From Library Journal
Homo sapiens has existed as a separate species for only a very short period of time on the evolutionary scale (six million years at most), and we share 99 percent of our DNA with our closest primate relatives. How then can humans be as different from other primates as we obviously are? Developmental psychologist Tomasello thinks that all of the many unique characteristics of humans are elaborations of one trait that arises in human infants at about nine months of age: the ability to understand other people as intentional agents. (He dismisses a bit too cavalierly the anecdotal evidence of recent animal behaviorists who would describe a good deal of animal behavior as intentional in this sense.) Language, elaborate cultures, and other hallmarks of humanity are all natural outgrowths of this single trait. The author is clearly highly credentialed, his thesis is certainly plausible, and the language is not jargony. However, his topic is really very limited; the bulk of the book focuses on the narrow issue of "shared attention." Only graduate students and developmental psychologists will want to know this much about the subject. Recommended for academic collections.-Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Students of primate behavior are one of several groups who should read this important book. It spells out forcefully what appears to make human development so distinctive, and does so from the perspective of an expert in language acquisition who has also devoted much time to comparative work with apes. It is strong medicine for anybody in danger of romanticizing the similarity of ape to child. Developmental psychologists will find here a well-articulated account of the ontogeny of cultural learning, which challenges alternative accounts from the vantage point of extensive research. (Andrew Whiten Nature
In The Cultural Origins of Human Cognition
...[Tomasello] argues that what makes human beings unique is that they are so good at learning from one another and that they create new, original things with what they learn. (Helen Epstein Lingua Franca
A much needed book that covers a broad territory with both clarity and authority. Having spent much of his career comparing human and nonhuman primate cognition, Michael Tomasello makes the case for a social developmental foundation of the unique capacities of the human primate--language, complex cognition, and culture. His ontogenetic 'ratchet hypothesis' is both simple and provocative. It will be welcomed--and argued about--by a wide audience. (Katherine Nelson, Distinguished Professor of Developmental Psychology, City University of New York)
Tomasello is one of the very few scholars who works at the intersection of the phylogenetic, cultural-historical, and ontogenetic contributions to development. His studies linking non-human primate development to the development of human infants are exciting and compelling. He has done the study of human development a great service with the publication of this book. (Michael Cole, Professor of Communication and Psychology and Director of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, University of California at San Diego)
A powerful and coherent synthesis, and the best formulation of cultural psychology we've yet had. (Jerome Bruner, New York University)