©2009 Colin Renfrew; (P)2009 Recorded Books, LLC
Renfrew covers many topics and references the important people in the field of archaeology. I only wish Audible would feature more books of this caliber. I am very frustrated that so few books are available on this topic. The content of this book is dense and I have listened to it several times. I was so delighted to see a serious non-fiction book offered on Audible and I don't agree with the other reviewers that this book was unsuitable for audio. Apparently the other listeners were expecting lite fare such as the Idiot's Guide to Archaeology or some pop fluff a la Graham Hancock. If you seriously interested in an overview of the field, this book is for you.
This is a well researched and well buttressed discussion of what a respected specialist in his field sees as current fact in the field of human past, before the advent of what we commonly refer to as "history" (written records). He spends some considerable effort documenting how we have come to know what we do, that is, the scientific basis for what we believe we know. To compare this work to many others on the same subject, for example Wade's "Dawn of Human History", makes the latter seem like an oversimplified introduction to the subject for an adolescent. The latter is a an entertaining listen, but it stimulates more questions than it provides answers, as it jumps from seemingly scientific premises to fanciful conclusions that are clearly based on modern biases or wishful thinking. Renfrew's work suffers from the expected occasional "dryness" any scholarly work can have for the nonspecialist. But for the enthusiast who wants to know more, without having to do the original research myself, the work of listening is worth it. I am a physician, not an archeologist; but if I can discover a bit about what and who we humans are, and how came to be us, maybe I can help my patients with some of the vast weight of medical problems that plague us today; most of which are 'lifestyle" diseases (with an underlayment of genetic predisposition). The seeds of these medical problems seem to have been sown in our distant past; and maybe some of the answers will come from the study. More power to any specialist in any field who tries to elucidate the science for the rest of us who are hungry for knowledge.
Letting the rest of the world go by
The author gives a very dry text book like presentation of the topic. The book is really mostly about the archeology of the mind. A topic I find exciting. The book is not for everyone except for those with an interest in early man out of Africa and his mental development. If your not bothered by statements like understanding symbols make us human and 'X signifies Y in the context of C', you'll probably find the book interesting too.
I didn't like the narration and would suggest to speed it up to 1.25. Also, I didn't like the dry presentation of the topic.
I did like the topic and feel comfortable giving it a higher overall rating than the weighted average of the sum of its parts. I would only recommend this book for people who really like the topic.
Old & fat, but strong; American, Chinese, & Indian (sort of); Ph.D. in C.S.; strategy, economics & stability theory; trees & machining.
If you've ever listened to Dennis Miller tell a joke and realized that you had no idea what he was referencing, but fount the joke mildly funny anyway, because you sort of imagined your own facts in place of the obscure reference, that is exactly what reading this book feel like. For example he has a very insightful critique of Richard Dawkins' Meme theory, without ever, even superficially, explaining what Richard Dawkins wrote about Memes, or even what a Meme is. I happened to have read Richard Dawkins, so I got that one, but most of the references I didn't get.
Googling the author strongly suggests that he is a top researcher in the field, so the impression that he's talking to other top researchers in his field, about what they should do differently in the future, may be somewhat accurate.
I think his point is something like we have assumed too much determinism in our understanding of the evolution of culture. Because specific events caused specific changes in specific instances, doesn't imply that this specific course of evolution is necessary or even probable. He seems to be advocating the need for better causal models of the interactions between ideas and cultural changes. But I have no idea how to understand the cause and affect relationship between ideas and cultural evolution in a pre-historic context. It seems that you lack direct evidence of the ideas and large statistical samples that might be used to infer the influence of specific ideas. But I don't have a Ph.D. in pre-history; maybe it's obvious if you do.
I would have enjoyed examples of successes at understanding the influence of ideas on pre-historical evolution.
Colin Renfrew is highly respected and this book pulls together a wide variety of recent research in a comprehensive whole. However, it is too detailed for most listeners. "Before the Dawn" is much better.
Between the dry, textbook style of the book and the expressionless reading, this book is better than a sleeping pill. Because I am truly interested in the subject matter, I stayed with it but the only time I could listen was during my daily commute. Otherwise, I dropped off after a couple of sentences. I think I should have read it in hard copy because then I could have skimmed the less interesting parts. I really did not need such a thorough introduction to the history of the study of Prehistory. Still, I was fascinated by the advances in scholarship since my college years.
The substance of the book is interesting, but the narration is a bit dull. The first part is about the history of the study of prehistory, and that was a little tedious at times. The "meat" doesn't come until later.
A broad overview of the topic - not a lot of detail. Reminds me of a PhD. thesis in which you have to list every researcher who worked in the same feild before you can cover yoru own work. As soon as an interesting topic comes up and the details begin to get disscussed it's time to move on to somethign else.
I cannot conceive of anyone thinking this would be an appropriate book to make into an audiobook. It is a dry dry academic tome, who author is more interesting in discussing the theory behind attaching the correct label to things than actually telling one anything interesting about prehistory. The only use I can think of for this book would be as a dip in reference book for a student of the subject needed to revise some of the terminology, and then I would advise them to go get a paper copy, make notes or use a highlighter. Imagine the most boring lecture topic delivered by the most boring lecturer possible, and it gives you some idea of the book. I kept skipping though, trying in vain to find something of interest to listen to, but failed miserably. I listen to a lot of hard science, history and archaeology books and this was by far the worst. For an informative and entertaining listen try Wade's Before the Dawn instead.
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