Saturday, February 25, 2017

Review of: Robin Dunbar's, Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior

Robin Dunbar, Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior

(Oxford: 2016)

Reviewed for Choice Magazine by:

Ronald F. White, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Mount St. Joseph University 

Written by an internationally recognized evolutionary psychologist and anthropologist, this is a top-notch, state-of-the-art analysis of human evolution It traces the evolution of the human species through five distinct “Transitions,” based on changes in either brain size and/or ecological circumstance: (First) Australopithecines, (Second) Early Homo, (Third) Archaic Humans (Fourth), Modern Humans, and (Fifth) Neolithic Humans. It departs from other traditional anthropological accounts by focusing less on “stones and bones” and more on the evolution of  “social and cognitive traits;” especially, the evolutionary puzzle of how to maintain social bonding in ever-growing communities, while (at the same time) meeting the nutrient requirements of larger bodies and brains. Dunbar’s approach builds upon the longstanding “social brain hypothesis” by extending what we know about primate time-allocation; or, how primates, hominids, and early humans might have allocated their time at various latitudes for feeding, travel, rest, and social bonding. Many significant behavioral markers are discussed including: bipedalism, reproduction, migration, foraging, laughter, singing, dancing, weaponry, fire (warmth, light, cooking), meat-eating (small/large game), language, feasting, agriculture, husbandry, raiding, and warfare. Rife with technical terms, this rigorously referenced, science book covers over 2 million years of human history. It is, however, extraordinarily well-written, well-organized, and highly readable. This is certainly a high priority acquisition for most academic and large public libraries.