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Gabriel A. Almond, preeminent political scientist, dies at 91

Gabriel Abraham Almond, widely regarded as one of the most influential political scientists of the 20th century, died Dec. 25 of natural causes in Pacific Grove, Calif. He was 91.

Almond, whose prolific academic career spanned seven decades, is credited with inventing modern comparative political science. "He was one of the giants," said Alexander George, professor emeritus of political science. "There was no one like him. He was constantly able to keep in touch with the most current developments in political science. He made an enormous contribution in research and teaching."

In the 1950s, Almond broadened the field of political science by integrating the approaches of other social sciences. He also developed the concept of "political culture," a term now used in public discourse.

The former chair of Stanford's Department of Political Science, Almond wrote or co-wrote 18 books and many articles, beginning in 1934 until shortly before his death. Almond became a professor emeritus in 1976, but he continued to write and teach. His last essay, Foreign Policy and Theology in Ancient Israel, and the eighth edition of his textbook, Comparative Politics Today, will be published this year. Strong Religions, a study about the political culture of fundamentalism, will be published this month by the University of Chicago.

In 1981, Almond was honored with the American Political Science Association's prestigious James Madison Award, which is given to a political scientist who has made a "distinguished scholarly contribution" during his or her career. Almond was president of the association, which annually awards the Gabriel A. Almond Prize for the best dissertation in the field of comparative politics.

Political science Professor Emeritus David Abernethy described Almond as a "master classifier" who was able to consider a variety of political systems and identify their differences and similarities. "His classification schemes enabled us to talk about political systems around the world," Abernethy said. The innovation allowed American political scientists to move beyond Western democracies to include the study of non-Western and non-democratic societies as demonstrated in The Politics of the Developing Areas, which Almond co-authored in 1960. The book was one of many collaborative projects on political analysis supported by the Social Science Research Council, which Almond chaired for many years. His other important books included The American People and Foreign Policy (1950) and The Appeals of Communism (1954).

Harvard political science Professor Sidney Verba, a former student of Almond's who jointly wrote in 1963 The Civic Culture, a social sciences classic, said that his mentor "was a pioneer in thinking across countries very systematically."

Before Almond's contributions, political science was "a field in which there was legitimate parochialism" -- where single-country experts were "suspicious" about making comparisons with other areas, Verba said. Almond was skilled at working with people from different backgrounds and encouraging them to cooperate. "When [Almond] saw a problem, he approached it generally," Verba added. In doing so, Almond "invented frameworks that floated above particular countries." Almond considered himself fundamentally an empiricist, a borrower of theories, but he moved easily and rapidly between the two realms, his colleagues said.

Yale political science Professor Emeritus Robert Dahl owns a well-thumbed copy of The Civic Culture. "I've marked every page," he said. "It's an immense contribution, a pioneering research on political culture." The book studies the differences in the political cultures of five countries and looks at how these influence each nation's stability and prospects for democracy. The work helped to anchor the idea of political culture as a fundamental aspect of society, Dahl said.

Almond was born in Rock Island, Ill., in 1911, the only son of Russian and Ukrainian immigrants. His father was a rabbi and the family, which also had three daughters, lived on very limited means in Chicago. As a University of Chicago student, Almond worked a variety of odd jobs to support himself and his family. He had been editor of his high school newspaper and considered becoming a writer but, during the Depression, he turned to academia because he was able to secure a fellowship. His writing skills were exhibited in his scholarly work. "He wrote with elegant simplicity; he used very little jargon," Dahl noted.

Almond went on to earn his doctorate from the University of Chicago in 1938, but his thesis, Plutocracy and Politics in New York City, was not published until 1998. The work contained psychoanalyses of several rich New Yorkers, including unflattering references to John D. Rockefeller, a principal benefactor of the university. Charles Merriam, chair of the political science department, refused to recommend the thesis for publication unless the offending material was removed. Almond refused. The thesis remained in the stacks of the university library, where it became an underground classic among scholars. It was finally published by Westview Press.

Almond collected material for the thesis mostly by spending a year in the New York City Library, but also by having tea with the etiquette writer Emily Post and attending high society balls, to which he gained access through friends and university contacts.

During his library research, he met Maria Dorothea Kaufmann, a German immigrant and student at Columbia Teachers College. They married in 1937 and had three children. Dorothea, a longtime child and family program advocate, was instrumental in establishing Stanford's first child care center in 1969. Almond strongly supported his wife's work and when he retired in 1976, his colleagues honored him by establishing the Dorothea K. Almond Children's Library at a campus child care center. When his wife died in 2000, Almond established the Dorothea K. Almond Fund to support child care innovations on campus.

During World War II, Almond worked for the Office of War Information, analyzing enemy propaganda. Later, for the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey, he interviewed Gestapo and Nazi Party members, and German resistance fighters about the psychological effects of carpet bombing.

As a young academic, Almond taught at Brooklyn College, Yale and Princeton before joining the Stanford faculty in 1963. He also lectured at universities in England, Japan, Brazil and Ukraine. At Stanford, working primarily with graduate students, he focused on preparing the next generation of scholars. Verba, who went on to head the American Political Science Association, recalled Almond as "an incredible mentor. I learned from him what it was to be a political scientist: how a vague and big idea gets converted into research and gets applied."

Almond is also remembered for his personal and professional collegiality. He recruited Abernethy and George to Stanford during his chairmanship of the Department of Political Science from 1963 to 1968. "He was very supportive of my own career," Abernethy said. Unlike Almond, Abernethy taught undergraduates and spent 18 years working on a single book, The Dynamics of Global Dominance: European Overseas Empires, 1415-1980, published in 2001. "For a guy who was that prodigious and productive, he could have said, 'What have you done for us lately?'" Abernethy said. Instead, "He said, 'If you have a big idea, do the big idea.' He was very helpful."

At year-end department parties, Abernethy said he and Almond would make up duets -- with Abernethy on his violin and Almond on his harmonica. "He was a gentle, gregarious person but tough-minded," Abernethy said. "He was a mensch," Verba added. "He was a rigorous social scientist but underneath he was a humanist." Dahl said: "He was a marvelous human being and a first-class international scholar."

Almond is survived by his sister, Miriam Elson of Chicago; his sons Richard J. Almond of Palo Alto and Peter O. Almond of Los Angeles; his daughter, Susyn Almond of Palo Alto; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A memorial service on campus is being planned. The family requests that donations be made in Almond's name to the Cardiac Therapy Foundation, 4546 El Camino Real, Suite 218, Los Altos, CA 94022.


By Lisa Trei

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