When Cultural Anthropology Was Popular: A Quiz

Guest post by Paul Shankman

Cultural anthropologists are often concerned that their work is not getting the public attention that it deserves. Yet just a few decades ago, cultural anthropology was familiar to a broad audience who thought it to be interesting, thought provoking, and even life changing. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the work of a number of cultural anthropologists found an appreciative public, and their books sold well. These anthropologists wrote in plain English, on eye-catching subjects, and for commercial presses rather than academic presses. Looking back, their work may elicit a mixture of admiration, amazement, embarrassment, and even dismay. Can you identify these anthropologists? (Answers follow the questions.)


  1. Name the only cultural anthropologist to win the National Book Award.
  2. Name the most recent cultural anthropologist to win the Pulitzer Prize.
  3. Name the British anthropologist whose book about an allegedly dysfunctional African group inspired a play by acclaimed playwright Peter Brook that was performed on stage in Paris, London, and New York and that also led to the production of a recent documentary film.
  4. Name the anthropologist whose classic work from 1934 on cultural patterns yielded 800,000 copies in print by 1958, making it the best-selling book by a cultural anthropologist to that time.
  5. Name the two little-known anthropologists whose book on open marriage in the early 1970s sold millions of copies world-wide, making it the all-time best seller by anthropologists.
  6. Name the cultural anthropologist who co-produced an Academy Award-winning documentary in the late 1970s based on her ethnography of an elderly Jewish population in southern California.
  7. Name the cultural anthropologist who wrote a monthly column for a mainstream women’s magazine for 17 years during the 1960s and 1970s.
  8. Name the cultural anthropologist whose work on shamanism made him an icon of the counter-culture of the late 1960s and 1970s and who was profiled in a cover story for Time magazine.
  9. Name the former student of Franz Boas whose work on Africa in the 1940s was embraced by the Black Panthers and black nationalist students in the 1960s.
  10. Name the virtually unknown anthropologists who co-authored a popular book about black sexual stereotypes and world of black “players” in the early 1970s and who appeared on the CBS TV series ‘’60 Minutes”.
  11. Name the cultural anthropologist whose scathing book-length critique of American culture and advertising was widely read in the mid-1960s.


The February 1969 cover of Redbook magazine.
The February 1969 cover of Redbook magazine.



  1. Oscar Lewis won the National Book Award in 1967 for La Vida; he was a finalist in 1962 for The Children of Sanchez.
  1. Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for The Denial of Death in 1974. Oliver LaFarge also won it in 1929 for Laughing Boy.
  1. Colin Turnbull’s controversial best seller, The Mountain People (1972), was the subject of a play, ‘The Ik’, and a recent documentary film, ‘Ikland’ (2012).
  1. Ruth Benedict’s Patterns of Culture (1934) outsold all other anthropological books into the early 1960s.
  1. Nena and George O’Neill’s Open Marriage (1972), which contained only three pages on “open marriage,” spent 40 weeks on the New York Times’ best seller list.
  1. Barbara Myerhoff’s Number Our Days (1976) was made into an Academy Award- winning documentary, co-produced with Lynne Littman.
  1. Margaret Mead’s long-running column for Redbook (1962-1978) holds the record for popular magazine articles by an anthropologist.
  1. Carlos Castenada wrote The Teachings of Don Juan (1968) and other works that have been very popular.
  1. Melville Herskovits’ The Myth of the Negro Past (1941) resonated with black nationalists in the late 1960s.
  1. Richard and Christina Milner co-authored Black Players (1971), a book that was featured on ’60 Minutes.’
  1. Jules Henry wrote Culture Against Man (1964).


If you missed some of the answers, don’t worry. At least four of the authors are virtually unknown today (Becker, the O’Neills, the Milners, and Henry), and some of the others are not well known. Their popularity and visibility have rarely endured. Today blogs, YouTube, and other on-line platforms offer possibilities for communicating with the public that earlier generations of cultural anthropologists could not have imagined. The sheer number, accessibility, and immediacy of these new venues provide unique opportunities for making our work widely available to a variety of audiences. But will our efforts have the impact we anticipate? Or, given the transient nature of the Internet, will our efforts be less enduring than we hoped?


Paul Shankman is professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Colorado. He has worked in Samoa and is the author of numerous articles about Margaret Mead and the Mead-Freeman controversy including The Trashing of Margaret Mead: Anatomy of Anthropological Controversy (University of Wisconsin Press, 2009, and reviewed here on Savage Minds).]



Carole McGranahan

I am an anthropologist and historian of Tibet, and a professor at the University of Colorado. I conduct research, write, lecture, and teach. At any given time, I am probably working on one of the following projects: Tibet, British empire, and the Pangdatsang family; the CIA as an ethnographic subject; contemporary US empire; the ongoing self-immolations in Tibet; the Chushi Gangdrug resistance army; refugee citizenship in the Tibetan diaspora (Canada, India, Nepal, USA); and, anthropology as theoretical storytelling.

2 thoughts on “When Cultural Anthropology Was Popular: A Quiz

  1. David Kertzer won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 for his book, The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe.

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