Emmanuelle Loyer. Lévi-Strauss: A Biography. Translated by Ninon Vinsonneau and Jonathan Magidoff. New York: Polity Press, 2018. xi+744 pp., illus., notes, list of works, archives, index.
There is no shortage of books on Claude Lévi-Strauss. The defining force in French anthropology after World War II, an internationally-known intellectual, and a—many would argue the—founder of structuralism, Lévi-Strauss left an indelible mark on the intellectual culture of the twentieth century. Despite widespread interest in him, there have been relatively few biographies, perhaps because of the challenges he presents as a subject: his sojourns in the United States, Brazil, and France require potential biographers to be multilingual. His output was vast, demanding, and difficult to synthesize. His extraordinary fame makes documenting his influence a massive undertaking. Even his private life presents a challenge: Lévi-Strauss lived much of his life in his study, making most of his biography too uneventful to make for interesting reading. Happily, however, Emanuelle Loyer’s 744 page biography has achieved the seemingly impossible. This detailed, deeply researched, and relatively accessible volume makes it difficult to imagine that anyone will attempt a more exhaustive biography in the future. If they did, I am not sure what they could add to Loyer’s account. While many aspects of Lévi-Strauss’s life still await specialized treatment, I am confident that this book will become the definitive one-volume biography of Lévi-Strauss for the foreseeable future.
David Varel’s biography
of Allison Davis, The Lost Black Scholar, is aptly named. Davis is
rarely cited by anthropologists today, but he has little in common with the “excluded
ancestors and invisible traditions” after whom a volume of the History of
Anthropology series was named. On
the contrary, Davis was hardly invisible. Rather, he was a remarkably
well-known, highly-respected figure who was important intellectually and
institutionally in anthropology, someone whose story and influence has not been
repressed or erased but, as Varel puts it, “lost.” In this trim and athletic
volume, Varel successfully shows us the importance of Davis’s work and life,
revealing a remarkable scholar who should be remembered for his incredible
personal story, his intellectual contributions to the study of structural
injustice, and his role as a model of a politically committed but non-activist
Ian Brown’s The School of Oriental and African Studies: Imperial Training and the Expansion of Learning is a welcome addition to the literature on higher education in Britain, and particularly to the small but important body of work on SOAS (as it is now officially known). While SOAS has produced festschrifts for particular professors, and a few “corridor histories,” such as SOAS Since the Sixties and SOAS: A Celebration in Many Voices, the school lacks the kind of intensive memorialization that one finds in say, Oxford and Cambridge. This is particularly true in anthropology where journals such as Cambridge Anthropology and the Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford feature extensive obituaries and testimonies of staff. Brown’s new volume is, therefore, a valuable contribution to the history of SOAS, especially because the other SOAS histories are out of print.
For years, Herbert Lewis has defended classical anthropology (meaning here American cultural anthropology produced in the first half of the twentieth century) from postmodern and postcolonial critique. This volume collects eight of Lewis’s essays on this subject, and also includes an original piece written especially for the volume. For those sympathetic with Lewis’s claims, this volume will be welcome. However, Lewis’s strident tone will probably not sway the unconvinced, much less those critical of classical anthropology.
Since 1973, the History of Anthropology Review (formerly the History of Anthropology Newsletter) has been a venue for publication and conversation on the many histories of the discipline of anthropology. We became an open access web publication in 2016. Please subscribe to our emails below to receive updates as we publish new essays, reviews, and bibliographies.
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