A shattering portrayal of life among the impoverished inhabitants of Alto do Cruzeiro (""Hill of the Crucifixion""), a shantytown in the city of Bom Jesus da Mata in northeastern Brazil's Pernambuco Province. Scheper-Hughes (Anthropology/UC at Berkeley), whose 1979 Saints, Scholars, and Schizophrenics (not reviewed) won the Margaret Mead Award, has again produced a work of enormous power and importance. Alto do Cruzeiro is well named: Life in its fetid alleyways and smoke-filled mud-and-sheet-metal huts is a perpetual Golgotha where poverty, malnutrition, and terrorism make death and ""disappearances"" commonplace--and where, in 1987, the infant and child mortality rate reached more than 23 percent of total births. Scheper-Hughes, who first came to the area as a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1960's and who has returned again and again, focuses most of her attention on the women of the Alto. Bringing an unusual sensitivity to her research and couching her findings in prose that is at once subtle and precise, she urges ""a more 'womanly' anthropology,"" one that engages ""questions of human relationships and ethics."" The author explores the social, economic, political, and religious factors--the plantation system's exploitation of the workers; governmental corruption and indifference; superstition; the hidebound conservatism of the Roman Catholic hierarchy--that contribute to the inhumane conditions. In what is undoubtedly her most controversial conclusion, Scheper-Hughes contends that the uncertainty of existence within the ghetto community atrophies impoverished women's feelings of what is thought in more stable Western societies to be an inherent female trait--""mother love."" The author makes a strong case for this finding, which undoubtedly will provoke heated discussion. A stimulating, consistently engrossing contribution to the scientific understanding of a complex and tragic situation.