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Claude Levi-Strauss, By Patrick Wilcken
Boyd Tonkin is Senior Writer and a columnist at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Literary Editor at The Independent, and before that Social Policy Editor and then Books Editor at the New Statesman magazine. He has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes and has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize. In 2001, he re-founded the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for literature in translation, and serves on its judging panel every year.
Friday 18 November 2011
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.
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