Top Books of 2012: Human Evolution and Anthropology

23 12 2012

Jump to another list: Environmental and Climate Change; Evolution; Historical Geology; History of Science; Palaeontology; Zoology

These are books about human evolution, anthropology, and related subjects. Most are in the “educated layman” or undergrad category, with some layman and some complete academic books.

  1. Mitani, Call, Kappeler, Palombit & Silk (eds.). The Evolution of Primate Societies. (University of Chicago Press)
9780226531724 No general discussion of human “nature” and sociology is valid without reference to our evolutionary ancestry. If it’s one of your favourite discussion topics, then get this book so you don’t make elementary mistakes. It basically reviews the ecology, behaviour, and sociology of the social primates and thus allows you to make comparisons. It’s also a surprisingly affordable book for its content.

  1. Hetherington. Living in a Dangerous Climate: Climate Change and Human Evolution. (Cambridge University Press)
living-in-a-dangerous-climate-climate-change-and-human-evolution My most basic summary quip of human evolution goes like this: “Humans are a primate species that got super-lucky with coincidental climate changes allowing them to spread globally.” Because that basically sums it up – our evolution was enabled and pushed first and foremost by climate. That much is clear from any historical geology or human evolution book, and what makes this book great is that it doesn’t look at our evolutioary past, but also to how our self-inflicted climate changes will affect us in the future.

  1. Fuentes. Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature. (University of California Press)
race-monogamy-and-other-lies-they-told-you This is a must-read book by everyone. Period. I actually waste a significant amount of time every week trying to drill the stuff told in this book into the heads of ignorant morons who think that there really are living human subspecies who also think that men and women are totally different species, and who think that societally-engendered tropes are actually reflections of biological realities. It’s infuriating, and this book is a one-stop shop for debunking all these idiocies and more. Get it if you buy into them or hang around people who do.

  1. Stringer & Andrews. The Complete World of Human Evolution. (2nd ed.; Thames & Hudson)
the-complete-world-of-human-evolution If you need an affordable, authoritative, up-to-date guide on the ape fossil record (including humans, obviously), this book is exactly what you’re looking for. It’s written specifically for a lay audience – besides the chapters on the fossils, there are introductory chapters introducing palaeontological techniques, so you know how all the information is gathered. It also has a lot of diagrams for easy and effective visual comparisons. All in all, an excellent and comprehensive guide to human evolution that’s accessible to anyone.

  1. Wilson. Consider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat. (Basic Books)
13587130 I classify this book as an anthropological one. It discusses the history of cooking and eating from the discovery of fire to our modern hi-tech kitchens. Some may protest my including it here, but our food has always been one of the important factors in our evolution (from fire to agriculture to the myriad local adaptations, e.g. the teeth of Peruvians, or convergent lactose tolerance in several population; see book 10), so this is a useful book to keep, even if the majority of it focuses on cooking methods rather than the food itself. Plus, it’s pretty interesting!

  1. Stinson, Bogin & O’Rourke (eds.). Human Biology: An Evolutionary and Biocultural Perspective. (2nd ed.; Wiley-Blackwell)
0470179643 This is an academic textbook and is, as far as I can tell, the class of the field when it comes to anthropology: it covers both physical and biological anthropology, and all the links between them. If you’re an anthropology student looking to borrow a book from the library, this is the one you should be looking for (if you’re a student, you probably can’t afford to buy it anyway).

  1. De Duve. Genetics of Original Sin: The Impact of Natural Selection on the Future of Humanity. (Yale University Press)
genetics-of-original-sin-the-impact-of-natural-selection-on-the-future-of-humanity A new paperback release of an older hardback. I don’t care much for the theological blah that occasionally crops up in this book, nor for its ultimate conclusion that we can rise against the power of natural selection, but it is a worthy read because it basically sums up how various social traits that evolution has built into us will basically be our downfall.

  1. Hochberg. Evo-Devo of Child Growth: Treatise on Child Growth and Human Evolution. (Wiley-Blackwell)
170802 One of the critical milestones in human evolution is the addition of a childhood to the life cycle, a period when development occurs very rapidly under the influence of environmental factors. It’s unique to humans, and underlies a lot of our psychology and sociology. This is another academic text, and it has a medical focus, but overall it’s a great book exploring the various stages of childhood and how they relate to our evolution.

  1. Stringer. The Origin of Our Species. (Penguin Books)
The-Origin-of-Our-Species A paperback release of an older hardback. This is the best ultra-basic introduction to human evolution. Get it if you think #4 is too daunting.

  1. Ulijazsek, Mann & Elton. Evolving Human Nutrition: Implications for Public Health. (Cambridge University Press)
evolving-human-nutrition If my blurb to #5 about the importance of food to human evolution intrigued you, then this is the book you’ll want for a comprehensive academic treatment of the subject.

Jump to another list: Environmental and Climate Change; Evolution; Historical Geology; History of Science; Palaeontology; Zoology



4 responses

9 01 2013
Kathy Dettwyler

Interesting list. I would warn everyone to read any book with a healthy dose of skepticism though, and not assume everything in the book is accurate, or that everyone in the field agrees with what is being presented as concensus. For example, Hochberg’s book (which I haven’t read) — your description makes it sound as though it’s a fact that “childhood” is unique to humans and is something new and different evolutionarily. But it isn’t. At least not according to many of us who study growth and development as anthropologists. Likewise, #6, which covers both physical & biological anthropology and the links between them?? Um . . . they’re the same thing. “Biological” as the adjective is just the new and ‘groovier’ name for what we used to call “Physical” Anthropology.

9 01 2013
Frank Roberts (@JackCamel)

I love when these get posted. Since science books rarely hit the shelves with much fanfare, many fly under our radar. Thanks for throwing this one together.

I am with Kathy D, and usually am, on this one. Especially on our slick new nomenclature….. Now how about a category for Sociopathological Anthropology? I can think of a stand-out, but stand alone, book for that category.

9 01 2013

Thanks a lot for the correction – I’m not an anthropologist and got the idea at some point that there is some vague distinction between physical and biological anthropology.

About childhood: isn’t it at least unique to hominins? That’s what I meant, I always forget to make the distinction between hominins and modern humans. As far as I know, there is no childhood in the other great apes.

19 10 2013

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