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The Savage Mind

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,432 ratings  ·  50 reviews
An examination of the structure of the thought of primitive' peoples, and has contributed significantly to our understanding of the way the human mind works.
Paperback, 310 pages
Published September 15th 1968 by University of Chicago Press (first published 1962)
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Jason Williams
Okay, first of all, these French guys have a way of talking about everything-and-nothing at the same time. From Braudel to Saussure to Barthes to Foucault to Mouffe to Derrida to Lacan to Deleuze and Guattari (and yes, Sartre), they have insisted on describing the deep structures (mentalities, langue, semiotics, microphysics of power, overdetermination, differance, etc) that underlie the petty details of history. Levi-Strauss deserves mention as part of this group. Along with Braudel, Levi-Strau ...more
Gary Bruff
OK. The blurbs on the back tell us 'no outline is possible' and 'no précis is possible'. So let's attempt the impossible.

Savage Mind is intended to arrest our sense of time in the macro-historical sense, asking us to see humanity and the culture that humanity presupposes as something nearly eternal at its very depth. The truth which Levi-Strauss (hereafter L-S) develops is intended to destroy our common sense prejudices about how natives think. For L-S we are all natives. There is no Hobbesian h
Linda Robinson
Sep 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
A difficult book to get through, as I needed to make sure I understood what he was saying. There are many intriguing thoughts nestled among the scientific reportings. It would be a great adventure to do an in-depth comparison of Levi-Strauss and Mead, but that study will have to wait for a couple lifetimes down the road unfortunately.
Apr 14, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
Shelves: academic
Instead of reading this long and brutal book, read Rumi's beautiful first poem in Divane Shams. What Rumi said in 10 lines so beautifully and elegantly 800 years ago, this French dude is trying to say in this long and horribly written book: categories are arbitrary.
Dec 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2012
I had forgotten just how seminal Levi-Strauss was to literary and critical social theory- which seems to be what's left of Western philosophy- until I read this. Whether or not his systems approach is right in all its details for traditional societies is impossible for me to say. But his major contribution to anthropology- to have basically shredded its colonialist presuppositions by demonstrating that traditional peoples' way of thinking was not "primitive" in its relationship to logic and scie ...more
Jan D
Nov 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book outlines the concept of (cultural) bricolage. While the term was adapted to other areas, the examples stem from “classic” ethnography studying indigenous cultures in remote settings. If you only want to read a part of the book, I suggest to spend time on the first few chapters which include the bricolage definition.
Nov 22, 2009 rated it liked it
intensely complex and dense. but, once you start to get past the bricoleur and Levi-Strauss's heavy French-ness, its definitely something to think about. Good discussion of classification and the human mind and critique of Sartres.
Simon Mcleish
Nov 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Originally published on my blog here in June 2001.

Many books that, like The Savage Mind, go on to become influential on the way that people think, have at their time of writing two purposes, of which one only ensures their survival. The immediate cause of the genesis of such a book is to make a specific point or answer some then current school of thought; in this case, Lévi-Strauss wanted to counter some ideas about totemism in anthropology. This first purpose then suggests a more general thesis
Apr 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Totemism is dead! Take that, nineteenth-century armchair anthropology! What edifice shall we build upon its scattered remains? This movement would later be called Edificism, which would be followed by Post-Edificism.

Fred and Ben Savage take you on a tour the intimate world they created through sheer cognitive willpower. Today, we are all scientists, and we are all savages.

Don't miss a WORD of these savage delights!

* The French national pasttime, bricolage! Turns out the human habit is hard-wired
Josephine Ensign
Jul 03, 2014 rated it liked it
I mainly read this book to understand Levi-Stauss' use of the term 'bricoleur'-- often translated as 'tinkerer.' Levi-Strauss defines bricoleur as someone who differs from a scientist and who "makes do with whatever is at hand." He states that raw or naive art shows the "mytho-poetical nature of bricolage" and that "art lies half-way between scientific knowledge and mythical or magical thought." This intrigues me as I seek to understand (and craft) the so-called 'lyric essay,'which to me is a ty ...more
Harder to read than "Tristes tropiques" but interesting.
Essential reading (regardless of one's view of L.-S.) - it is Claude L.-S.'s masterpiece
Apr 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Very, very interesting. I was not keen on the writing style but I guess I'm too used to novels. A must read for those interested in anthropology.
Nona Kichukova
Feb 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Exceptional anthropological work on truth as a social institution!
Jun 16, 2017 rated it did not like it
Could the reader, however well versed in structural anthropology answer for me the meaning of the following paragraph on p 21 chapter 1, quoted "Mythical thought appears to be an intellectual form of 'bricolage' in this sense also. Science as a whole is based on the distinction between the contingent and the necessary, this being also what distinguishes event and structure. [myitals]The qualities it claimed at its outset as peculiarly scientific were precisely those which formed no part of livin ...more
Richard Thompson
Apart from its political incorrectness in today's world, the title of this book is a bit misleading. The book is really about similarities and differences between schemes of classification and naming across human cultures. Levi-Strauss provides an exhaustive analysis with a multitude of examples from every continent. He is very erudite, but it is a slog to get through. He finds structures and connections for classification systems across categories of kinship and other social relations and conne ...more
Gnuehc Ecnerwal
Jun 25, 2017 rated it it was ok
One of the most difficult books I have read. It's up there with Popper's The Logic of Scientific Discovery. I found myself constantly drifting between comprehension and confusion. Many sentences, paragraphs, pages had to be re-read because the language was so compact and the diction technical. There are too many details and examples where few would suffice, but not enough unpacking of the more intricate concepts proposed by the author. The analysis is exhaustive but the conclusions are not as pr ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Like most of Levi-Strauss it's a bit difficult to read, takes some time to analyze his points but once understood it's well worth the effort of finishing this book. The psychology & behavior of those who live off the land is identical to those that do.

