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Claude Levi-Strauss: The Father of Modern Anthropology Paperback – January 31, 2012


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 014312062X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143120629
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.9 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,295,486 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

 “[A]n illuminating study. … The book offers clear, analytical descriptions of the basic tenets for which Lévi-Strauss is known… This book, with an admiring but not slavish appreciation of its subject, thoughtfully analyzes the controversy that surrounded structuralism even during its glory days…. this book appreciates and communicates the grandeur of its subject’s accomplishments.” — Janet Maslin, THE NEW YORK TIMES

“This book is both a gratifyingly clear summary of a difficult body of work and a eulogy for a time ‘when the stream of consciousness of one mind could leave a deep cultural imprint.’” — THE NEW YORKER

 “Patrick Wilcken’s well-written biography, the first full-length treatment of Lévi-Strauss’s life in English, provides an accessible and interesting overview of his career, personal life, intellectual development, contributions, and impact on thinking inside and outside of anthropology. Wilcken offers a clear explication and measured assessments of Lévi-Strauss’s works as well as setting them within the broader context of 20th-century French and European thought. … Wilcken is also a gifted storyteller and thoughtful analyst.” — SCIENCE Magazine

“Brilliantly assesses the great, original, creative ideas and their origins in the context of Lévi-Strauss’s life.” — THE TIMES (UK) Biographies of the Year

 “‘[Wilcken] lays out the life with clarity, efficiency, readability and occasionally dissent … A superbly thrilling life.” — THE GUARDIAN

About the Author

Patrick Wilcken is the author of Empire Adrift: The Portuguese court in Rio de Janeiro, 1808–1821. He studied anthropology at Goldsmiths College, London University, and now works as a campaigner on the Brazil desk at Amnesty International. He lives in London.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Dynes on November 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Clearly, even seductively written, this important book will answer the questions you have been dying to pose about the enigmatic French savant but were afraid to ask. That is, almost all the questions. Some passages are paraphrased from the autobiographical writings of Claude Lévi-Strauss, but the material is deftly chosen. The author was able to interview his subject just a few years before he died at the age of 100.

Mr. Wilcken is an expert on Brazil, so that he casts new light on Lévi-Strauss's formative field work in that country in the late 1930s. Using other sources from the period, the author is able to offer a more complex--and if truth be told--less radiant account than the one the French scholar offered in his famous Tristes Tropiques (still probably the first book of his that one should read).

Happily Wilcken deals with both the life and the works, showing how Claude Lévi-Strauss gradually found his way. As a New Yorker I found his account of his subject's years in Gotham City to be quite convincing. As a result of his residence in Brazil and the US, Lévi-Strauss was anything but a typical Parisian intellectual, a breed still by and large reluctant to cope with the reduced standing of France in the world.

Wilcken falls just a little short in two areas, but these are conundrums that have stumped everyone else. First, why did structuralism, a method that had seemed so alluring in the 1960s, fade so quickly? While he was uneasy with the label, Claude Lévi-Strauss continued to practice the approach until his death. But most others abandoned structuralism as too static and rigid--and perhaps inoculated from the necessary solvents of disconfirmation. The events of May 1968 probably had something to do with the matter.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Lévi-Strauss (1908 to 2009) was an influential anthropologist and philosopher, one of the principal figures in Structuralism. Quite early on in his life, he was interested in geology, Marxism, and Freud - all three, he said, had taught him the importance of hidden structures underlying surface appearances, and he would apply this insight to his anthropological work. This began in 1935, when he was appointed to the University of São Paolo in Brazil as a sociology lecturer. He lectured there for only two terms, and then spent the next three and a half years on field work among Indian tribes in the remote interior of the country, which is described in some detail in the book. It involved much hardship, but Wilcken concludes that he did far too much and visited far too many tribes for far too short a time for his work to be worth very much. Except for an exceedingly short stay in 1950 among the hill tribes of Chittagong (in today's Bangladesh), he never did any field work again. At that stage he was recording, photographing, and collecting artefacts; his analytical and philosophical work would come much later.

He returned to France in early 1939, and was posted on the Maginot line near the Luxemburg border when the war broke out. When the Germans invaded, his corps retreated into what was the become Vichy France. He found a position to teach philosophy at the university of Montpellier, but was soon dismissed because he was Jewish. He then received an invitation from the Rockefeller Foundation to teach at the New School for Social Research in New York. With great difficulty he managed to get all the necessary papers, and in May 1941 arrived in New York.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Midwest Book Review on January 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
CLAUDE LEVI-STRAUSS; THE POET IN TE LABORATORY provides a fine prove into the anthropologist's life, revealing the influence that led him to his then-radical ideas. Original research conducted in France and Brazil and interviews with Levi-Strauss himself lend depth and perspective to this survey of his ideas and life, making this a 'must' for any collection containing his theories and studying his influence.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Certain Bibliophile on July 8, 2012
Format: Hardcover
If there was one reason why I tend to shy away from biographies, it would be because many biographers tend to be either hagiographers or attack dog hacks. Patrick Wilcken's biography of Claude Levi-Strauss, maybe the most influential anthropologist of the twentieth century, avoids both of these. The result is a beautiful book that takes Levi-Strauss seriously and gives him the due consideration he deserves, but never becomes obsequious toward its subject.

Aside from presenting the arch of Levi-Strauss's life, he does the same thing for the place of academic anthropology in both the United States and Europe. In fact, as Levi-Strauss was doing his fieldwork in Brazil among the Bororo, Nambikwara, and Tupi-Kawahib peoples, anthropology departments were just in their infancy. The giants in the field at the time were Malinowski, Mauss, and Boas, all of whose work seems oddly anachronistic now in the light of Levi-Strauss's and his students' influence.

Levi-Strauss's training was in law and philosophy, but during his youth was constantly engaged with art (his father was a portraitist), music, and politics. While he was mostly interested in mythography and kinship studies, he occasionally wrote on art and music, which also maintained his interest. He was an avowed leftist during the interwar years, but he later turned inward and became apolitical. In his old age, he would become disgruntled at the growing multicultural nature of France, especially with Islam.

In 1955, Levi-Strauss's best-known book "Tristes Tropiques" appeared, a memoir which recounted his time spent among the aboriginal peoples of Brazil, and his only non-academic book.
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Claude Levi-Strauss: The Father of Modern Anthropology
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