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Book of the week: Lévi-Strauss - a biography by Emmanuelle Loyer

'This is the first true biography of one of the greatest French intellectual of the twentieth century, who lived to the age of 100 and who finished his life covered in glory and honours. Emmanuelle Loyer’s book is a marvel of intelligence that holds the reader’s attention from beginning to end'' – Elisabeth Roudinesco, Le Monde  

Three years after the French publication of Lévi-Strauss (Flammarion), for which Emmanuelle Loyer was awarded the 2015 Prix Femina Essai, Polity Books publishes an English translation of the book. This English edition received the French Voices Award for excellence in publication in translation. The biography, originally published six years after the death of Lévi-Strauss, gives us insight into the work and personal trajectory of the thinker.

In this award-winning biography, Emmanuelle Loyer recounts Lévi-Strauss’s childhood, his promising student years as well as his first forays into political and intellectual movements. As a young professor, Lévi-Strauss left Paris in 1935 for São Paulo to teach sociology. The racial laws of the Vichy regime would force him to leave France yet again, this time for the USA in 1941. Lévi-Strauss’s return to France, after the war, ushered in the period during which he produced his greatest works: several decades of intense labour in which he reinvented anthropology, establishing it as a discipline that offered a new view on the world. During those years, Lévi-Strauss became something of a French national monument, as well as a celebrity intellectual of global renown.

Loyer’s outstanding biography tells the story of a true intellectual adventurer whose unforgettable voice invites us to rethink questions of the human and the meaning of progress. She portrays Lévi-Strauss less as a modern than as our own great and disquieted contemporary.

Lévi-Strauss, a Biography was translated from the French by Ninon Vainsonneau and Jonathan Magidoff, and is published by Polity Books.


Emmanuelle Loyer is a French historian, researcher, and professor of Contemporary History at Sciences Po Paris. She specializes in the cultural history of contemporary societies. She is also a producer for the radio network France Culture. She was awarded the 2015 Prix Femina Essai for this biography.

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