The definitive account of the life, work, and legacy of Claude Levi-Strauss, father of modern anthropology and one of the postwar era's most influential thinkers.
When Claude Levi-Strauss passed away last October at age 100, France celebrated the life and contributions of not only a preeminent anthropologist, but also one of the defining intellectuals of the twentieth century. Just as Freud had shaken up the antiquarian discipline of psychiatry, so had Levi-Strauss revolutionized anthropology, transforming it from the colonial era study of "exotic" tribes to one consumed with fundamental questions about the nature of humanity and civilization itself.
Remarkably, there has never been a biography in English of the enigmatic Claude Levi-Strauss. Drawing on a welter of original research and interviews with the anthropologist, Patrick Wilcken's Claude Levi-Strauss fills this void. In rich detail, Wilcken re-creates Levi-Strauss's peripatetic life: his groundbreaking fieldwork in some of the remotest reaches of the Amazon in the 1930s; his years as a Jew in Nazi- occupied France and as an emigre in wartime New York; and his return to Paris in the late 1940s, where he clashed with Jean-Paul Sartre and fundamentally influenced fellow postwar thinkers from Jacques Lacan to Michel Foucault and Roland Barthes. It was in France that structuralism, the school of thought he founded, first took hold, creating waves far beyond the field of anthropology. In his heyday, Levi-Strauss was both a hero to contemporary intellectuals and an international celebrity.
In Claude Levi-Strauss, Wilcken gives the reader a fascinating intellectual tour of the anthropologist's landmark works: Tristes Tropiques, a literary meditation on his travels and fieldwork; The Savage Mind, which showed that "primitive" people are driven by the same intellectual curiosities as their Western counterparts; and finally his monumental four-volume Mythologiques, a study of the universal structures of native mythology in the Americas. In the years that Levi-Strauss published these pioneering works, Wilcken observes, tribal societies seemed to hold the answers to the most profound questions about the human mind. Following the great anthropologist from Sao Paulo to the Brazilian interior, and from New York to Paris, Patrick Wilcken's Claude Levi- Strauss is both an evocative journey and an intellectual biography of one of the twentieth-century's most influential minds.
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October 07, 2010
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