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

de Charles King

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3821367,615 (4.07)14
History. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML: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 labeled "primitive" or "advanced." What counted as a family, a good meal, or even common sense was a product of history and circumstance, not of nature. In Gods of the Upper Air, a masterful narrative history of radical ideas and passionate lives, Charles King shows how these intuitions led to a fundamental reimagining of human diversity.
     Boas's students were some of the century's most colorful figures and unsung visionaries: Margaret Mead, the outspoken field researcher whose Coming of Age in Samoa is among 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 on 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 civilizations from the American South to the South Pacific and from Caribbean islands to Manhattan's city streets, and unearthed an essential fact buried by centuries of prejudice: that humanity is an undivided whole. Their revolutionary findings would go on to inspire the fluid conceptions of identity we know today. 
     Rich in drama, conflict, friendship, and love, Gods of the Upper Air is a brilliant and groundbreaking history of American progress and the opening of the modern mi
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» Veja também 14 menções

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RN in Notes for Loom of Time
  BJMacauley | May 15, 2024 |
Not read
  BJMacauley | Mar 31, 2024 |
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 Daniel Okrent’s “The Guarded Gate” which was also a fine book covering the same time period.

Charles King also wrote a very different book that I loved, about Istanbul and its history, called “Midnight at the Pera Palace” — highly recommended. ( )
  steve02476 | Jan 3, 2023 |
Fascinating! Not easy to read (for me, at least) but more than worth it.A history of the most important persons in Anthropology, most of whom were women. ( )
  TheoSmit | Apr 18, 2022 |
A really fascinating look at the intersecting lives of some of the key figures in the establishment of cultural anthropology in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Charles King focuses largely on the circle that formed around German-born Columbia University professor Franz Boas, one which saw their burgeoning field as not just “a science but also as a state of mind.” This is not a topic I knew a huge amount about, and I appreciated the introduction to how Boas—plus Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston, and Ella Deloria—helped to shape popular thinking about many now well-known concepts such as cultural relativism. King is perhaps a bit easier in his assessments/judgement of their work and its legacy than is quite earned, but still very interesting.

(And hey, academics a hundred years ago being over-worked and under-paid! Plus ça change.) ( )
  siriaeve | Mar 28, 2022 |
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History. Sociology. Nonfiction. HTML: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 labeled "primitive" or "advanced." What counted as a family, a good meal, or even common sense was a product of history and circumstance, not of nature. In Gods of the Upper Air, a masterful narrative history of radical ideas and passionate lives, Charles King shows how these intuitions led to a fundamental reimagining of human diversity.
     Boas's students were some of the century's most colorful figures and unsung visionaries: Margaret Mead, the outspoken field researcher whose Coming of Age in Samoa is among 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 on 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 civilizations from the American South to the South Pacific and from Caribbean islands to Manhattan's city streets, and unearthed an essential fact buried by centuries of prejudice: that humanity is an undivided whole. Their revolutionary findings would go on to inspire the fluid conceptions of identity we know today. 
     Rich in drama, conflict, friendship, and love, Gods of the Upper Air is a brilliant and groundbreaking history of American progress and the opening of the modern mi

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