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  • Published: 7 November 2019
  • ISBN: 9781473547896
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 448

The Reinvention of Humanity

A Story of Race, Sex, Gender and the Discovery of Culture




The riveting story of the intrepid women anthropologists who redefined race, sex, gender and normality in the early twentieth century.

*THE NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER*'Magnificent' Guardian / 'Hugely informative and adhesively readable' Sunday TimesThe Reinvention of Humanity tells the riveting story of a small circle of renegade scientist-explorers who changed something profound: what it means to be normal.

In the early twentieth century, these pioneering anthropologists, most of them women, made intrepid journeys that overturned our assumptions about race, sexuality, gender and the nature of human diversity. From the Arctic to the South Pacific, from Haiti to Japan, they immersed themselves in distant or isolated communities, where they observed and documented radically different approaches to love and child-rearing, family structure and the relationship between women and men. With this evidence they were able to challenge the era’s scientific consensus – and deep-rooted Western belief – that intelligence, ability and character are determined by a person’s race or sex, and show that the roles people play in society are shaped in fact according to the immense variety of human cultures.

Theirs were boundary-breaking lives, filled with scandal, romance, rivalry and tragedy. Those of Margaret Mead and her essential partner Ruth Benedict resulted in fame and notoriety. Those of Native American activist Ella Deloria and the African-American writer and ethnographer Zora Neale Hurston ended in poverty and obscurity; here their achievements are brought fully into the light for the first time. All were outsiders, including the controversial founder of their field, the wild-haired professor, German immigrant and revolutionary thinker, Franz Boas.The Reinvention of Humanity takes us on their globe-spanning adventures and shows how, together, these courageous and unconventional people created the moral universe we inhabit today.

  • Published: 7 November 2019
  • ISBN: 9781473547896
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 448

About the author

Charles King

Charles King is Professor of International Affairs at Georgetown University where he teaches a popular course called ‘Ethnicity, Race, and Nation'. His many books include Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul, a 2014 New York Times Book Review Notable Book, and Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams, winner of a National Jewish Book Award in 2011. His writing has appeared in the TLS, New York Times, Washington Post, Foreign Affairs, The New Republic and other publications.

Praise for The Reinvention of Humanity

Magnificent ... In this brilliantly written and deftly organised book, Charles King tells the story of how the study of humankind [was revolutionised] in the first half of the 20th century

Kathryn Hughes, Guardian

Hugely informative and adhesively readable

John Carey, Sunday Times

Stunning ... every syllable seems perfectly positioned for pitch, stress, euphony and evocative power; the brilliant vignettes of the anthropologists’ leisure moments … the vividness with which their private lives, sexual intrigues and secret thoughts are captured … elegant and entertaining

Literary Review

An intellectual adventure story of the best sort - elegantly written, thought-provoking and full of biographical riches

SARAH BAKEWELL, author of At the Existentialist Café

Charles King, author of this illuminating biographical history [has] a great gift for nicely balanced epigrammatic prose … as King writes with a typically fine flourish, Boas can be seen to have been “on the front line of the greatest moral battle of our time” and he, along with the talented women who learnt from him, won out in the end

Lucy Hughes-Hallett, New Statesman

Written with verve and authority, this exciting – even entrancing – story follows the first cultural anthropologists to far-flung field sites that suggested antidotes to the racism and xenophobia of society

DAVA SOBEL, author of Longitude

Stunning. Wickedly perceptive, a scholarly masterpiece

DAVID OSHINSKY, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Polio

Elegant and kaleidoscopic … this looks to be the perfect moment for King’s resolutely humane book

NEW YORK TIMES

Deeply intelligent and immensely readable

Alison Gopnik, Atlantic

The notion of cultural relativism was as unique in its way as was Einstein’s theory of relativity in the discipline of physics, a shattering of the European mind. This remarkable book explains why. Franz Boas’s intuitions and insights, distilled in theory and practice by generations of scholars, a lineage that includes Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Zora Neale Hurston, all brilliantly portrayed in the book, continue to inform contemporary anthropology, allowing the discipline to stand today as the antidote to nativism and the poisonous rhetoric of political demagogues. The entire purpose of anthropology, wrote Ruth Benedict, is to make the world safe for human differences. Never has the voice of anthropology been more important, and the arrival of this astonishing book can only be described as a gift to us all

Wade Davis, author of Into the Silence

Masterful. A vital book for our times

IBRAM X. KENDI, National Book Award-winning author of How To Be An Antiracist

Engaging, deeply thought-provoking and brilliantly written. Charles King takes you on an unforgettable journey as daring anthropologists unravel the profound mysteries of culture and mankind

DAVID HOFFMAN, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Dead Hand

Vitally relevant

GILLIAN TETT, Financial Times

A motley crew of rebellious young female scientists, inspired by a scar-faced mad-genius professor, boldly set out on intrepid journeys to study strange far-flung worlds, and discover that their own home-world is stranger than they thought. Along the way, they have tempestuous love-affairs, scary adventures, swashbuckling battles against armies of racists, sexists and eugenicists. In the end, they change our moral universe. Sounds like a sci-fi fantasy movie? It happened, here on Earth, nearly a century ago. A fascinating and important story, beautifully told

KATE FOX, author of Watching the English

As told very engagingly by Charles King, their research turned upside down the then unshakeable assumption that certain people were innatley superior to others, because of their skin colour, culture and gender

Julia Lllewellyn Smith, *****Mail on Sunday

Nothing short of magnificent … in many ways a deeply touching book. Charles King’s prose is immensely readable and perceptive and lends itself perfectly to telling one of the most fascinating tales of twentieth-century science

All About History

No one until now has told this story of anthropology’s rise to [its] ‘master key’ status … Charles King’s book … does this with both subtlety and panache … A compelling account of mutliculturalism’s intellectual precursors

Peter Mandler, History Today

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