Patrick Wilcken: Claude Lévi-Strauss

The poetic logic of myths

Grant Evans


Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory
by Patrick Wilcken
Bloomsbury, $59.99 hb, 383 pp, 9780747583622


In retrospect, it seems hard to explain the widespread influence of the anthropologist ClaudeLévi-Strauss. When he died at the age of one hundred in 2009, the New York Times said in its obituary that he was ‘the French anthropologist whose revolutionary studies of what was once called “primitive man” transformed Western understanding of the nature of culture, custom and civilization’. It was a typically inflated assessment. Not so Patrick Wilcken’s excellent biography of Lévi-Strauss, which brings into sharp focus the extremely idiosyncratic nature of his oeuvre, while at the same time showing how it managed to catch a post-World War II Modernist wave of popularity. When the intellectual surf rolled out again later in the century, Lévi-Strauss was left standing alone, but by then that was exactly how he liked it.

Read the rest of this article by purchasing a subscription to ABR Online, or subscribe to the print edition to receive access to ABR Online free of charge.

If you are a single issue subscriber you will need to upgrade your subscription to view back issues.

If you are already subscribed, click here to log in.

Published in March 2011 no. 329
Grant Evans

Grant Evans

Grant Evans taught anthropology at the University of Hong Kong for 20 years and has published widely on Asia, and Laos in particular. His books have been translated into Vietnamese, Chinese, Lao and Thai. His Asia's Cultural Mosaic: An Introduction to the Anthropology of Asia is well known, and he has edited a book with Maria Tam, Hong Kong: The Anthropology of a Chinese Metropolis. His most recent books on Laos are A Short History of Laos: The Land Inbetween, and The Last Century of Lao Royalty. Since 2005 he has mostly lived and worked in Vientiane Laos, where he is an adviser to the Academy of Social Sciences.

Leave a comment

Please note that all comments must be approved by ABR and comply with our Terms & Conditions.

NB: If you are an ABR Online subscriber or contributor, you will need to login to ABR Online in order to post a comment. If you have forgotten your login details, or if you receive an error message when trying to submit your comment, please email your comment (and the name of the article to which it relates) to We will review your comment and, subject to approval, we will post it under your name.