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On Deep History and the Brain Paperback – November 18, 2008
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"[An] intriguing little book."--"American Scientist"
"An intelligent disquiet runs through these pages."--"New York Times Book Review"
"Relax and enjoy. It's a good read, and it makes you think."--"New Scientist"
"A creative and compelling synthesis of ideas, Smail's book provides an engaging and invigorating analysis of our history."--"Science (Aaas)"
"A provocative thesis. . . . Radically rethinks the relationship between biology and culture."--Steven Mithen"London Review Of Books" (01/24/2008)
"A pioneering work."--Brendan Wallace"Fortean Times: The Journal Of Strange Phenomena" (07/01/2009)
A provocative thesis. . . . Radically rethinks the relationship between biology and culture. --Steven Mithen"London Review Of Books" (01/24/2008)"
A pioneering work. --Brendan Wallace"Fortean Times: The Journal Of Strange Phenomena" (07/01/2009)"
From the Inside Flap
"This is one of the most exciting books I've read in years. It is so accessible, so groundbreaking, so stimulating, so important that I imagine the next generation of historians will be deeply influenced by what Smail has to say here. Simply dazzling."Lynn Hunt, author of Inventing Human Rights
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Top Customer Reviews
Smail suggests using evolution as a new approach - one idea, he suggests, is that changes in brain chemistry, from external and internal forces, play a role in shaping human history. For example the widespread adoption of caffeine in Europe in the 17th century altered Europeans brain chemistry and thus the track of history. Similar investigations could be done with "pre-historic" periods. Smail doesn't go into many specifics, this is a concept book about how to approach history, not a definitive scientific analysis or conclusion - it is part of the larger ongoing discussions on how the ideas of evolution can be applied scientifically to the humanities (history, literature, etc) . Overall I was intellectually stimulated throughout and greatly enjoyed the ideas and perspectives, Smail is well versed in western historiography and the philosophy of history. Even if you are not convinced by the titles premise (almost a sort of hook), discussed in only one chapter, there is a lot to learn in this short but pithy work.
As a professor of history, Smail deftly summarises the various schools of historiography. Early history is dubbed "sacred" for its reliance on Biblical origins. Time was fixed and man's place in those histories was determined. This type persisted until "the bottom dropped out of time" with the advent of geology, paleontology and particularly, biology demonstrating the inadequacy of sacred history. Disputes arose, he notes, during the 19th Century carrying through well into the 20th Century, over the "starting point". Providing many examples, he laments that even as it became clear that human origins extended far back in time, history texts failed to acknowledge early human input worthy of notice. In some cases the view of "pre-historic" humanity even portrayed them as solitary wanderers on the landscape. Agriculture, in this view, was the foundation of human communities, hence discernible history.Read more ›
Smail argues that people's brains cause them to act so as to achieve certain levels of chemicals in the brain. Two centuries ago, the English utilitarians tried to found a social science on something similar. People, said Jeremy Bentham and James Mill, try to achieve pleasure and avoid pain. To the extent they do, they experience "utility." The idea of trying to maximize utility became a part of what was then called political economy. Eventually, it became conventional wisdom that a pleasure/pain principle was too simple, so economists redefined utility to mean preference, and dropped the question of where these preferences come from. If neurology can put some flesh back on the bones of "preference," it may indeed form a basis for a better economics and history.
Smail likes the metaphor of a "drug." The stresses of modern life cause undesired levels of some brain chemicals. Some people shop to change the levels to more desired ones. Thus, shopping is a drug. Similarly, in medieval times, attendance at church services--experiencing the communal ritual, the smoke, etc.--acted to change brain chemicals in desired ways.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
First-rate historiography. A clear, convincing, and important argument for abandoning the idea that historians must begin their accounts of human history with the earliest... Read morePublished on June 8, 2013 by BW
This is a great introduction to a hot topic in historiography. History did not begin with written chronicles, but with the traces that humans have always left in our passage... Read morePublished on June 2, 2013 by raymond Obermayr
Daniel Lord Smail is a professional historian who has written a book about neuroscience, historiography, history, and psychology. Read morePublished on June 5, 2011 by G.X. Larson
Good history ought to support, and be supported by, good science and good philosophy. This book does exactly that. Read morePublished on January 30, 2011 by Lester M. Stacey
The concept of human history is tricky. Specifically, when does it start? Geologic time obviously doesn't work, but recorded history is far too abbreviated given the span of... Read morePublished on July 14, 2009 by VampireCowboy
The idea of "deep history" seems to be that of an unbroken, scientifically-based, narrative moving from the dawn of time to the present. Read morePublished on June 29, 2009 by Rick W
Daniel Lord Smail is a historian at Harvard University. He is perhaps motivated to write this book because his father, John R. W. Read morePublished on May 22, 2009 by Herbert Gintis
You know how when some popular musician or movie star comments on a subject out of his field of expertise (say, on politics or some scientific field) and says something ridiculous... Read morePublished on December 14, 2008 by Jared B.