***A Waterstones Best Books of 2022 pick***
The story of the pioneering anthropologists and their adventures among civilisations that were first thought of as being primitive and savage. What they discovered, however, would change the way we think about ourselves.
In the late nineteenth century, when non-European societies were seen as 'living fossils' offering an insight into how Western civilisation had evolved, anthropology was a thrilling new discipline which attracted the brightest minds of the academic world. But, by the middle of the twentieth century, colonialism was recognised as being inextricably linked to exploitation and outdated labels like 'savage' were inconceivable when so-called 'civilised' man had wreaked such devastation across two world wars.
Focusing on twelve key European and American anthropologists working in the field, from Franz Boas on Baffin Island in the 1880s to Claude Levi-Strauss in Brazil fifty years later, Lucy Moore explores the brief flowering of anthropology as a quasi-scientific area of study with all its insights and ambivalence. In Search of Us tells the story of the men and women whose observations of the 'other' would transform attitudes about race, gender equality, sexual liberation, parenting and tolerance in ways they had never anticipated.
In an enthralling, perceptive narrative, Moore shows how these radical anthropologists were inspired by their time in the furthest-flung reaches of the known world, becoming pioneers of a new way of thinking. In the end, their legacy is less about understanding foreign cultures and more about their attempts to persuade human beings to look at one another with eyes washed free from prejudice. Their intention may have been to explain what they saw as the primitive world to the civilised one but they ended up changing the way people viewed themselves - at least for a time.