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Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture Paperback – March 14, 1995

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Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture + The Savage Mind (The Nature of Human Society Series) + Structural Anthropology
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“If someone who had just heard Lévi-Strauss’s name for the first time asked me to explain . . . what he was all about, I would pick up Myth and Meaning and start reading it out loud . . . Only here does one have a lucid, candid, personal exposition of the major ideas that have driven him all his life.”
—from the Foreword by Wendy Doniger, University of Chicago
 
“There is no easier or quicker way than through this book into that heart of darkness Lévi-Strauss calls the ‘totalitarian ambition of the savage mind’ as it throbs beneath the surface of the ‘civilized’ mind.”
—Philip Rieff, Professor of Psychiatry, Medical College of Pennsylvania
 
“‘If in the end you cannot tell everyone what you have been up to, your life’s work has been in vain,’ Edwin Schrödenger told us. In this eloquently slim volume, Lévi-Strauss delivers on Schrödinger’s implied request exquisitely. If every major thinker could summarize his or her conclusions this clearly, the fragmentation that threatens to reduce understanding to incoherence would be tempered considerably.”
—Huston Smith, University, Berkeley, and author of Forgotten Truth and Beyond the Post-Modern Mind

About the Author

CLAUDE LÉVI-STRAUSS was a leading social anthropologist and the author of Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture, The Elementary Structures of Kinship, Tristes Tropiques, Totemism, The Savage Mind, The Raw and the Cooked, From Honey to Ashes, and Structural Anthropology. Born in 1908, he was revered as the father of modern anthropology. He died in Paris in 2009.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Schocken; Reprint edition (March 14, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0805210385
  • ISBN-13: 978-0805210385
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #40,805 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

31 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy W. Forstadt on November 24, 2004
Format: Paperback
MYTH AND MEANING is a short and easily-digestible work based on a series of interviews and discussions delivered by the venerable French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss and broadcast by Canadian radio in 1977. Its informal and conversational style (based on his responses to a series of questions posed by the CBC producer who is interviewing him) allows us broad-stroke insight into Lévi-Strauss's development of structuralism and his theories about science.

A self-professed "non-scientist" with a strong interest in science, Lévi-Strauss begins by outlining the divergence between science and "mythical and mystical thought" which began to occur around the 17th century in European intellectual traditions. The result is, we are lead to believe, that we have somehow lost something: something we may yet strive to regain or at least try to understand better.

Lévi-Strauss makes the argument that `primitive' thought is as rich and complex as so-called `civilized' thought, debunking various functionalist and traditional viewpoints that deny the savage mind has the ability to think both disinterestedly and intellectually. "In order for a culture to be really itself... its members must be convinced of their originality and even... of their superiority over the others." Mythical thinking may be the originality that we have lost in modern life.

One gets the sense that Lévi-Strauss develops his theories as he speaks-extemporaneously. He almost admits as much in his introduction: "I forget what I have written practically as soon as it is finished... I have the feeling that my books get written through me and that once [finished], I feel empty and nothing is left.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book, based on interviews Levi-Strauss conducted with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in the late '70s, is extremely clear and easy to understand for non-anthropologists like myself. He explains his views about how rational science and mythology branched off from each other in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, leading us to a situation where today we experience life differently that do 'primitive' tribes who use myths to explain the world around them. Levi-Strauss notes, however, that, while these peoples may not be as accurate in describing the world as we are with our modern science, they do possess a great deal of knowledge which we have lost on an individual level, i.e., knowledge about plants and stars. Mythology, he claims, functions like history and science for these people; for an example Levi-Strauss focuses his attention on the meaning of American myths about twins, hare(lips) and babies born feet first.
All this is quite well laid out and easy to read. However, the last chapter deals with music and mythology, and here Levi-Strauss badly missteps. He postulates that the decline in mythology that accompanied the rise of modern science coincided with the creation of great music by the likes of Bach, Haydn and Mozart that drew upon the same sources of inspiration as mythology. He spends several pages in a structural critique of Wagner's Ring which, albeit fascinating, is highly questionable. Furthermore, at the end of the book he suggests, quite wildly, that serial music is now poised to overtake the modern novel, which arose at the same time as modern science, in importance.
This weak section at the end notwithstanding, however, this is a good book for anyone interested in Levi-Strauss's groundbreaking work.
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22 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Gregory L Dyas on January 8, 2001
Format: Paperback
This is an excellent and very short intro to the work the of famed anthropologist Levi-Strauss. It breaks down to a large extent his basic ideas about the structural analysis of myth and provides an opportunity into the thoughts and opinions of the father of structural anthropology. It's mostly taken as a transcript from a series of lectures he gave outlining major themes he's covered in his work.
If you like this book and wish to read more by him I'd recommend The Raw and the Cooked and his classic work, Structural Anthropology.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on July 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
Claude Lévi-Strauss is considered one of the fathers of modern anthropology. His most enduring contribution to the field has been the notion that the "savage" mind engages essentially in the same kind of thought processes as the "moderns" do. In "Myth and Meaning" Lévi-Strauss concentrates on myths in particular, and argues that myths are far from being naïve fairly tales and are actually a very sophisticated narratives that capture a lot of important concepts and meanings.

This is a very readable little book, and is probably the best introduction to the writings of Lévi-Strauss. It will challenge some of your preconceptions and induce you to rethink the way you have been thinking about myths and meanings.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Abdulmajed Dakkak on July 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
The book is a recommended introduction to anthropology and the theories of Levi-Strauss. Myth and Meaning: Cracking the Code of Culture describes, among other things, how some myths have certain attributes common in between them and how they would evolve. The author describes how in certain cultures twins are viewed as evil and theories how that might have evolved. At the end, the book discusses how myths should be interpreted.
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