Coming of Age: The Sexual Awakening of Margaret Mead

Written by Deborah Beatriz Blum
Review by Jo Ann Butler

Anthropologist Margaret Mead was 27 when she published her controversial—and popular—Coming of Age in Samoa. The influential book was based on Mead’s fieldwork with teenage Samoan girls, asserting that Samoan society was far more sexually liberated than American. It raised eyebrows in 1928, and the outspoken Mead remained famous until her death in 1978 for radical social views. Ms. Mead’s private life was equally controversial; refusing to take her husband’s surname, an affair with a linguist, and an ambiguous relationship with fellow anthropologist Ruth Benedict.

Deborah Blum explores Mead’s transformative college years and tangled relationships here. Ms. Blum uses Mead’s letters and diaries and those of her contemporaries to reconstruct Mead’s life, then fleshes out her superbly researched story memoir-style. Maintaining her book as non-fiction means that Ms. Blum must omit thoughts and actions not committed to correspondence. However, she inserts emotions and dialogue, letting readers explore human sexuality through Margaret Mead’s personal coming-of age experience. Ms. Blum’s hybrid stops short of true fiction, leaving me wanting the never-recorded thoughts and motivations which would be included in a novel. Nevertheless, this 1970s anthropology student enjoyed Coming of Age, and thinks that you will too.