Claude Levi-Strauss, By Patrick Wilcken


It's a fertile paradox that structuralism came from the minds of idiosyncratic mavericks. Their lives seemed to embody the "great man" principle of history – even as they demolished it in theory.

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Lévi-Strauss was the anthropologist whose death in 2009, aged 100, ended alongcareer devoted to the patterns and processes that make sense of our cultures and minds. His progress had more in common with Indiana Jones-style derring-do than desk-bound speculation.

After high-risk fieldwork in 1930s Brazil (origin of Tristes Tropiques) came wartime flight to New York, then survival and success amid the warring intellectual tribes of post-war Paris.

Wilcken's superb biography does equal justice to events and ideas, with a rigour and panache to match its hero.