NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Margaret Mead's Book Called "Worst Of The Century"

January 21, 2000

Joining the many end-of-century lists is one naming the 50 worst non-fiction books of the 20th century. The editors believe it isn't a purely intellectual exercise, since many of the worst books are still popular on college campuses nationwide, despite the fact that later scholarship has shot holes in their conclusions.

According to the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, which compiled the list, the worst of the worst is Margaret Mead's 1928 book "Coming of Age In Samoa." In 1925 Mead, a 23-year-old with no field experience, went to Samoa to observe the transition from childhood to adulthood. She determined that Samoans were free of the hangups of their Western counterparts and that sexual promiscuity was common. The only problem was that the Samoans made up all the stories, and Mead was gullible and inexperienced enough to believe them.

Rounding out the top five worst books, with the editors' comments, are:

  • Beatrice and Sidney Webb's starry-eyed paean to Stalinism "Soviet Communism: A New Civilization?": "An idea whose time has come...and gone, thank God."
  • Alfred Kinsey, et al.: "Sexual Behavior in the Human Male," "A pervert's attempt to demonstrate that perversion is 'statistically' normal."
  • Herbert Marcuse, "One-Dimensional Man": "A seeming praise of kinkiness that became the Bible of the sixties."
  • John Dewey, "Democracy and Education": "Dewey convinced a generation of intellectuals that education isn't about anything..."

The ISI also picked the 50 best books of the century, leading off with "The Education of Henry Adams": "Pessimism and nostalgia at the bright dawn of the twentieth century must have seemed bizarre to contemporaries. After a century of war mass murder and fanaticism, we know that Adams's insight was keen indeed."

The top five also includes C.S. Lewis's "The Abolition of Man," Whittaker Chambers's "Witness," T.S. Eliot's "Selected Essays" and Arnold Toynbee's "A Study of History."

Source: Jean Christensen (Associated Press), "Mead's Observations of Samoan Culture Named Worst Nonfiction Book," Dallas Morning News, January 21, 2000.


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