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Aryan Warlords in their Chariots

Edmund Leach, 2 April 1987

Black Athena: The Afro-Asiatic Roots of Classical Civilisation. 
by Martin Bernal.
Free Association, 575 pp., £30, March 1987, 0 946960 55 0
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... I attended English boarding-schools from 1919 to 1928, aged eight to 18. I there learned that, despite the slaughterhouse of the 1914-1918 War, European civilisation was without any question the greatest that had ever existed. It derived from the Glory that was Greece and the Grandeur that was Rome, but it was not to be thought of as, in any significant sense, a Mediterranean civilisation: it had been the creation of fair-skinned Europeans who spoke a variety of Indo-European languages akin to Persian and Sanskrit ...

Word of Mouth

Edmund Leach, 3 March 1988

The Interface between the Written and the Oral 
by Jack Goody.
Cambridge, 328 pp., £27.50, July 1987, 0 521 33268 0
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... Jack Goody took early retirement from the prestigious post of William Wise Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge and is now in a highly productive phase of his career. Indeed, if Cambridge University Press had not put many of his recent writings into a single series, it would be hard to keep track of all the things he has been up to ...

Quality Distinctions

Edmund Leach, 17 December 1981

The Architecture of Experience: A Discussion of the Role of Language and Literature in the Construction of the World 
by G.D. Martin.
Edinburgh, 201 pp., £12, February 1981, 0 333 23560 6
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... Just why the publication of this expensive book should have merited a subsidy from the Scottish Arts Council is not obvious. Much of the text has the disjointed irrelevance of the Walrus talking about why the sea is boiling hot or whether pigs have wings, though, since Martin is a University Lecturer in French, a better parallel might be Bouvard and Pécuchet, Flaubert’s satire on the indiscriminate accumulation of half-digested knowledge ...

Middle American

Edmund Leach, 7 March 1985

Margaret Mead: A Life 
by Jane Howard.
Harvill, 527 pp., £12.95, October 1984, 0 00 272515 0
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With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson 
by Mary Catherine Bateson.
Morrow, 242 pp., $15.95, July 1984, 0 688 03962 6
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... Both these books are, in part, by-products of the furore that was generated in 1983 by the publication of Derek Freeman’s Margaret Mead and Samoa: The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth and I had better declare where I stand. I have known Derek Freeman for nearly forty years. I consider that his criticism of the work of the youthful Margaret Mead was Justified but academically unnecessary ...

Common Ground

Edmund Leach, 19 September 1985

A Social History of Western Europe 1450-1720: Tensions and Solidarities among Rural People 
by Sheldon Watts.
Hutchinson, 275 pp., £7.95, October 1984, 0 09 156081 0
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Kinship in the Past: An Anthropology of European Family Life 1500-1900 
by Andrejs Plakans.
Blackwell, 276 pp., £24.50, September 1984, 0 631 13066 7
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Interests and Emotion: Essays on the Study of Family and Kinship 
edited by Hans Medick and David Warren Sabean.
Cambridge, 417 pp., £35, June 1984, 0 521 24969 4
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... All three of these books exemplify a convergence of interest between certain brands of academic historian and certain brands of academic social anthropologist. For a social anthropologist of my age and background this is a surprising development, though the trend has been under way for some time. It is surprising because, although social anthropology, under the influence of Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, first developed as a kind of grand-scale, synthetic history in which the data of ethnography were used as illustrations of a priori theories of social evolution or historical diffusion, it later developed into a self-consciously non-historical field of study ...

Love, Peace and Horror

Edmund Leach, 22 January 1981

Black and White 
by Shiva Naipaul.
Hamish Hamilton, 215 pp., £8.50, October 1980, 0 241 10337 1
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... Grand-scale massacres and mass suicide performed as a climax to religious observances were a feature of nearly all the ancient civilisations. The descriptions of such happenings, when reported in accounts of archaeological excavation, arouse astonishment but little else. We cannot share in the religious awe evoked by the original event; the mutilated skeletons generate no emotion; they could as well be logs of wood ...

Jesus and Cain

Edmund Leach, 2 December 1982

The Sacred Executioner: Human Sacrifice and the Legacy of Guilt 
by Hyam Maccoby.
Thames and Hudson, 208 pp., £10.95, September 1982, 0 500 01281 4
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... I must declare an interest. Since Hyam Maccoby makes no attempt to disguise his prejudices, I will start by declaring my own. The first is respectable. I dislike phoney scholarship. Lunatic-fringe anthropology will always be with us and is sometimes great fun; it only becomes objectionable when it pretends to be something else. Maccoby’s book carries the superficial stigmata appropriate to a work of scholarship ...

Sudden Losses of Complexity

Edmund Leach, 10 November 1988

The Collapse of Complex Societies 
by Joseph Tainter.
Cambridge, 250 pp., £27.50, June 1988, 0 521 34092 6
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... The main text of this book takes up only 215 pages. It tends to be repetitive and includes a number of not very well designed diagrams and maps. To that is added a list of about 630 references and an index which does not include all the references. Furthermore the references are so constructed that the reader is left unsure about whether the author has really consulted his source or why ...

