The blurb is rather misleading. One expects a serious if fairly popular account of current neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. The first volume offers some of that, from Slessenger, a science journalist, but most of the rest of the set is taken over by a Gilbert, a goofy motivational speaker, good-natured and assertive but ignorant and vulgar. I had to give up on it. There are many other titles available that give real neuroscience, sometimes in the context of more particular topics: Daniel Goleman's Emotional Intelligence, Cacioppo's Loneliness, even Johnson's Mind Wide Open. Bryson's Nearly Everything and Angier's The Canon also contain a good deal of legitimate neuroscience, though aimed specifically at a popular audience. Brain Magic isn't anywhere close to joining the real third culture league. It keeps company instead with Lipton's The Biology of Belief and Pink's A Whole New Mind--other stinkers I had to trashcan after just a few minutes, plenty of time time to reveal the quality of intelligence at work.
yes, clear overview
Fred Stella did a superb job. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn't actually Kenrick speaking.
Kenrick is good with anecdotes and has a personable manner. He was one of the earliest researchers in evolutionary psychology and has done a good deal of primary research, so he gives an insider's view of developments in the field. The story has a narrative trajectory, beginning with the early efforts to overcome mass resistance to biological explanations and concluding in a serene late stage, with the revolution more or less completed.
Kenrick accepts the idea of massive modularity but at least systemizes modules by appealing effectively to human life history theory. He doesn't adequately register the way evolutionary psychology has finally succeeded in assimilating the idea of general intelligence, so his concept of human behavior retains the inflexibility that was a crucial limitation in early evolutionary psychology. Theoretically, humans remain robots animated by an array of basic motives automatically elicited by specific environmental inputs. They lack the power of altering behavior by envisioning their own identities extending over time, connecting to social networks beyond the immediate sensory field, and subject to norms, values, and beliefs. But that's only theoretically. Kenrick has enough wisdom, as a narrator, to see beyond some of the limitations in his theoretical model.
The wider evolutionary vision of human nature now takes in "group selection" as part of "multi-level selection." It also takes in the idea of "gene-culture co-evolution." Kenrick doesn't get that far. He reduces human behavior to three causal principles: inclusive fitness, differential parental investment, and reciprocal altruism (Hamilton, Trivers, and Trivers). He shows clearly just how far those three causes can take us in understanding human behavior. He thus also lets us see the limitations in those three explanatory principles.He reduces all mental effort to status striving, itself reduced to mating displays.
Inclusive fitness and differential parental investment account for so much of all animal behavior that evolutionary psychologists can produce a reasonable facsimile of human nature by treating humans as if they have adaptive capabilities no different from those of birds, chimps, and meerkats.That leaves out specifically and singularly human activities and accomplishments: technology, science, trade, philosophy, history, aesthetics, religion, myth, the arts, music, narrative, and ideology. All of human civilization is accounted for by waving airily at the peacock's tail.
Like most evolutionary psychologists even now, Kenrick essentially explains away the human mind. Evolutionary thinkers have only just recently begun to make real progress in understanding gene-culture co-evolution, and Kenrick has made no effort to include those recent and still rudimentary advances. He can thus explain human behavior only in the degree to which it is indistinguishable from the behavior of other dual parenting species or other species capable of cooperative group endeavor.
It takes a strong mind to grasp the enormity of what happened in Eastern Europe between 1930 and 1945. Snyder has the necessary imaginative courage and also the knowledge and skill. One of the most disturbing and morally challenging histories I've listened to or read. The reader is excellent, clear, deliberate, fluent.
Wade brings together all the most recent scientific information on "the human revolution," the emergence of fully modern humans some 50,000 years ago. He integrates findings from genetics, paleo-anthropology, geography, evolutionary psychology, and linguistics.
E. O. Wilson and Lionel Tiger both rightly identify this book as the currently best available synthesis of information in the field.
"Before the Dawn is by far the best book I have ever read on humanity's deep history. With courage and balance, Wade has pulled together the explosion of discoveries now ongoing in diverse fields of biology and the social sciences on the origin of our species, and he explains a large part of what is necessary to comprehend the human condition." E. O. Wilson.
"Into the turmoiled and sultry fray of controversy about human evolution and human nature, Nicholas Wade has delivered an impeccable, fearless, responsible, and absorbing account of the real story. . . . Bound to be the gold standard in the field for a very long time." Lionel Tiger.
Wade decisively puts to rest the fallacies promulgated in narrow-school EP about the monolithic EEA and the cessation of human evolution over the past 50,000 years or so.
Wade is always judicious and measured, never harshly polemical, but he directly confronts the chief alternatives to his views on the ongoing process of evolutionary change. He takes up Jared Diamond's geographical thesis and lightly touches the central weaknesses in Diamond's arguments.
He offers an incisive account of Robin Dunbar and Geoffrey Miller vs. Derek Bickerton and Richard Klein on the origin of language.
For comparison, Larson's book Evolution is just a pedestrian summary.
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