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Tarot Triumph

Edmund Leach, 4 September 1980

The Game of Tarot: from Ferrara to Salt Lake City 
by Michael Dummett.
Duckworth, 600 pp., £45, August 1980, 0 7156 1014 7
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Twelve Tarot Games 
by Michael Dummett.
Duckworth, 242 pp., £5.95, August 1980, 0 7156 1488 6
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... During recent decades a variety of very distinguished academics have taken time off from their learned pursuits to write imitation Agatha Christie detective stories, so when I first learned that Michael Dummett, widely regarded as the most formidable philosopher of his generation, was about to publish a book about Tarot cards, I rather naturally assumed that it must be an exercise of this same recreational sort ...

Incidence of Incest

Edmund Leach, 19 February 1981

The Red Lamp of Incest: A Study in the Origins of Mind and Society 
by Robin Fox.
Hutchinson, 271 pp., £7.95, January 1981, 0 09 144080 7
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Betrayal of Innocence: Incest and its Devastation 
by Susan Forward and Craig Buck.
Penguin, 154 pp., £1.95, February 1981, 0 14 022287 1
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... A part from the flaming scarlet with which the word ‘Incest’ is picked out on the covers of both these books, they do not have much in common, but the theme has a perennial fascination and they will doubtless both sell well. I am personally more attracted by Susan Forward’s modestly presented case-histories than by Robin Fox’s pretentious fantasies, but there is more meat for discussion in the latter’s argument, so let us start there ...


Edmund Leach, 23 October 1986

The Anthropology of Violence 
edited by David Riches.
Blackwell, 232 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 631 14788 8
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Quest for Excitement: Sport and Leisure in the Civilising Process 
by Norbert Elias and Eric Dunning.
Blackwell, 313 pp., £19.50, August 1986, 0 631 14654 7
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Sport, Power and Culture: A Social and Historical Analysis of Popular Sports in Britain 
by John Hargreaves.
Polity, 258 pp., £25, September 1986, 0 7456 0153 7
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At the Dawn of Tyranny: The Origins of Individualism, Political Oppression and the State 
by Eli Sagan.
Faber, 420 pp., £17.50, April 1986, 0 571 13822 5
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... As the bombs go off in Belfast, London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid, New Delhi, Beirut or wherever and the police start shooting ordinary citizens in order to preserve the peace, the television watcher develops a clear visual impression of what the word ‘violence’ signifies in contemporary English. To apply the same term to the ritual obscenities of bottle-throwing soccer fans somehow seems misplaced ...

Clever, or even Clever-Clever

Adam Kuper: Edmund Leach, 23 May 2002

Edmund LeachAn Anthropological Life 
by Stanley Tambiah.
Cambridge, 517 pp., £60, February 2002, 0 521 52102 5
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The Essential Edmund LeachVol. I: Anthropology and Society 
by Stephen Hugh-Jones and James Laidlaw.
Yale, 406 pp., £30, February 2001, 0 300 08124 3
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The Essential Edmund LeachVol. II: Culture and Human Nature 
by Stephen Hugh-Jones and James Laidlaw.
Yale, 420 pp., £30, February 2001, 0 300 08508 7
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... Edmund Leach was Provost of King’s College, Cambridge, KBE and FBA, a trustee of the British Museum, a senior fellow of Eton College, the president of societies ranging from the Royal Anthropological Institute to the British Humanist Association, and a noted collector of committee chairmanships. I once asked him how he could square all this with his regular insistence that he was a scourge of the establishment ...


Frank Kermode, 2 February 1984

Holy Scripture: Canon, Authority, Criticism 
by James Barr.
Oxford, 181 pp., £13, June 1983, 0 19 826323 6
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Structuralist Interpretations of Biblical Myth 
by Edmund Leach and D. Alan Aycock.
Cambridge, 170 pp., £15, September 1983, 0 521 25491 4
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... than Barr: which is surprising. The Barr-Childs dispute is not one in which one might expect Edmund Leach to be very interested, but if by chance he were, one assumes that for all his religious scepticism he would be on the side of Childs and not of Barr, though he would probably prefer Barr’s prose style. He has his own challenging, even ...

Facts of Life

Geoffrey Hawthorn, 1 July 1982

by Robert Hinde.
Oxford/Fontana, 320 pp., £9.50, February 1982, 0 19 520370 4
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Social Anthropology 
by Edmund Leach.
Oxford/Fontana, 254 pp., £9.50, February 1982, 0 19 520371 2
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by Leszek Kolakowski.
Oxford/Fontana, 235 pp., £9.50, February 1982, 0 19 520372 0
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Historical Sociology 
by Philip Abrams.
Open Books, 353 pp., £12, April 1982, 0 7291 0111 8
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... PS501 too) await their textbook writers. Frank Kermode’s masterguides are not such men. As Leach, for instance, explains, he is not offering stock answers to any stock questions. Indeed, he warns, anyone who read him for this would be put down by most examiners as ‘old-fashioned, egocentric, unscientific, escapist’ and altogether ...

