, famed anthropologist Margaret Mead was a prolific letterwriter, always honing her writing skills and her ideas. To Cherish the Life of the World presents, for the first time, her personal and professional correspondence, which spanned sixty years. These letters lend insights into Mead's relationships with interconnected circles of family, friends, and colleagues, and reveal her thoughts on the nature of these relationships. In these letters- drawn primarily from her papers at the Library of Congress- Mead ruminates on family, friendships, sexuality, marriage, children, and career. In midlife, at a low point, she wrote…

Who am I?

Elesha Coffman writes about religion and ideas in twentieth century America. A journalist before she trained as a historian, she’s especially interested in the circulation of ideas—how they were communicated, how they were received, why some ideas gained traction and others did not. Her first book examined how a magazine, The Christian Century, helped define the religious tradition known as the Protestant mainline. She didn’t realize that Margaret Mead belonged to that tradition until she was invited to write about Mead for the Oxford Spiritual Lives series, billed as spiritual biographies of people who are famous for something other than being spiritual. Elesha lives in Texas, but she’d rather be at the beach in North Carolina.


I wrote...

Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

By Elesha Coffman,

Book cover of Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

What is my book about?

The famed anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) made no secret of her Christianity, but most people are surprised to learn that this thrice-divorced, bisexual scholar was also a nearly lifelong Episcopalian who wrote theological essays, preached sermons, and served on countless church committees. She once wrote in a letter, “Shorn of all the things in which I can’t believe—and don’t want to—an omnipotent God, immortality, and original sin—Christianity is still the most beautiful thing I know, and the fact that Jesus lived the most satisfactory justification of life.” My book traces the thread of her spirituality through her many adventures, discoveries, breakthroughs, and heartaches.

The End of War

By John Horgan,

Book cover of The End of War

There is little time to read and so I prefer short, pithy books. In this one, Horgan examines the various theories of war, finding most of them wanting. Reducing inequality, improving food production, and providing security all help reduce violence, but there is, he concludes, no single, magic cure. Instead, we have to work, hard, smart, and tirelessly, to create non-violent means to resolve disputes and punish trespassers. “If we want peace badly enough, we can have it…”

The End of War

By John Horgan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The End of War as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

War is a fact of human nature. As long as we exist, it exists. That's how the argument goes.

But longtime Scientific American writer John Horgan disagrees. Applying the scientific method to war leads Horgan to a radical conclusion: biologically speaking, we are just as likely to be peaceful as violent. War is not preordained, and furthermore, it should be thought of as a solvable, scientific problem—like curing cancer. But war and cancer differ in at least one crucial way: whereas cancer is a stubborn aspect of nature, war is our creation. It's our choice whether to unmake it or…


Who am I?

I grew up wandering farmers’ fields looking for arrowheads, and I started working in archaeology at 16 – 50 years ago. I ski, snowshoe, run, and play piano, but I sold my soul to the archaeology devil a long time ago. I specialize in hunter-gatherers, and I’ve done fieldwork across the western US, ethnographic work in Madagascar, and lectured in many countries. I’ve learned that history matters, because going back in time helps find answers to humanity’s problems – warfare, inequality, and hate. I’ve sought to convey this in lectures at the University of Wyoming, where I’ve been a professor of anthropology since 1997. 


I wrote...

The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future

By Robert L. Kelly,

Book cover of The Fifth Beginning: What Six Million Years of Human History Can Tell Us about Our Future

What is my book about?

“I have seen yesterday. I know tomorrow.” This inscription in Tutankhamun’s tomb summarizes The Fifth Beginning. In it, we tour human history through four times – beginnings – when the character of human life changed: the emergence of technology, culture, agriculture, and the state. Each is signaled by a radical change in humanity’s archaeological footprint. Using that perspective, I argue that today is a fifth beginning, the result of a 5000-year arms race, capitalism’s ever-expanding reach, and a worldwide communication network. It marks the end of war, capitalism, and maybe the nation-state, and the beginning of global cooperation. It’s the end of life as we know it. But with humanity’s great potential to solve problems, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic. 

Gods of the Upper Air

By Charles King,

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

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.

Gods of the Upper Air

By Charles King,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Gods of the Upper Air as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

2020 Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winner
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

From an award-winning historian comes a dazzling history of the birth of cultural anthropology and the adventurous scientists who pioneered it—a sweeping chronicle of discovery and the fascinating origin story of our multicultural world.

A century ago, everyone knew that people were fated by their race, sex, and nationality to be more or less intelligent, nurturing, or warlike. But Columbia University professor Franz Boas looked at the data and decided everyone was wrong. Racial categories, he insisted, were biological fictions. Cultures did not come in neat packages…

Who am I?

Elesha Coffman writes about religion and ideas in twentieth century America. A journalist before she trained as a historian, she’s especially interested in the circulation of ideas—how they were communicated, how they were received, why some ideas gained traction and others did not. Her first book examined how a magazine, The Christian Century, helped define the religious tradition known as the Protestant mainline. She didn’t realize that Margaret Mead belonged to that tradition until she was invited to write about Mead for the Oxford Spiritual Lives series, billed as spiritual biographies of people who are famous for something other than being spiritual. Elesha lives in Texas, but she’d rather be at the beach in North Carolina.


I wrote...

Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

By Elesha Coffman,

Book cover of Margaret Mead: A Twentieth-Century Faith

What is my book about?

