THE SKULL MEASURER'S MISTAKE by Sven Lindqvist

THE SKULL MEASURER'S MISTAKE

and Other Portraits of Men and Women Who Spoke Out Against Racism

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Lindqvist (``Exterminate All the Brutes'': One Man's Odyssey into the Heart of Darkness and the Origins of European Genocide, 1996, etc.) honors courageous visionaries from the 18th to the mid- 20th centuries who stood up to the prevailing racism of their time- -a well-intentioned notion only partially carried off. The author achieves his modest primary goal, ``to remind readers of some anti-racists, who today are often forgotten.'' In fact, some of those featured are well known, for instance, Benjamin Franklin, who rode out to intercept the ``Paxton boys'' as they headed to Philadelphia to murder Indians. His speech to the mob persuaded them to turn back. Other idealists are rescued from obscurity, among them Friedrich Tiedemann, a gynecological surgeon during the Napoleonic Wars, who is the subject of the title essay. He conducted a skull-measuring experiment that dared to conclude that Europeans did not have the largest brains. Though his work ``delay[ed] the advance of racism'' for a time, eventually the conclusions of smaller-minded scientists (such as the American Samuel Morton) prevailed. The lives of these outspoken figures were often lonely. Olive Schreiner, a South African activist and author, was ``detested by men because she was a feminist, and by South African feminists because she insisted on the vote for black women as well.'' Through lively, brief vignettes, Lindqvist shows that racist doctrine had its opponents, even in generally unenlightened times. But the author's tone, perhaps muddled further by a weak translation, undermines the book. Some writings of activists are quoted. But many are paraphrased at length, and the author's voice becomes confused with his subjects'. This is a useful, unpretentious volume that may give context and hope to the fight against racism, while admittedly charting no new territory.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1997
ISBN: 1-56584-363-0
Page count: 192pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1997




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