Dec 21, 2021 • 1HR 14M

#76: Charles King on Taking the Outsider Perspective

The Georgetown prof of Int'l Affairs on why his best-selling book is in a field that's not his own

 
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In this show, I talk to experts, authors, and scientists about the ways we can rethink the habits, ideas, and assumptions we take with us through daily life.

This is Cognitive Revolution, my show about the personal side of the intellectual journey. Each week, I interview an eminent scientist, writer, or academic about the experiences that shaped their ideas. The show is available wherever you listen to podcasts.


I first learned of Charles' work when I saw a notice for his most recent book—Gods of the Upper Air: How a Circle of Renegade Anthropologists Reinvented Race, Sex, and Gender in the Twentieth Century. I saw this, and I was like: a general audience book about the history of anthropology—sign me up! I preordered it straight away. As listeners of the show will know, even though I'm a psychologist by training I have a not so secret obsession with anthropologists. And as hoped, it turned out to be a great book. It tells a story about Franz Boaz, the father of American cultural anthropology—and his group of students that changed the face of anthropology in the first half of the twentieth century. This includes: Margaret Mead, Ruth Benedict, Zora Neale Hurston, Gregory Bateson, and a whole host of others. Charles is not a trained anthropologist. He's a professor of international affairs and government at Georgetown. But his wife is an anthropologist, and that's how he got turned on to this story. His initial interests were in former soviet states. In particular, one of his previous books was on the history of the Caucasus. And as some of you may also know, I spent the entire second year of my PhD taking Georgian language, and my partner and I often throw elaborate Georgian feasts serving Georgian wine and preparing a great deal of Georgian food. At any rate, it was clear to me that this was a guy I really wanted to meet and talk to. I really enjoyed our conversation, as I've certainly come to look up to Charles and his work in more ways than one.

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