Best Weller's Pick

Weller Book Works was founded as Zion Bookstore nearly 90 years ago. Over the years we’ve been known as Sam Weller’s Books and Sam Weller’s Zion Bookstore. We are in our third generation of operations, owned and managed by Tony and Catherine Weller. Our staff includes four generations of Wellers and a remarkable team of book lovers. Our bookstore sells new, used and rare books in a space built to surprise and delight you in historic Trolley Square.

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Every other month the staff of Weller Book Works nominates and then votes on books we deem worthy of extra attention, our Best Weller's selection. We discount these books to you by 20% during the months for which they're chosen because we believe in them.

Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century Cover Image
ISBN: 9780385542197
Availability: Not in Stock... Available to ship in 3-5 days

Published: Doubleday - August 6th, 2019

Gods of the Upper Air is the fascinating history of the birth of Anthropology in the United States surrounding the career of Franz Boas against the backdrop of white supremacy, the fallacy of "superior" human cultures in juxtaposition to “primitive peoples”, and eugenics around the 1920’s spanning to its presence and arguable resurgence today. Charles King provides the background and let’s the subjects take over the narrative, not idealizing them, but showing their development in the academic world they lived in.


Franz Boas is the central subject. King shows his life in Germany, his studies on Baffin Island and his struggles to be accepted as a legitimate scientist in the United States. Setting off from Germany he studied the native peoples of Baffin Island. Upon landing in the US, he struggled to gain acceptance within academic circles; even a meeting with John Wesley Powell did not go well. He finally got a job with Frederic Ward Putnam assembling the Anthropology exhibit at Chicago’s World’s Fair. The Hall was less attended than others, and he became upset of the general acceptance of his displays and actual performances that were performed.


Boas took his work to the American Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian. His displays antagonized many of those that were entrenched in these institutions. Finally He accepted a teaching position in the newly established Columbia University. This is where he became head of the Anthropology department and foster a circle of skilled anthropologists, many of whom were female. Among these were Ruth Benedict, Margaret Mead, and Zora Neale Huston.


The first part of Gods of the Upper Air is about Boas, then King delves into views that were being popularized at that time. Among the media influencing these views was a book called The Passing of the Great Race, authored by Madison Grant, which sounded alarm bells for white nationalists, and was studied by the Nazis in Germany to develop their ideas. This racism polluted the United States during the 1920’s, and 1930’s commissions were set up to study the effects of intermarriage and the influence of immigration. Shortly thereafter, the theory of Eugenics took hold. Franz Boas stood up against these ideas, ruffling many, never ceasing to shoot holes in their theories and teaching his students to dig out the facts in their field studies.


Charles King then follows the lives of the impressive students of Franz Boas and the effects they had on the growth of Anthropology in the United States. He delves into their personal lives, their methods of studies and the publications they produced, The chapters on Margaret Mead are particularly detailed and thoroughly researched. The parts on Zora Neale Hurston are very interesting, concerning her studies of southern African American life in Florida, she having grown up there herself.


Gods of the Upper Air brings into view the complexities of how anthropology was worked into the American scientific sphere and developed into what's considered a true science, with advanced methodologies and insights, much which can be ascribed to Franz Boas and the group of monumental woman anthropologists with whom he worked