The [ ] walked down the street

Michael Silverstein: Saussure, 8 November 2012

by John Joseph.
Oxford, 780 pp., £30, March 2012, 978 0 19 969565 2
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... states’ vote Republican while its ‘blue states’ vote Democrat. Claude Lévi-Strauss, Edmund Leach, Mary Douglas and Marshall Sahlins have pointed out that our normative ‘totemic’ systems of colour – urban gang colours, sports team colours, school colours, gender colours etc – are precisely analogous to those of the indigenous groups ...

Very Inbred

Helen McCarthy: Coeducation Revolutions, 10 May 2018

‘Keep the Damned Women Out’: The Struggle for Coeducation 
by Nancy Weiss Malkiel.
Princeton, 646 pp., £22.95, May 2018, 978 0 691 18111 0
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... in need of a ‘breath of non-Cambridge air’. Next door at King’s, the radical anthropologist Edmund Leach described his college as resembling ‘a seminary for young gentlemen’. Poorer, more recently established colleges, like Churchill in Cambridge and St Catherine’s in Oxford, took up the issue partly because it complemented their identities ...

Djojo on the Corner

Benedict Anderson, 24 August 1995

After the Fact: Two Countries, Four Decades, One Anthropologist 
by Clifford Geertz.
Harvard, 198 pp., £17.95, April 1995, 0 674 00871 5
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... decade 1901-11: Margaret Mead (1901), Edward Evans-Pritchard (1902), Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908), Edmund Leach (1910), Louis Dumont and Max Gluckman (1911). They were formed in the age of Hitler and Stalin, and, in the cases of France and Britain, of impending imperial decline. The last generation came to adulthood during World War Two, and made their ...

Reading the Bible

John Barton, 5 May 1988

The Literary Guide to the Bible 
edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode.
Collins, 678 pp., £20, December 1987, 0 00 217439 1
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... an authoritative modern version to match that of King James’s panel. The joker in the pack is Edmund Leach, with ‘Fishing for men at the edge of the wilderness’. Leach despises Biblical scholars, so does not read them: his opening caveat, ‘I lack most of the qualifications of an ordinary biblical ...

Men’s Work

Adam Kuper: Lévi-Strauss, 24 June 2004

Claude Lévi-Strauss: The Formative Years 
by Christopher Johnson.
Cambridge, 208 pp., £40, February 2003, 0 521 01667 3
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... that if they existed then they must be carved into the brain itself. His erratic English disciple, Edmund Leach, came up with a vivid if unreliable example of what Lévi-Strauss variously termed socio-logic – the science of the concrete – or totemism. Like many peoples, the English tend to classify animals first and foremost according to whether or ...

Jottings, Scraps and Doodles

Adam Shatz: Lévi-Strauss, 3 November 2011

Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory 
by Patrick Wilcken.
Bloomsbury, 375 pp., £30, November 2011, 978 0 7475 8362 2
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... and didn’t go back there until 1985, when he accompanied Mitterrand on an official visit. Edmund Leach spoke for many Anglo-American anthropologists when he complained in 1970 that Lévi-Strauss’s analyses were ‘very far removed from the dirt and squalor that are the field anthropologist’s normal stamping ground’. But Lévi-Strauss ...

How Shall We Repaint the Kitchen?

Ian Hacking: The Colour Red, 1 November 2007

Cognitive Variations: Reflections on the Unity and Diversity of the Human Mind 
by G.E.R. Lloyd.
Oxford, 201 pp., £27.50, April 2007, 978 0 19 921461 7
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... come in? Early on he became interested in comparative anthropology thanks to Meyer Fortes and Edmund Leach at Cambridge. He acquired the idea of a historical anthropology from Jean-Pierre Vernant in Paris. Twenty years ago he took up ancient Chinese science. He has since become the world’s foremost contributor to studies comparing aspects of ...

The Swaddling Thesis

Thomas Meaney: Margaret Mead, 6 March 2014

Return from the Natives: How Margaret Mead Won the Second World War and Lost the Cold War 
by Peter Mandler.
Yale, 366 pp., £30, March 2013, 978 0 300 18785 4
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... in the Sudan, where he recruited Anuak tribesmen to fight Italians on the Ethiopian frontier. Edmund Leach, while researching his classic Political Systems of Highland Burma (1954), rounded up his Katchin subjects for a counter-insurgency campaign against the Japanese: he perfected the native art of planting shit-encrusted bamboo stakes in the jungle ...

The Glamour of Glamour

James Wood, 19 November 1992

The Secret History 
by Donna Tartt.
Viking, 524 pp., £9.99, October 1992, 0 670 84854 9
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A Thousand Acres 
by Jane Smiley.
Flamingo, 371 pp., £5.99, October 1992, 0 00 654482 7
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... has walked on the Moon. The oaf of the gang is Bunny Corcoran, Bunny ‘being somehow short for Edmund’ (presumably a little allusion of Tartt’s: Bunny was Edmund Wilson’s nickname); Francis Abernathy is the wimp; and the twins, Charles and Camilla Macaulay, are the beauties. The members of the gang have no life ...

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