, Volume 40, Issue 6, pp 1341-1343
Date: 14 Sep 2011

The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of an Anthropological Controversy

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Shankman’s masterful account of anthropologist Derek Freeman’s “trashing of Margaret Mead” amounts to everything you really want in a history of an alleged scientific controversy: it is scholarly, readable, interdisciplinary, thorough, and juicy. Shankman, a professor of anthropology at the University of Colorado at Boulder, proves in this work what I always tell students in my graduate history of medicine course: you don’t need to be trained as an historian to do good history; you just have to be devoted to evidence and know that time goes forward.

Fortunately, Shankman knows that the most readable histories rarely simply go forward. He begins his book by recounting how the “controversy” over Margaret Mead exploded onto the international media scene in 1983, several years after Mead’s death, when Harvard University Press provided journalistic outlets pre-publication copies of Freeman’s Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth. This approach pretty muc ...