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REVIEWS Edward Sapir: Linguist, anthropologist, humanist. By Regna Darnell. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1990. Pp. xix, 480. Cloth $29.95. Reviewed by Edgar E. Siskin, Jerusalem Center for Anthropological Studies* Everyone who came to know Edward Sapir called him 'brilliant' ; some called him a 'genius'. His scholarly achievements, reach of intellect, gifts of intuition and imagination, powers of rhetoric and articulation, and graces of personality stamped him as a singular academic figure. Franz Boas, the 'father' of American anthropology and Sapir's mentor at Columbia University, called him 'one of the most brilliant scholars in linguistic anthropology' (Darnell, 418). For Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead, he was the 'intellectual giant of Boasian anthropology' (181). Franklin Edgerton described him as 'one of the greatest figures in American humanistic scholarship ... Many of us do not think it going too far to call him a genius' (1940:463). Kroeber once wrote, ? would unreservedly class [him as a] genius' (418). Harry Stack Sullivan, the noted psychiatrist , spoke of him as 'an intellect that evoked reverence ... a genius largely wasted on a world not yet awake to the value of the very great' (1939: 159). In this first biography of Edward Sapir, Darnell cites the encomiums to which his colleagues, disciples, and students gave enthusiastic assent. Darnell calls her book the 'intellectual biography' of a 'man of ideas' (x, xiv). I will not list all twenty-one chapter titles here; they range from 'The early years' (Ch. 1, 1-15) and 'Ottawa: Maturity and independence' (Ch. 3, 44-64) through 'Synthesizing the Boasian paradigm' (Ch. 5, 87-106) and 'The University of Chicago: A new start' (Ch. 11, 202-222) to 'The call to Yale' (Ch. 17, 327-44) and 'Dénouement' (Ch. 21, 398-419). The book also contains a 'Complete bibliography of Edward Sapir' (457-73). The chronological record of Sapir's life is presented as the framework for his scholarly and aesthetic interests and ventures. These were amazingly rich and diverse. Endowed with superb creative intelligence, a restless imagination, uncommon powers of communication, and rare artistic gifts, Sapir explored a range of disciplines—linguistics, anthropology, psychology, psychiatry, behavioral and social science, poetry, music—making contributions, some noteworthy and some revolutionary, to all. At the peak of his career he 'assumed a dominant role in learned societies ... hobnobbed with the heads of great foundations', and was recognized as 'one of the most influential figures in American anthropology' (224, citing Margaret Mead, Robert Lowie, and Earnest Hooton). His personal life was at times darkened by trials, and the last years of his academic life were marred by disappointment and frustration. His colleagues—Boas, Kroeber, Lowie, Benedict, Mead—regarded him as without equal among the linguists and anthropologists of their day. His students knew * [Editor's note: Edgar Siskin studied under Edward Sapir at Yale.] 620 REVIEWS621 him as a luminous personality and an inspiring mentor who decisively influenced their intellectual and personal lives. He remains a towering figure in linguistics, anthropology, and the social and behavioral sciences. Edward Sapir was born in Pomerania, Germany, in 1884, the son of an itinerant synagogue cantor. He grew up in New York, was recognized as a prodigy, and studied at Columbia, majoring in Germanics and coming under the guidance of Boas. Soon after receiving his doctorate, he was invited to Ottawa to become chief anthropologist at the Canadian National Museum, where, during the next fifteen years, he produced much of the superb body of linguistic and anthropological studies for which he became celebrated. He also wrote poetry and criticism, and, a gifted pianist, composed music. Godfrey Lienhardt, the British critic, has written of 'the literary and musical Edward Sapir, a character of Henry Jamesian sensibility' (1985:647). In 1925 he was appointed to the faculty of the University of Chicago, where, after the isolation of Ottawa, he flourished. His courses became magnets for students, and in the larger intellectual community, as well as in the general community, he was in demand as a lecturer. His growing interest in the interplay of culture and personality led him to write pioneering papers which, utilizing the insights of psychology and psychiatry, became landmarks in the interdisciplinary terrain of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-0665
Print ISSN
0097-8507
Pages
pp. 620-624
Launched on MUSE
2015-04-01
Open Access
No
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