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The End of the Soul Hardcover – July 15, 2003

ISBN-13: 978-0231128469 ISBN-10: 0231128460 Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; First Edition edition (July 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231128460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231128469
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,511,924 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"[Hecht] brings wit and enthusiasm to her densely packed tale of the freethinking anthropologists, who first knew each other as distraught republicans during the Second Empire." -- Nina C. Ayoub, Chronicle of Higher Education

"Hecht is... a very good writer and a brilliant researcher. Highly recommended for all academic libraries." -- Library Journal

"A fascinating glimpse of a little-known chapter in French history." -- Publishers Weekly

"Hecht has given us a very strong account of the republican scientific vision... This book will be richly rewarding to scholars of the Third Republic, to historians of anti-clericalism and of the social sciences, and even to laymen with an interest in the current round of the nature-nurture culture wars about the genome and evolutionary psychology." -- Martin S. Staum, H-France Book Reviews

"Clearly, this is a superb work, one that captures a major moment in French and European thought with thorough scholarship and literary grace. Highly recommended." -- Choice

"A comprehensively researched, carefully contextualized, engagingly narrated, and provocatively revelatory book about an underappreciated episode in the history of anthropology and religion." -- George W. Stocking, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Jennifer Hecht's endlessly fascinating book...A great gift for that special intellectual history buff in your life." -- The Society of Mutual Autopsy

"The often poignant life-histories she recounts...are one of the real pleasures on offer in this wide-ranging, original study of late nineteenth-century French anthropologists." -- Elizabeth Williams, American Historical Review

"The book makes a significant contribution and should be of interest not only to historians but to a wider readership interested in the intersection of culture, science, and politics. Hecht has produced a work of impressive erudition." -- Susan Terrio, Anthropological Quarterly

"Hecht is a vivid writer with a keen eye for the evocative anecdote and the unexpected interconnection.... Hecht's book will make provocative reading for historians of science, religion, and republican politics." -- Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

"The result is a well-researched, persuasive, and engaging contribution to the cultural history of modern France." -- John I. Brooks III, Journal of Modern History


"This is a wonderful analysis of the passionate, exuberant and at times bombastic radical anthropologists whose views were central to political culture in late-nineteenth-century France. In lively prose, the author characterizes these combative scientists and their contributions to every conceivable topic of the day, from religion, to morality, to prehistory, to criminality, human equality, feminism, and socialism. It is full of striking insights into the politics of science, especially the ways in which an almost religious fervor for scientific materialism could lead either to radical scientific egalitarianism or it's opposite, scientific racism." -- Nancy Leys Stepan, Columbia University

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Jason Streitfeld on August 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
I purchased this book thinking it was a study of the death of an idea, namely the idea that human beings have an immortal soul. This is not that book. Rather, this book attempts to distill into a single narrative all the complex political, scientific, and philosophical issues surrounding atheism and anthropology in late nineteenth-century France. No small task, to be sure. Unfortunately, I cannot say it is successful.

Hecht deserves praise for her thorough research and her willingness to tackle such an ambitious project. That is about where my praise for the book ends, however. Ultimately, I found this study to be poorly reasoned, extremely unorganized, dryly written, and offensively unsympathetic to its subject. At times, it reads more as a polemic against atheism than as a sober evaluation of any moment in history. This is quite surprising, since Hecht is herself an atheist.

She makes repeated assertions that the primary subject of her study, the passionately atheistic Society of Mutual Autopsy, founded their own religion. Yet, she doesn't provide the reader with a definition of "religion," so we have no way of knowing what qualifies as a religion in her book. For most scholars and lay people, religions are based around a belief in the supernatural. That means the atheists studied in this book were not in any way religious, a detail Hecht overlooks. When she then offers phrases like "evangelical atheism" without any justification or explanation, Hecht seems set on diminishing her Society's values. As an atheist myself, I found this extremely annoying.
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9 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Norman Miller on March 2, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This writer is as even handed and fair as she is brilliant. I read Doubt: A History and was left feeling the same way. In addition to being a history of French anthropology this book is an example of the very finest writing.
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More About the Author

Jennifer Michael Hecht lives in Brooklyn, blocks from where her great-grandmother Jenny Balinsky lived. Hecht has written four books of history and philosophy and three books of poetry. She earned her Ph.D. from Columbia University in the History of Science and European Cultural History and has taken that in many directions.

I like to think about human meaning, especially the kind that exists outside the individual, in the culture and the community. The feeling of meaning is sufficient to the definition of meaning, just as the feeling of love is sufficient to the definition of love. (Of course we sometimes don't feel love, but that doesn't make us say love doesn't exist.) I believe Stay's approach to the question of suicide allows us to see ourselves as more profoundly connected to each other, and able to relax our need to each generate the entire meaning of life on our own.

For me, poetry is the best way to get to truth underneath what we think we know. My nonfiction also requests a flip in perspective. I love to hear from people! Contact me on my website:

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