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The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Melvin Konner's "The Evolution of Childhood" is a comprehensive research report in the field of evolutionary oriented developmental psychology, biology, anthropology and neurobiology. It is a groundbreaking book and will establish itself as a standard work. Clear, concise and exciting, even for non specialized readers (the reviewer is a German speaking psycholinguist and had his professional training in the sixties.) Thanks to its excellent apparatus, it provides insight into many areas, e.g. psycholinguistics, sexual development (including homosexuality), or the issues of adoption and many more.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Having no formal science background, this book was quite a challenge but well worth the effort. I've read many books on brain science, psychology and human development since my wife was pregnant with our first child. This is one of very few that has no ax to grind. It is a detailed accounting of the major research in human development which has left me humbled by the precariousness of human life and thankful for the luxury of raising children in the twenty first century. I highly recommend.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on August 13, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Emory professor/researcher Melvin Konner, who holds an M.D. and a Ph.D., took 30 years to prepare this comprehensive overview of infancy and childhood - and it shows. Extraordinarily thorough and engagingly written, The Evolution of Childhood is the definitive work on this critically important subject. It is sure to be an immensely useful resource for professionals as well as a fascinating read for the general public.

Jan Hunt, M.Sc., author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on February 19, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
The Evolution of Childhood is a difficult read for the non-professional (like myself) but there is plenty of great information inside. I continue to be impressed by Konner's encyclopedic knowledge of his subjects and amazed by the sheer volume and quality of research cited. For instance, research is cited which gives the percentage of time infants in various hunter-gatherer groups spend with their mothers, fathers, siblings, other children, other adults, etc. It specifies these percentages at different ages ranging from just after birth until several years of age so that quantitative analysis is possible showing how the child's social interactions change over time, and these measures can be directly compared to other cultures. This kind of analysis seems to overcome what must be a difficult challenge of anthropology - objective description with minimal influence of cultural or personal expectations.

I had previously read Konner's The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit and found this book to be of a similar style, which in my experience is the upper echelon of professional scientific writing. Some areas were far more accessible than others. The book is broken up into five parts; part two covers the maturation of the neural and endocrine systems, and that's where the reading gets really dense. I made no attempt to keep straight the dozens (hundreds?) of brain regions mentioned, remember what their significance is, etc. Sentences such as this mean little to me: "In approximate order of development, these are the cingulum bundle (linking the frontal and cingulated cortex to the hippocampus); the stria terminalis (amygdala to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis [BNST] in the hypothalamus); the mammillothalamic tract (hypothalamus to anterior nucleus of the thalamus); and the fornix (hippocampus to septal area, ventral striatum, and hypothalamus, especially the mammillary bodies)." The extra explanations in parentheses are just as incomprehensible to me as the phrases they were meant to explain. Some sections were heavy with this type of language and were not particularly informative or interesting to me, although they may be to a neurologist. But I figure such content such is to be expected when I'm reading a book aimed at professionals.

Despite these difficulties, I found plenty of interesting information. I'll summarize a few random points here that I found interesting:
"there is no human society in which males have primary or even equal responsibility for the care of offspring" [p 470] (remember not to make the naturalistic fallacy and derive "ought" from "is.")

"The overwhelmingly important predictor of interpersonal violence is training boys for aggression in later childhood." [p 472]

"Testosterone (T) administered to various mammalian females reduces their nurturing behavior...male Mongolian gerbils' parenting of neonates is inversely related to T levels." "But physiological differences go deeper than current hormone levels, owing to fetal brain androgenization...female rates androgenzied at four postnatal days show less nurturing behavior, approaching normal male levels."

"In many societies around the world children and parents sleep in the same room, and children have numerous opportunities to observe their parents having sexual intercourse...In fact, the most common sequel of such an observation, so common in these societies, is that children play at sex, amid many giggles." [p 480]

Hunter-gatherer groups (who are discussed extensively because their lifestyle is the best approximation we have of the lifestyle of our ancestors during most of human evolution) wean their children between the ages of two and three and a half years of age. Substantially lower weaning ages in western cultures is probably a recent development.

