In the Arms of Africa

2000: University of Chicago Press

The definitive biography of one of anthropology’s most controversial figures, Colin M. Turnbull.

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“. . . It is hard to imagine reading this exhaustively researched, richly anecdotal, and provocative biography without being continuously engaged and even sometimes moved.”

George W. Stocking Jr., The New York Times Sunday Book Review

In the Arms of Africa shows [Roy Richard Grinker] to be a patient, compassionate inrepreter of a complex and often puzzling life. . . . What Roy Grinker’s book dramatizes is the degree to which there were many Turnbulls, even more than the two who appear through the pages of his most famous books. The temptation of biography is to enforce narrative unity on the aleatory movements of a human life; though this is a temptation to which Grinker occasionally succumbs, the overall effect of In the Arms of Africa is to reveal a man who confirms the juxtaposition of his two best-known books — that each of us is as much a product of context as an underlying self.

Kwame Anthony Appiah,, The New York Review of Books

“Colin Turnbull is one of the most fascinating figures in 20th century culture and in Richard Grinker he has found a biographer who is both unflinching and compassionate enough to capture his rich complexity. Moving with extraordinary grace from the intimate to the epic, Grinker tells a vivid love story that is also a gripping intellectual voyage. This is biography at its very best, unfolding a unique life while also illuminating the twisted relationship between the developed world and so-called primitive societies.”


Fintan O'Toole, The New York Daily News

Hands down, A sympathetic and deeply moving biography. . . the resulting memoir is a love letter, but a nuanced one. Turnbull comes across as brilliant, sensitive, and charismatic, yet often cruel and distant, a scholar passionately devoted to social justice yet blind to his own power . . . Unlike Grinker’s earlier works, In the Arms of Africa is no scholarly treatise. Passionate and often erotic, it is a page turner, much like The Forest People itself.

Emily Nussbaum, Lingua Franca.

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