A smooth, expert, and often startling history that emphasizes that no behavior separates us from other animals, but we...

HUMANIMAL

HOW HOMO SAPIENS BECAME NATURE’S MOST PARADOXICAL CREATURE—A NEW EVOLUTIONARY HISTORY

A lively exploration of “the epic meandering journey that every organism has made.”

That humans are conscious, cultured, and much cleverer than any other animal—but an animal nevertheless—is no secret to popular science writers. A steady stream of books explains how we got that way, and readers will not regret choosing this cheerful addition to the genre from British science journalist Rutherford (A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, 2017, etc.). Humans use tools, he explains, but many mammals and birds do the same. They are often no more than sticks poked into a hole to tease out food, but ingenious variations arise; many are adopted by others, becoming a rudimentary cultural element. In the author’s native Britain, out of 1,000 sexual acts that could result in a baby, only one actually does, as he reports in a long section shooting down the belief that only humans have sex for pleasure. The author then steps back, admitting that one can never know why nonhumans engage in nonproductive intercourse, but innumerable creatures do so. Readers under the illusion that behavior like homosexuality, anal intercourse, and even necrophilia are “contrary to nature” will learn that the opposite is true. Rutherford also ably explores current conceptions and focus on cooperation through communication. Animals can deliver signals, and a few ancestors of Homo sapiens may have talked, but we took it to a new level. “We transmit information,” writes the author, “not just via DNA down the generations, but in every direction, to people with whom we have no immediate biological ties. We log our knowledge and experience, and share them. It is in the teaching of others, the shaping of culture, and the telling of stories, that we created ourselves.”

A smooth, expert, and often startling history that emphasizes that no behavior separates us from other animals, but we remain an utterly unique species.

Pub Date: March 19, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61519-531-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: The Experiment

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2019

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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