Skip to main content

Critical Praise

“EUPHORIA is a meticulously researched homage to Mead’s restless mind and a considered portrait of Western anthropology in its primitivist heyday. It’s also a taut, witty, fiercely intelligent tale of competing egos and desires in a landscape of exotic menace --- a love triangle in extremis… The steam the book emits is as much intellectual as erotic…and King’s signal achievement may be to have created satisfying drama out of a quest for interpretive insight… King is brilliant on the moral contradictions that propelled anthropological encounters with remote tribes… In King’s exquisite book, desire --- for knowledge, fame, another person --- is only fleetingly rewarded.”

—New York Times Book Review (cover review)

“It’s refreshing to see the world’s most famous anthropologist brought down to human scale and placed at the center of this svelte new book by Lily King. EUPHORIA is King’s first work of historical fiction. For this dramatic new venture, she retains all the fine qualities that made her three previous novels insightful and absorbing, but now she’s working on top of a vast body of scholarly work and public knowledge. And yet EUPHORIA is also clearly the result of ferocious restraint; King has resisted the temptation to lard her book with the fruits of her research. Poetic in its compression and efficiency, EUPHORIA presumes some familiarity with Mead’s biography for context and background, and yet it also deviates from that history in promiscuous ways... King keeps the novel focused tightly on her three scientists, which makes the glimpses we catch of their New Guinea subjects all the more arresting... Although King has always written coolly about intense emotions, here she captures the amber of one man’s exquisite longing for a woman who changed the way we look at ourselves.”

—Washington Post

“Atmospheric and sensual, with startling images throughout, EUPHORIA is an intellectually stimulating tour de force.”


“This novel is as concentrated as orchid food, packing as much narrative power and intellectual energy into its 250 pages as novels triple its size.”


“EUPHORIA is at once romantic, exotic, informative, and entertaining.”

—Reader’s Digest summer reading list

“It's smart and steamy and like the best historical fiction, it made me want to read about Mead.”

—USA Today's Summer's Hottest Titles

“This year's winner Book I Read In One Sitting Because I happened to Read The First Page...a novel of ideas and also a novel of emotions: the titular one but also envy, hubris, despair, and above all desire --- how liberating or scandalous it can be, how linked to intellect, how dictatorial.”

—New York, Best Books of the Year

“King reveals a startlingly vulnerable side to Mead, suggesting an elegant parallel between novelist and archeologist: In scrutinizing the lives of others, we discover ourselves.”

—Vogue, Top 10 Books of 2014

“Enthralling… From Conrad to Kingsolver, the misdeeds of Westerners have inspired their own literary subgenre, and in King’s insightful, romantic addition, the work of novelist and anthropologist find resonant parallel: In the beauty and cruelty of others, we discover our own.”


“You need know not one thing about 1930s cultural anthropology, or about the late, controversial anthropologists Margaret Mead and Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson (Mead’s second and third husbands) to delight in King’s novel.”

—San Francisco Chronicle, Top 10 Books of 2014

“King's superb coup is to have imagined a story loosely founded on the intertwined lives of the above three that instantly becomes its own, thrilling saga --- while provoking a detective's curiosity about its sources... King builds an intense, seductive, sexual and intellectual tension among the three: This taut, fraught triangulation is the novel's driving force. There are so many exhilarating elements to savor in EUPHORIA. It moves fast. It's grit-in-your-teeth sensuous. The New Guinean bush and its peoples --- their concerns, their ordeals --- confront us with fierce, tangible exactness, with dignity and wit. So do the vagaries of anthropological theories, rivalries, politics. Observations are unfailingly acute, and the book is packed with them... It's a brave, glorious set piece. By the end of EUPHORIA, this reader sighed with wistful satisfaction, wishing the book would go on. Brava to Lily King.”

—San Francisco Chronicle

“It’s the rare novel of ideas that devours its readers’ attention. More often, as with Eleanor Catton’s THE LUMINARIES or GRAVITY’S RAINBOW, we work our way through these books carefully and with frequent pauses, rather than gulping them down in long, thirsty drafts. It’s not a literary form known for its great romances, either, although of course love and sex play a role in most fictional characters’ lives. Lily King’s EUPHORIA, a shortish novel based on a period in the life of pioneering anthropologist Margaret Mead, is an exception. At its center is a romantic triangle, and it tells a story that begs to be consumed in one or two luxurious binges...King is a sinewy, disciplined writer who wisely avoids the temptation to evoke the overwhelming physicality of the jungle (the heat, the steam, the bugs) by generating correspondingly lush thickets of language. Her story...sticks close to the interlocking bonds that give the novel its tensile power.”


“Lily King has built her reputation as a gifted novelist steadily over three books. Her fourth, EUPHORIA --- a smart, sexy, concise work inspired by anthropologist Margaret Mead --- should solidify the critical approval and bring her a host of new readers.”

