Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior by Robin Dunbar

November 07, 2016

The story of human evolution has fascinated us like no other: we seem to have an insatiable curiosity about who we are and where we have come from. Conventionally, this story has always been told in terms of the stones and bones that make up the archaeological record -- for the very good reason that this is often all we have to go on with any certainty.

For the last half century, archaeologists have been loath to stray from the "hard evidence" lest they be accused of being speculative. Yet the stones and the bones skirt around what is perhaps the real story of human evolution, namely the social and the cognitive changes that, step by slow and uncertain step, gave rise to modern humans.

In HUMAN EVOLUTION, Robin Dunbar takes readers from prehistoric to modern times, focusing on an aspect of evolution that has typically been overshadowed by the archaeological record: the biological, neurological, and genetic changes that occurred with each "transition" in the evolutionary narrative.

Dunbar's interdisciplinary background -- with his background as both an anthropologist and psychologist -- allows him to bring the reader into all aspects of the evolutionary process, as he explains how humans derived from the genetic code of the great apes, the schema and lineage of our ancestors, and the environmental factors that impacted our ability to evolve. As definitive as the stones and bones are for archaeological evidence, Dunbar explores far more complex psychological questions: What is it to be human (as opposed to being an ape)? And how did we come to be that way?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Robin Dunbar is an evolutionary psychologist and former director of the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology in the Department of Experimental Psychology at Oxford University. His acclaimed books include How Many Friends Does One Person Need? and Grooming, Gossip and the Evolution of Language, described by Malcolm Gladwell as "a marvellous work of popular science."

Oxford University Press USA

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