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"Elegant and kaleidoscopic . . . This looks to be the perfect moment for King's resolutely humane book."
- Jennifer Szalai, The New York Times

"Captivating."
- NPR.org

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 mind.



About the Author

Charles King

Charles King is Professor of International Affairs and Government at Georgetown University, chair of the Department of Government, and former faculty chair of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. He is the author of six books, including MIDNIGHT AT THE PERA PALACE: THE BIRTH OF MODERN ISTANBUL (2014) , which received the French Prix de Voyage Urbain "Le Figaro-Peninsula Paris"; ODESSA: GENIUS AND DEATH IN A CITY OF DREAMS (2011) , winner of the National Jewish Book Award; THE GHOST OF FREEDOM: A HISTORY OF THE CAUCASUS (2008) ; and THE BLACK SEA: A HISTORY (2004) . He lectures widely on global affairs and has worked with broadcast media including CNN, National Public Radio, the BBC, the History Channel, and MTV. A native of the Ozark hill country, King studied history and politics at the University of Arkansas and Oxford University, where he was a British Marshall Scholar. @charleskingdc, www.charles-king.net



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