Julian Steward and the Great Basin is a critical assessment of Steward’s work, the factors that influenced him, and his deep effect on American anthropology. Steward (1902–1972) was one of the foremost American exponents of cultural ecology, the idea that societies evolve in adaptation to their human and natural environments. He was also central in shaping basic anthropological constructs such as "hunter-gatherer" and "adaptation." But his fieldwork took place almost entirely in the Great Basin.
In one sense, the phases of Steward’s career epitomize the successive schools of anthropological theory and practice. Each chapter explores a different aspect of his work ranging from early efforts at documenting trait distributions to his later role in the development of social transformation theory, area studies, and applied anthropology.
Julian Steward and the Great Basin also corrects long-standing misperceptions that originated with Steward about lifeways of the Indians living between the Great Plains and California. It charts new directions for research, demanding a more exacting study of environmental conditions, material adaptations, and organizational responses, as well as an appreciation of the ideological and humanistic dimensions of Basin Life.