The famed anthropologist Margaret Mead (1901-1978) made no secret of her Christianity, but most people are surprised to learn that this thrice-divorced, bisexual scholar was also a nearly lifelong Episcopalian who wrote theological essays, preached sermons, and served on countless church committees. She once wrote in a letter, “Shorn of all the things in which I can’t believe—and don’t want to—an omnipotent God, immortality, and original sin—Christianity is still the most beautiful thing I know, and the fact that Jesus lived the most satisfactory justification of life.” My book traces the thread of her spirituality through her many adventures, discoveries, breakthroughs, and heartaches.

Steps to an Ecology of Mind

By Gregory Bateson,

Book cover of Steps to an Ecology of Mind

Gregory Bateson, an intellectual maverick, had an evolutionary rule named after him when he was a teenager, (his father was a famed geneticist), was the formulator, along with Jurgen Ruesch, of the double-bind hypothesis of schizophrenia, and was a pioneer in the field of mammalian communication. Given its wide range of address to issues within evolutionary biology, psychiatry, anthropology, systems theory, cybernetics, and communication theory, this is a classic “must read” collection of short essays. Bateson’s unrelentingly original and provocative analyses provoke thought and defy any easy categorization. At the very least, he shows how mammalian play, as multileveled interaction, paves the way for the evolution of human language, and also, how human interaction, with its multiple logical types and different kinds of learning, occurs at various levels of abstraction.

Steps to an Ecology of Mind

By Gregory Bateson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Steps to an Ecology of Mind as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gregory Bateson was a philosopher, anthropologist, photographer, naturalist, and poet, as well as the husband and collaborator of Margaret Mead. With a new foreword by his daughter Mary Katherine Bateson, this classic anthology of his major work will continue to delight and inform generations of readers.

"This collection amounts to a retrospective exhibition of a working life. . . . Bateson has come to this position during a career that carried him not only into anthropology, for which he was first trained, but into psychiatry, genetics, and communication theory. . . . He . . . examines the nature of…

Who am I?

Corey Anton is Professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University, Vice-President of the Institute of General Semantics, Past President of the Media Ecology Association, and a Fellow of the International Communicology Institute. He is an award-winning teacher and author. His research spans the fields of media ecology, semiotics, phenomenology, stoicism, death studies, the philosophy of communication, and multidisciplinary communication theory.


I wrote...

Sources of Significance: Worldly Rejuvenation and Neo-Stoic Heroism

By Corey Anton,

Book cover of Sources of Significance: Worldly Rejuvenation and Neo-Stoic Heroism

What is my book about?

Sources of Significance confronts consumer capitalism and religious fundamentalism as symptoms of death denial and degenerated cultural heroism. It outlines heroisms worth wanting and reveals the forms of gratitude, courage, and purpose that emerge as people come to terms with the meaning of mortality. Corey Anton opens a contemporary dialogue spanning theism, atheism, agnosticism, and spiritualist humanism by re-examining basic topics such as language, self-esteem, ambiguity, guilt, ritual, sacrifice, and transcendence. Acknowledging the growing need for theologies that are compatible with modern science, Anton shows how today's consumerist lifestyles distort and trivialize the need for self-worth, and he argues that each person faces the genuinely heroic tasks of contributing to the world's beauty, harmony, and resources; of forgiving the cosmos for self-conscious finitude; and of gratefully accepting the ambiguity of life's gifts.

Childhood and Society

By Erik H. Erikson,

Book cover of Childhood and Society

Erikson’s classic theoretical rubric clearly describes the positive and negative poles of social development across the life span. For the earliest years, these poles are: Trust vs. Mistrust; Autonomy vs. Shame and Doubt, and Initiative vs. Guilt. Freudian psychosexual theories of development and cross-cultural practices are also discussed.

Childhood and Society

By Erik H. Erikson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Childhood and Society as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The original and vastly influential ideas of Erik H. Erikson underlie much of our understanding of human development. His insights into the interdependence of the individuals' growth and historical change, his now-famous concepts of identity, growth, and the life cycle, have changed the way we perceive ourselves and society. Widely read and cited, his works have won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award.

Combining the insights of clinical psychoanalysis with a new approach to cultural anthropology, Childhood and Society deals with the relationships between childhood training and cultural accomplishment, analyzing the infantile and the mature,…

Who am I?

Dr. Alice Sterling Honig, Professor Emerita of Child Development at Syracuse University, has spent over a half century working with and studying young children and creating numerous courses on how best to nurture early development. She has lectured widely in many countries and is the author of over 600 articles and chapters, and dozens of books on children and their caregivers. For nearly 40 summers she conducted an annual workshop  “Quality caregiving for infants and toddlers”. As a licensed  New York State psychologist, she has worked with families to ameliorate troubles in development and behavior. In Beijing, she was invited to give the “Dr. Alice Honig award” to a prominent Chinese pediatrician. She was awarded the Syracuse University Chancellor’s Citation for Academic Excellence.


I wrote...

Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant/Toddler Attachment in Early Care Settings

By Alice Sterling Honig,

Book cover of Secure Relationships: Nurturing Infant/Toddler Attachment in Early Care Settings

What is my book about?

Besides promoting healthful and safe experiences, the most important skills for parents and caregivers with young children are to give love and empathy to promote each child’s development of secure attachment and the second skill is building language powers and a passionate love of learning. This book provides specific tips to l empower child care providers to nurture secure attachments that result in children’s ability to become more cooperative, friendly, and loving.

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