What does it mean to be human? Henrich’s book, a pleasure for the biologically and scientifically inclined, doesn’t provide...

THE SECRET OF OUR SUCCESS

HOW CULTURE IS DRIVING HUMAN EVOLUTION, DOMESTICATING OUR SPECIES, AND MAKING US SMARTER

As Henrich (Evolutionary Biology/Harvard Univ.; co-author: Why Humans Cooperate, 2007, etc.) notes, we humans are big-brained but not big enough, for “our kind are not that bright, at least not innately smart enough to explain the immense success of our species.”

A glance at the TV would bear out that idea, but the author means the observation as a prelude to a larger construct: individually, we harbor all sorts of weaknesses, from shortness of step to smallness of thought, but collectively, we are capable of arriving at solutions to problems that would elude any single one of us. Just so, he observes in an often repeated formula, though by brain size alone we should be able to beat apes in most tasks, in an important study, our “hairy brethren…mostly tied [us] in a wide range of cognitive domains.” Where we excel over other species is in social learning and behavior of related kinds; in another important study, “chimpanzees and capuchins revealed zero instances of teaching or altruistic giving,” whereas the human preschoolers the apes were compared to showed all manner of teaching, learning, sharing, and giving. It may not be a Mister Rogers world out there, but Henrich’s point, though belabored, is well-taken. While it is true that, left to their own devices, humans are prey to every fallacy there is, together we manage to think and muddle through. That’s culture, and that’s our advantage as humans. It’s good ammunition for the crowdsourcing advocates among us, though Henrich’s argument is more extensive than that. The writing is sometimes dense but always comprehensible, and it’s refreshing to see someone argue from an unabashedly Darwinian—or post-Darwinian, anyway—point of view without trying to edge away from terms such as “natural selection” and “evolution.”

What does it mean to be human? Henrich’s book, a pleasure for the biologically and scientifically inclined, doesn’t provide the definitive answer, but it does offer plenty of material for a definition.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-691-16685-8

Page Count: 456

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

Did you like this book?

more