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Coevolution: Genes, Culture, and Human Diversity Paperback – August 1, 1992

ISBN-13: 978-0804721561 ISBN-10: 0804721564

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Coevolution: Genes, Culture, and Human Diversity + The Dawn of Human Culture + On the Origin of Species: A Facsimile of the First Edition (Harvard Paperbacks)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 656 pages
  • Publisher: Stanford University Press (August 1, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804721564
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804721561
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #629,874 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Herbert Gintis on June 24, 2004
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In humans, both genes and culture are containers of information passed from one generation to the next. Both genes and culture affect the phenotype, and therefore individual behavior. It follows that both genes are culture are subject to Darwinian selection. In addition, genes are part of the environment in which culture evolves, and culture is part of the environment in which genes evolve. Of course, the physical representation of genes and culture are very different. Genetic information is coded in DNA, while cultural information is coded in the synaptical structure of the brain. Moreover, Fisher's fundamental theorem, which says fitness tends to increase, is true for a single genetic locus, but not for a single culture locus, since agents can sustain an increase in a fitness-decreasing meme. Durham uses the term 'meme' for a unit of cultural inheritance. I think his defense of this is one of the strongest points in this great book. He shows that culture cannot be identified with phenotype or behavior. It follows that we must drop the term 'geno-phenotype'. In its place we can use the term 'geno-memotype.' Variants at a cultural locus are called allomemes by Durham. Good choice.
We have learned much about brain functioning, the role of emotions, autism and sociopathy, and human altruism since this book was published (1991), and Durham uses no math, which I always thought a necessary part of gene-culture coevolutionary theory. Neither of these is a drawback, and indeed the fact that he produces a brilliant model of coevolution without the usual mathematical tools is a true tour de force!
Durham provides extended analyses of Tibetian marriage patterns, lactose tolerance, sickle-cell anemia, and disease transmitted by cannibalism. These are standards of the trade now, but Durham's analysis are absolute gems, even if you know the literature on the topic.
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This is a book on how genetic and memetic systems coevolve. It was written in 1992. At the time of its publication, it was probably the best available book on the topic.

The book is pretty good. It covers topics such as the coevolution of agriculture memes, malaria resistance genes and lactose tolerance genes. In each case, the memes and the genes evolve together and influence each other - usually with the memes leading and the genes following. The author has a good grasp of both the theory and the anthropological literature on the topic. I was also pleased to see that the book endorses and uses the "meme" terminology from Richard Dawkins.

There aren't too many flaws in the book. However, the author reviews the work of previous authors in the area - and does a pretty good job of pointing out the flaws in their work. One of the few problems that I noticed was that the author seemed to lack a good understanding of evolution within individual minds. This led to a number of incorrect statements relating to alleged differences between cultural and organic evolution. However, for the most part the author focused on areas where the effects of this problem were minimized.

One slight oddity about the book is its subject matter. Most of the previous academic books in the same general area had focused on gene-meme interactions. This book has the exact same focus. Retrospectively, it seems as though academics were attempting to master the more complex and difficult topic of gene-meme coevolution over deep time before they had properly pinned down a decent theory of how memes coevolve with their host's brains in the short term.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful By David A. Teich on March 11, 2010
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Trying to understand how culture and genetics interact is an important area and it's about time that more people comprehend that it's not "nature or nurture" but "nature and nurture". However, in trying to cover all the bases of the origins of modern theory and the breadth of the state of research, I think the author got a bit lost in the complexity of the issue and tried to cover too much.

I look for books such as this to be better than pop culture but less than an academic treatise. For me, the book shaded too much to the later. That wasn't the big problem though, rather the combination of breadth, depth and lack of clarity failed to keep my interest. It's a good attempt and look forward to following the issue as it evolves... ;)
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0 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kari Saarvola, s.c. on November 25, 2012
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has done a very important work, my understanding of coevolution has been better after reading this book and also the book by Lumsden & Wilson: Genes, mind and culture
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