Naming of Dogs

Edmund Leach, 20 March 1986

The View from Afar 
by Claude Lévi-Strauss, translated by Joachim Neugroschel and Phoebe Hoss.
Blackwell, 311 pp., £19.50, June 1985, 0 631 13966 4
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... In their French editions the titles and covers of Lévi-Strauss’s books are often designed to tease as well as to inform. They deserve attention. Tristes Tropiques is about tropes as well as tropics; Mythologiques is about odd kinds of logic as well as mythology; La Pensée Sauvage carried on its cover a picture of a wild pansy which should have warned the English publisher that The Savage Mind was hardly an adequate translation even if the author chose the latter title himself ...

Lacan’s Mirrors

Edmund Leach, 2 July 1981

The Talking Cure: Essays in Psychoanalysis and Language 
edited by Colin MacCabe.
Macmillan, 230 pp., £20, February 1981, 0 333 23560 6
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... It is possible that I am asked to comment on this expensive and largely unreadable volume only because its editor has achieved national celebrity by seeming to figure as a sacrificial victim in the recent extraordinary fracas in the Cambridge English Faculty. Sacrifices, as the word indicates, are procedures for improving the ritual status of the victim-donor, and it is entirely appropriate that Dr MacCabe should, in the outcome, have become a full professor (at the University of Strathclyde ...

Cairo Essays

Edmund Leach, 4 December 1980

Evans-Pritchard 
by Mary Douglas.
Fontana, 140 pp., £1.50, March 1980, 0 00 634006 7
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... Fontana Modern Mastership has by now become so diffuse that the editorial problem may well have shifted from choosing a master who deserves the accolade to finding a biographer to bestow it. Why else should Malinowski still be left off the list but Evans-Pritchard (E-P to all who knew him but not in this book), Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Oxford from 1946-1970, gain the crown? But if E-P be held to deserve apotheosis then Mary Douglas seems, on the face of it, a very appropriate hagiographer, for she is a noted anthropologist in her own right, was once a pupil of E-P, and, like E-P himself in his later years, is an exceptionally devoted member of the Roman Catholic Church ...

Bridges

Edmund Leach, 15 July 1982

Myth, Religion and Society: Structuralist Essays 
by M. Detienne, L. Gernet, J-P. Vernant and P. Vidal-Naquet, edited by R.L. Gordon.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 306 pp., £20, January 1982, 0 521 22780 1
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The Anthropological Circle: Symbol, Function, History 
by Marc Augé.
Cambridge/Editions de la Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 131 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 0 521 23236 8
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... Apart from the fact that they are products of the same international publishing enterprise, and that they are both translations from the French, there is not much that these two books have in common, so my comments will be seriatim. The earliest of the essays in the Gordon collection, which is by Gernet, who died in 1962 at the age of 80, first appeared as long ago as 1948; the remainder at various dates since 1968 ...

Anthropologies

Edmund Leach, 2 August 1984

Nomads and the Outside World 
by A.M. Khazanov, translated by Julia Crookenden.
Cambridge, 369 pp., £37.50, February 1984, 0 521 23813 7
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The House of Si Abd Allah: The Oral History of a Moroccan Family 
edited by Henry Munson.
Yale, 320 pp., £17.95, April 1984, 0 300 03084 3
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Ruth Benedict: Patterns of a Life 
by Judith Modell.
Chatto, 255 pp., £15, February 1984, 0 7011 2771 6
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... Khazanov’s global comparative study of pastoral nomadism is unique. The level of erudition may be indicated by the bare statistic that the bibliography runs to 48 closely printed pages of which 23 refer exclusively to works in Russian. For those who are not specialists in the field at this level of intensity, and perhaps even for those who are, the 16 pages of Ernest Gellner’s ‘Foreword’ provide essential reading ...

Incidence of Incest

Edmund Leach, 19 February 1981

The Red Lamp of Incest: A Study in the Origins of Mind and Society 
by Robin Fox.
Hutchinson, 271 pp., £7.95, January 1981, 0 09 144080 7
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Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and its Devastation 
by Susan Forward and Craig Buck.
Penguin, 154 pp., £1.95, February 1981, 0 14 022287 1
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... A part from the flaming scarlet with which the word ‘Incest’ is picked out on the covers of both these books, they do not have much in common, but the theme has a perennial fascination and they will doubtless both sell well. I am personally more attracted by Susan Forward’s modestly presented case-histories than by Robin Fox’s pretentious fantasies, but there is more meat for discussion in the latter’s argument, so let us start there ...

Goldthorpe, Halsey and Social Class

Edmund Leach, 20 March 1980

Social Mobility and Class Structure in Modern Britain 
by John Goldthorpe.
Oxford, 310 pp., £12, January 1980, 0 19 827239 1
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Origins and Destinations: Family, Class and Education in Modern Britain 
by A.H. Halsey.
Oxford, 240 pp., £14, January 1980, 0 19 827224 3
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... I refer to the first of these items as ‘Goldthorpe’ and to the second as ‘Halsey’. Both are productions of the Oxford (Social) Mobility Project, a large collaborative exercise which has operated from a base in Nuffield College since 1969. For a long while, politicians and other interested parties are likely to cite them as authoritative sources, but in order to evaluate what is being said, the reader must penetrate a thick layer of mind-boggling numerical tabulations and pseudo-vector diagrams to the egalitarian value schema which lies beneath ...

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