MARGARET MEAD: A Voice for the Century by Robert Cassidy

MARGARET MEAD: A Voice for the Century

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Before her death in 1978, Margaret Mead gave Cassidy her blessing to continue the life story she had begun in Blackberry Winter. And, in response, the present volume celebrates her dual career as scientist and public figure. Cassidy tells of a typical 1970 week, when Mead was 68: dinner award, lunch with editors, travels to Washington for State Department meetings, guest lectures, TV recording sessions, professional society meetings, ongoing course with Columbia students. He then reviews the professional career, the influences of Boas and Benedict, the three husbands married and divorced, the child born to Mead and Gregory Bateson. But apart from the strong influence of Mead's grandmother and her well-educated immediate family, there is little of the personal: no insights into Mead's emotional relationships with the men in her life, or with her professional colleagues. Instead, the book focuses on her contributions to anthropology, and her public policies and proposals. Mead helped develop notions of national character, for example. And Keep Your Powder Dry (1942) offered an appraisal of the American lifestyle--an approach Mead pushed, during World War II, an an anthropological key to how the British or French, Germans or Japanese, would behave in battle and in postwar times. In covering Mead on the family, on environmental issues, Third World development, science and technology, religion, and selected areas (abortion, birth control, civil disobedience, etc.), Cassidy is wisely objective. The volume becomes less a paean and more a perspective--on policies that were a mixture of sound judgment and folly. Mead was one of the first to limn the details of the generation gap; she spoke incisively about the need to redefine women's role in a world no longer absorbed with perpetuating the race. Yet she also contemplated Armenian as a lingua franca for the world. She proposed double marriage licensing--the second license to be issued only after a couple had established its willingness to have children. So anomalies and idiosyncracies abound. No doubt scholars will produce further, more penetrating assessments of Mead's professional and public career. In the meantime, Cassidy's gentle portrait--the only one (for adults) now available--helpfully fills in some of the gaps.

Pub Date: May 4th, 1982
Publisher: Universe