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The Human Spark: The Science of Human Development Hardcover – June 4, 2013


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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Kagan has heard neuroscientists boasting that the biochemistry of genes and synapses will soon explain all human emotions and behavior. He does not believe them. Here he advances a sophisticated perspective on the human condition, situating the latest findings of neuroscience within a much broader matrix of psychological, social, and cultural considerations. When explaining the emergence of human morality, for instance, Kagan acknowledges a biological-genetic priming for empathy, but he insists that the forms that empathy takes depend on the psychological development of the individual and on the cultural context in society. Readers further discern the limits of biological science as they see how the same biochemical—oxytocin—can foster openness to new ideas in some, while intensifying suspicion in others. An analyst’s eye for complexity also informs Kagan’s treatment of social class as a determinant of beliefs and conduct: upper-class children in Madagascar look remarkably unlike upper-class children in the U.S., yet share their cognitive profile. A capacity for dealing with complicated issues serves Kagan and his readers well when he confronts the twin epidemics of mental illness and moral confusion afflicting the twenty-first-century world. A rare inquiry allowing general readers to see how cutting-edge research clarifies ordinary human hopes—and fears. --Bryce Christensen

Review

“In his masterful survey, Kagan filters findings in the field.... An authoritative study of the dance of genes and environment in each child as they grow in universally human, and profoundly individual, ways.”Nature

“Best known for his work exploring the persistence of inborn temperamental differences, Kagan here expands his inquiry into other areas, including the problems inherent in trying to understand something as complex as human nature by looking through as narrow a lens as neuroscience, genetics, or psychological research. The result is a wide-ranging book that...often offers astonishing details amid the research Kagan summarizes.”Boston Globe

“Kagan makes a strong case that personality is more elastic, and resilient, than we may think: Even toddlers who experience extreme abuse or deprivation can become well-adjusted adults.”Discover

“Kagan grapples manfully with the complexity of what it means to be human, and has a magnificent disregard for orthodoxy—questioning everything from attachment theory to the belief that animal emotions are comparable to our own.”New Scientist

“[T]hought-provoking.... Authoritative and surprising, Kagan guides us through the most current research in the field, tracing its shifting intellectual fashions from emphasizing ‘nurture’ to the current reliance on neuroscience and showing how these fashions play out culturally. This wise and affirming book is essential reading for anyone interested in what makes us human.”Shelf Awareness for Readers, starred review

“A vividly titled overview, by the pioneering developmental psychologist, of his current thinking about the answer to the question, ‘What does it mean to be human?’ Reading him, one resonates to the kind of teacher he must have been.”Harvard Magazine

“Entertaining and intellectually engaging.”Library Journal

“An intriguing overview of many of the underlying assumptions guiding modern psychology.”Kirkus Reviews

“An insightful discussion of the epistemology of psychology…. [Kagan] offers illuminating discussions of the impact of culture on childhood development…. [A] fascinating summary of the current science behind human development from one of the leaders in the field.”Publishers Weekly

The Human Spark is a book painted with a broad stroke to bring into relief the panorama of human development. From culture and history and biology to parental practices, social class and morality, this book reveals all the hills and valleys of the psychology of becoming human. Jerome Kagan writes with the authority that comes with six decades of experience understanding the science of human development.”—Mahzarin R. Banaji, Richard Clarke Cabot Professor of Social Ethics, Harvard University, and coauthor of Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People

“Another Kagan masterpiece! As ever, he is helpfully provocative and challenging, but what he writes is scholarly, informed by up-to-date research, culturally sensitive, and with appropriate references to literary as well as scientific sources. The book is said to be about development but it is as much about broad concepts such as morality and emotion and especially about scientific strategies. Most of all, it is highly engaging and very readable.”—Sir Michael Rutter, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (June 4, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465029825
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465029822
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #128,439 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By christopher on March 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
An interesting, humanistic and truly wide-ranging work, thought-provoking, offering many sparks of insights gained from a life of dedication to the field of human development.

An important point relevant to many studies in the field is his critique of those which are merely based on verbal descriptions or a single source.

In his work there is an unusually strong emphasis on the importance of cultural settings and of class (discussions of class being notably missing in American works) in the development of the child. Along with this he emphasizes the importance of context.

In his discussion of first year influences on development he stresses the importance of the prenatal environment, inherited temperaments, history of experiences as well as the remarkable plasticity of the brain. His discussion concerning the development of symbolic language, inference, empathy and a moral sense as well as the role in these of the increased connectivity between the left and right hemispheres by age two is concise and stimulating. The first two years he considers in the majority of cases to be not determinative for later life. Discussing later years of childhood he posits that there is a more substantial preservation of behaviors by the age six or seven. Furthermore at this age there is the ability to reflect upon mistakes and the ability of semantic networks to operate free from schemata, both of which reflect the maturation of the brain with the ascendancy of the left hemisphere and the increased frontal lobe activity at this time of life.

Prof. Kagan is a well-known and welcome critic of one-dimensional attachment theories.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By C. Drury on December 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Kagan's sparks have certainly 'ignited' me. His selective and skewed rejection of Attachment theory and his disrespect of Bowlby in this publication are almost laughable if it wasn't so serious; it is the weakness of his counter arguments that really let him down. Maybe he could explain how extrapolations from the results of a study of lionesses can possibly be employed to infer anything so drastic about motherhood and good enough mothering as he asserts and the film isn’t referenced so I cannot check it? Maybe Kagan could explain why the fact that something became of interest only 300 years ago makes it less worthy of attention - don't we discover new areas for study all the time and isn't that important in all sciences? Kagan also tends to set up ‘straw man’ constructs to address hypothetical weaknesses but I find his constructs of themselves dubious and his reliance on them more concerning: research into separation does not state that periods of separation are always negative so the studies in Germany and the Netherlands do not conflict with any premise that secure infants can handle separation. And Kagan’s judgemental attitude to Bowlbys' motivation is hard to swallow given the lengths that Bowlby took to uncover the truth over an entire lifetime; I recommend Van der Horst's interview with Robert Hinde, for insight into the man behind Attachment theory. For, every person works in their own context don't they - isn't that as a 'So what' argument (true of Kagan as of Rutter or anyone) and to infer that Bowlby was tainted by a reactionary force against a changing world for mothers is sinking pretty low (evidence please?) given Bowlby's authenticity. Kagan does explore neuroscience in his book but how interesting that he fails to mention it at all in his section on attachment?Read more ›
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By Molly Basta on June 16, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Item is came exactly as described, would definitely buy from this seller. As for the book it is a great read. Unlike many other books on development this one captures your attention and is an easy read.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By dennis spurling on May 2, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I enjoyed the book immensely, having two under 3 years old grandchildren made it compelling for me. But there are some technical concepts which make parts of the book laborious reading.
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2 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Golen on December 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is way too much like a school text book for me. A plethora of research results, observations and theories concerning human phycology. I just gave up after awhile. Be a good book if you wanted to study up on phycology I guess. But I was just looking for causal information. If you want a lot of observations and theories per page; if you want a book that will take some time and effort getting through; if you want to amortize your book cost per insight: this is the book for you. Too much for me.
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