November 27, 1908–December 20, 2005
BY JONATHAN FRIEDLAENDER WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM DAVID PILBEAM, DANIEL HRDY, EUGENE GILES, AND ROGER GREEN
WILLIAM WHITE HOWELLS, ONE OF the most distinguished American anthropologists of the second half of the 20th century, and perhaps the most charming and elegant, died in Kittery Point, Maine, on December 20, 2005, at age 97. He brought anthropology to a wide audience through his general books and played a major role in transforming physical anthropology into a population-based biological science. From this perspective he helped free physical anthropology from its earlier preoccupation with typological classifications of human races. His work was marked by sophistication in multivariate statistics, a great breadth of knowledge in all subfields of anthropology, and a lucid and direct literary style that engaged the reader in what appeared to be an informal conversation.
Bill (to his friends) was born November 27, 1908, in New York City. He came from a family of prominent intellectuals. His father, John Mead Howells, was a successful architect, and his paternal grandfather was William Dean Howells, the distinguished 19th-century American novelist and man of letters. A brief anecdote: As a young baby, Bill was taken by his mother to visit his grandfather, who was being visited by his close friend Samuel Clemens. On being told by Bill’s mother, “You must see little Billy,” Clemens is