—Cleveland Plain Dealer

“Among the plethora of mysteries and assorted fiction that flow from Maine, it’s a rare novel that rises to the level of EUPHORIA...a fascinating, multi-layered character study of people under duress... The writing...sweeps you away... Put EUPHORIA in your book bag for those trips to the beach. You’ll be glad you did.”

—Portland Herald Press

“Masterful... EUPHORIA begins so deep in the action that the reader is captured on page one...a thrilling and beautifully composed novel... A great novelist is like an anthropologist, examining what humans do by habit and custom. King excels in creating vignettes from Nell’s fieldwork as well as from the bitter conversation of the three love-torn collaborators, making the familiar strange and the strange acceptable. This is a riveting and provocative novel, absolutely first-rate.”

—Seattle Times

“Exciting...a wonderfully vivid and perceptive tale...King’s prose sparkles...The upriver experiences of her characters feel thoroughly authentic --- fascinating, uncomfortable, always dangerous, sometimes even euphoric.”

—Minneapolis Star Tribune

“Splendid...compelling, intelligent...filled with searing shocks...breaks the heart.”

—Tampa Bay Times

“Lily King has taken this high-octane collaboration and turned it into an intellectual romance novel…the effect is hallucinatory --- this is a trip of a novel…Hot stuff. In every way.”


“Inspired by an event in the life of Margaret Mead, this novel tells the story of three young anthropologists in 1930s New Guinea...This three-way relationship is complex and involving, but even more fascinating is the depiction of three anthropologists with three entirely diverse ways of studying another culture...These differences, along with professional jealousy and sexual tension, propel the story toward its inevitable conclusion...Recommended for fans of novels about exploration as myth and about cultural clashes, from Joseph Conrad's HEART OF DARKNESS to Chinua Achebe's THINGS FALL APART.”

—Library Journal (starred review)

“The love lives and expeditions of controversial anthropologists Margaret Mead, Reo Fortune and Gregory Bateson are fictionalized and richly reimagined in New England Book Award winner King’s (FATHER OF THE RAIN) meaty and entrancing fourth book...King’s immersive prose takes center stage. The fascinating descriptions of tribal customs and rituals, paired with snippets of Nell’s journals --- as well as the characters’ insatiable appetites for scientific discovery --- all contribute to a thrilling read that, at its end, does indeed feel like 'the briefest, purest euphoria.'“

—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Set between the First and Second World Wars, the story is loosely based on events in the life of Margaret Mead. There are fascinating looks into other cultures and how they are studied, and the sacrifices and dangers that go along with it. This is a powerful story, at once gritty, sensuous and captivating.”


“Atmospheric...A small gem, disturbing and haunting.”

—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This dazzling novel bites like a tropical insect, and makes anthropology seem more exciting than any other profession.”

—Emma Donoghue

“There are some novels that take you by the hand with their lovely prose alone; there are those that pull you in with sensual renderings of time and place and a compelling story; and there are still others that seduce you solely with their subject matter. But it is a rare novel indeed that does all of the above at once and with complete artistic mastery. Yet this is precisely what Lily King has done in her stunningly passionate and gorgeously written EUPHORIA. It is simply one of the finest novels I’ve read in years, and it puts Lily King firmly in the top rank of our most accomplished novelists.”

—Andre Dubus III

“With EUPHORIA, Lily King gives us a searing and absolutely mesmerizing glimpse into 1930’s New Guinea, a world as savage and fascinating as Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS, where obsessions rise to a feverish pitch, and three dangerously entangled anthropologists will never be the same again. Jaw-droppingly, heart-stoppingly beautiful. I loved this book.”

—Paula McLain

“I have come to expect Lily King’s nuanced explorations of the human heart, but in this novel she pulled me in to the exotic world of a woman anthropologist working with undiscovered tribes in 1930s New Guinea and I was totally captivated. EUPHORIA is a great book! So great, that I stayed up late to finish it.”

—Karl Marlantes

“Writers are childlike in their enthusiasm about other writers’ good work. They’re thinking: How’d they ever think of that? That’s amazing/beautifully written/true! Imagine all the effort that went into pulling this off. Could I do something this original/surprising/moving? I’m always happy to read Lily King, and I particularly enjoyed reading EUPHORIA.”

—Ann Beattie

“Fresh, brilliantly structured, and fully imagined, this novel radically transforms a story we might have known, as outsiders --- but now experience, though Lily King's great gifts, as if we'd lived it.”

—Andrea Barrett

“Lily King delves into the intellectual flights and passions of three anthropologists --- as complex, rivalrous and brutal as any of the cultures they study. EUPHORIA is a brilliantly written book.”

—Alice Greenway