In a study of ninety cultures, "mother and infant slept in the same bed in forty-one, in the same room with bed unspecified in thirty...in none of the ninety did mother and infant sleep in separate rooms, a pattern that probably did not precede the industrial state." [p 409]

"The sclera, or whites of the eyes, have tripled in size since our ape ancestors just as brain size has, making human gaze direction much easier to determine and follow." [p 506]

In a study of 141 societies, "premarital sex was rated as 'expected, approved; virginity has no value' in 24.1 percent; 'tolerated; accepted if discreet' in 20.6 percent; and 'mildly disapproved; pressure towards chastity but transgressions are not punished and nonvirginity [is] ignored' in 17.0 percent." [p 525] However, it seems that fertility comes at a much later age in traditional cultures than in the West. "Despite nonrestrictive rules and apparent high levels of adolescent sexual activity, early pregnancy and childbearing were uncommon."

"We now know that about half the normal variation in personality is due to genetic variance with stability across the lifespan, especially in adulthood, and that child-rearing patterns have limited effects." [p 611] For a book-length argument to that effect, I recommend Judith Rich Harris' The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I read a lot and work in early childhood education. The book is a very good read - but tough for someone that is not familiar with the vocabulary of a researcher. That being said, it is still worth the commitment to get through the book because it provides a wealth of information based on years of research from a diverse set of researchers. However,this book is not for the faint of heart or those who want to breeze through a book and not really have to pay attention.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 27, 2012
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
If you haven't taken classes in behavioral neuroscience, this may be a very rough read. I just skimmed over all the brain chemistry parts and focused on the psychology/anthropological studies parts. That said, it can be frustrating if you don't have a strong background in all of these areas, as the author writes this as though the reader already knows and understands most of what he is saying.
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on October 19, 2013
Format: Paperback
QUOTE: "Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution."

This book is not a weekend read. An elaborate 17-page introduction starts this book in motion. The book proper begins on page 37 and even so, it still provides some 720 pages of content above and beyond the front matter and a prodigious prologue. This is not to demerit the book at all. Konner's work was clearly meant for the reflective reader. The reader is plunged into a deep chasm of human interactions, in all their complexities and far-reaching social implications.

What is this author trying to say? About human evolution? About the evolution of childhood? He makes a profound point about two rather important areas of concern: the growth of language in Chapter 9, and the growth of sex and gender differences as described in Chapter 10. These two characteristics clearly distinguish Homo sapiens from other, higher mammals.

Compared to other mammals, humans have the longest maturation process. Is this a survival strategy or a hindrance and makes the species vulnerable? Perhaps the greatest distinction that separates human evolution from other mammals' is their vast capacity to acquire language and culture. It would appear, then, that humans need this long maturation period for such things as enculturation and language.

The book is incredibly well researched with 159 pages of references and an index of 22 pages. If you plan to read this book through, take a little each day and savor the delights it bestows. Well worth the read.
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on October 20, 2012
Format: Paperback
At well over 700 pages (not including close to 200 pages of bibliography), this is a very comprehensive treatise on the underlying mechanism of the transmission of culture. The approach is based heavily on ethology and anthropology, with a heavy dose of neurological correlates to boot. It starts with an account of why humans have a prolonged altricial childhood. This favors allocare of infants and socialization. With these come learning and thence culture and its propagation. The book also complements Konner's previous tome The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit. Both provide a sophisticated discussion on the intricate interaction between genes and the social milieu. Nature and nuture may not so clearly distinguished after all. Thoroughly fascinating. Five stars.
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on October 22, 2012
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book represents the culmination of 30 years of arduous labor by one of the foremost minds in the field of anthropology and childhood.

Meticulous, detailed and --- at times --- sentimental.

The only thing I regret was that not much was said about the education of children. But that's nothing compared with what you get in the end.

5 stars and more...
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 11, 2014
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
A seminal work on evolution. I am not an evolution expert, though I am experienced and knowledgeable in childhood development and I am finding this book a fascinating (if sometimes dense) read. It is as comprehensive a review of many intersecting fields as I have seen, and I highly recommend it to anyone working with children, or interested in human interaction and understanding who we are and how we are the way we are.
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