A neuroanthropologist tackles the questions of how home came to be a central feature of human life and what we mean when we say that we feel at home.
In this well-presented natural history of home, Allen (Research Scientist/Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center and the Brain and Creativity Institute, Univ. of Southern California; The Omnivorous Mind: Our Evolving Relationship with Food, 2012, etc.) does not assume that readers have specialized knowledge of anthropology, evolutionary biology, psychology, sociology, or cognitive neuroscience. The author guides readers through unfamiliar territory by looking at feelings of home as a cornerstone of human cognition, as basic perhaps as language. Then he examines how a feeling or desire for home may have evolved, finding a possible precursor in the sense of place exhibited in the nest-building of apes and tracing its transition to the human pattern of living a life based around a single home. Along the way, he introduces readers to the burial customs of Neanderthals and to the identification of fire with a home base. Turning to modern man, Allen writes that home is all about our complex and multifaceted relationships with the places we live. He cites the recent housing boom and bust to demonstrate how decisions about housing—buying, owning, renting, selling, moving—are often based on emotions such as anxiety or overconfidence, and he examines what it means to experience homesickness and what it is to be homeless. Home, writes the author, is “where self and place combine to form something that is unique to each person.” The perspective that Allen brings to this work makes clear that one can buy a house, but a home is built on evolutionary history, cultural traditions, technological advances, psychological factors, and personal experiences.
Excellent supplementary reading for a variety of college courses, but the book’s scope and accessibility make this one for general readers, too.