THE DESCENT OF THE CHILD by Elaine Morgan

THE DESCENT OF THE CHILD

Human Evolution from a New Perspective
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A highly readable treatise on human development--so good it can be recommended to any new or about-to-be ma (and pa). Beginning with conception, controversial science writer Morgan (The Aquatic Ape, 1982, etc.) provides absolutely fascinating material on the days, weeks, and months of development, including fetal rehearsals for breathing that appear to coincide with rapid eye movements. Covering birth, she comments that the tendency toward nighttime arrivals may be a hangover from our pre-hominid past, when the dark was probably safer. Morgan neatly dispatches old myths (smiles are early and real, not symptoms of gas) and calls babies ``he,'' so as not to confuse pronouns with mom. The anatomical compromises between pelvic width, bipedalism, and baby head size, she argues, mean that human newborns are exceptionally helpless and do everything they can to ``control'' their caregivers--making eye contact, crying, imitating, smiling, laughing. The brain almost triples in size the first year, and Morgan reprises the theories of what happened in evolution to favor this development, pooh-poohing the idea that the strains of savannah life put a premium on large brains (other savannah-living primates do just fine with smaller ones). Yes, she still plumps for an aquatic stage of evolution, but here it is watered down to some sort of marshland existence that might have favored certain anatomical and behavioral changes. Chapters on parenting, socialization, and the nursery years remind us how much culture molds society, producing today's state of isolated and ghetto-ized infancy, the need to learn how to care for a child, and the decline of the family. The real tragedy, Morgan avers, is the unwanted child, who runs the risk of continued frustration and abuse and the eventual failure of too little, too late rehabilitation for adolescents. We can learn a lot from and about babies and children, and Morgan is a first-rate guide.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-19-509895-1
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1995