WE ASKED SIX LEADING ANTHROPOLOGISTS TO TELL US ABOUT THE MOST PROVOCATIVE RECENT BOOKS IN THEIR FIELD, BOOKS THEY WOULD URGE COLLEAGUES IN OTHER DISCIPLINES TO READ, OR THAT SIGNAL NEW DIRECTIONS FOR ANTHROPOLOGY.
Renato Rosaldo, professor of anthropology, Stanford University; author of Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis (1989): Michael Taussig's Shamanism, Colonialism and the Wild Man: A Study in Terror and Healing (University of Chicago, 1987). In Rosaldo's words, "It's both a study of colonial discourse and ideology and a really experimental ethnography... about the rubber boom in [the] turn-of-the-century Colombian Amazon." Rosaldo says the book provides "a vaccination against colonial ideology by giving you a slight case of the disease. You read about the terrible things done to the Indians, and first you get a little fascinated and then you get a little sick, but the important thing is that you understand, in a visceral sense, how people could get into this culture of terror ... and how the tortured could become the torturers."
Clifford Geertz, professor of social science, Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton; author of Works and Lives: The Anthropologist as Author (1988); and James Clifford, historian of anthropology, UC Santa Cruz; author of The Predicament of Culture: Twentieth Century Ethnography, Literature and Art (1988): Renato Rosaldo's Culture and Truth: The Remaking of Social Analysis (Beacon, 1989). Geertz says: "If anyone wants to know what's exercising anthropologists what is both dividing and connecting them -- this is a very good place to start. It doesn't offer conclusive arguments, but an excellent understanding of the debates that have been going on for the last decade in anthropology." And James Clifford calls Rosaldo's work "a really innovative mixture of analytic prose and the personal voice that doesn't make a reductive case for subjective over objective approaches but questions that very opposition."
Marshall Sahlins, professor of anthropology, University of Chicago, author of Islands of History (1987): Stanley J. Tambiah's Magic, Science, & Religion & the Scope of Rationality (Cambridge University Press, 1990). Sahlins says this "very important" series of lectures details how "Protestantism introduced distinctions between magic, science, and religion that profoundly affected how we view other peoples' values and beliefs."
Emily Martin, professor of anthropology, Johns Hopkins; author of The Woman in the Body: A Cultural Analysis of Reproduction (1987); and Annette Weiner, distinguished professor of anthropology, New York University; President-Elect of the American Anthropological Association; author of The Trobrianders of Papua, New Guinea (1988): Faye Ginsburg's Contested Lives (University of California Press, 1990). Martin notes that in this ethnography of abortion activists -- pro and con in North Dakota, "the role of the ethnographer was quite important because through her the two sides began to speak to one another for the first time." She adds that Ginsburg's book, along with Katherine Newman's Falling from Grace: The Experience of Downward Mobility in the American Middle Class (1988) and Sharon Traweek's Beamtimes and Lifetimes: The World of High Energy Physicists (1988), is "part of an important trend in which anthropologists are applying ethnographic methods to contemporary American society." Weiner admires Contested Lives because "it provides a really sophisticated analysis of the opposing groups on the abortion issue, but it also opens out into a historical study of American attitudes about gender, nurturance, abortion, and the intervention of the law into these domains."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.