His perspective & understanding of the human condition should be mandatory teaching.
Feb 10, 2020 rated it liked it
Text by text you realize the method of approach by Claude and make a picture of differences related to various cultural sides within the 'same'ness ground; classification and interrelationships among segmentation. Tough stuff, sometimes annoying/boring but should definitely be taken into account if we want to talk about humanity in an expanded scope.
Daniel Rainer
Jul 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lévi-Strauss : Ethnology :: Foucault : History

An elegant doing-away-with with the "anthro-" in anthropology.
Aug 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Levi-Strauss argues that many societies have functional epistemic practices that operate using the kind of 'sense universals' that Hegel attributes to the 'Sense Certainty' and 'Perception' stages of the phenomenology. Whereas philosophy allows for inferences to be made from conceptual items to conceptual items (i.e. the kind of relation that obtains between a set of algebraic symbols and a theoretical model they describe); the type of thought described by Levi-Strauss here operates entirely usi ...more
Camila Zacharko
Oct 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Profound in it's findings. Absolutely a starting point for academics in cognitive anthropology. Encyclopedic of native knowledge and provides highly technical ways of analyzing conceptual systems.
Apr 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing
A great book, but not because he's specifically right about anything he says. There are all kinds of red flags in the explanation of his theories from the binary nature of his associative cognizance diagrams and structures that probably don't specifically exist, to the allegories he uses for technologically advanced, civilized people to understand the structures provided by language he says he's found. Too many leaps of logic are made. He has too much faith in a truly limited understanding of th ...more
Czarny Pies
May 26, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anthropolgy Students
Recommended to Czarny by: General Reputation of Author
Levi-Strauss uses the analytical tools of linguistics and ethnography to demonstrate that there is no primitive man. A man who lives in a primitive society because of different life experiences and education will develop different typologies and schemes of classification than a man raised in a modern society and benefitting from a modern education. The basic thought structures however are the same. The primitive man as such does not exist.

This a deft, technical treatise which proves what most of
Aug 21, 2013 rated it liked it
Pretty interesting, if quite long-winded about some of the arguments. Some strong ideas for his time seem obvious and belabored now (e.g., taxonomic variants tend to share leaves and vary on structure, and ontology is point-of-view). Interesting to me is that just as he is tearing down cultural centrism, he also demonstrates startling hubris in some conclusions. Nevertheless, worth slogging through.
Oct 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Includes a good explanation on how language and culture can effect the way we see things and the way we think. Too many examples may be discouraging at first, but the fact that the reader can just "scan" those examples instead of actually reading them -if the reader fully understood the argument made, of course- decreases the time spent on reading this book, which means more time to write and cite from the book!
Matt Marro
May 01, 2009 marked it as to-read
Claude Levi-Strauss; main proponent of structuralism. I've heard this is a good introduction. My problem is that if it can be considered a mainstream, or "legitimate," philosophical school I want to know about it.
Tina Estep
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This is probably one of the most difficult books to read of his. Once one is able to accomplish getting through it, it is an amazing book! It is one of my favorite books and I consistently refer back to it. Every time I read it, I always discover something that I missed before.
Dec 28, 2007 is currently reading it
Recommends it for: Civilized minds
This is a really bizarre encounter for me. So dry, yet so fast-paced. What an impassioned genius.
Mar 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
who are you calling savage? seriously.
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Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist, well-known for his development of structural anthropology. He was born in Belgium to French parents who were living in Brussels at the time, but he grew up in Paris. His father was an artist, and a member of an intellectual French Jewish family. Lévi-Strauss studied at the University of Paris. From 1935-9 he was Professor at the University of Sao Pa ...more

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