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The Scientist in the Crib: What Early Learning Tells Us About the Mind Paperback – December 26, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

A trio of nationally respected childhood-development scientists hailing from Berkeley and the University of Washington has authored The Scientist in the Crib to correct a disparity: while popular books about science speak to intelligent, perceptive adults who simply want to learn, books about babies typically just give advice, heavy on the how-to and light on the why. The authors write, "It's as if the only place you could read about evolution was in dog-breeding manuals, not in Stephen Jay Gould; as if, lacking Stephen Hawking's insights, the layman's knowledge of the cosmos was reduced to 'How to find the constellations.'"

The Scientist in the Crib changes that. Standing on the relatively recent achievements of the young field of cognitive science (pointing out that not so long ago, babies were considered only slightly animate vegetables--"carrots that could cry"), the authors succinctly and articulately sum up the state of what's now known about children's minds and how they learn. Using language that's both friendly and smart (and using equally accessible metaphors, everything from Scooby-Doo to The Third Man), The Scientist in the Crib explores how babies recognize and understand their fellow humans, interpret sensory input, absorb language, learn and devise theories, and take part in building their own brains.

Such science makes for great reading, but will likely prove even more useful to readers with a scientist in their own crib, acting as tonic to pseudoscientific how-to baby books that recommend everything "from flash cards, to Mozart tapes, to Better Baby Institutes." As the authors put it, "We want to understand children, not renovate them." --Paul Hughes --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Although Gopnik, Meltzoff and Kuhl have each conducted groundbreaking research into the cognitive development of infants and its philosophical implications, this book evokes less excitement than their more straightforward research. With breathless enthusiasm, the authors review recent findings in developmental psychology and explain, in a tone somewhat self-consciously aimed at the "lay reader," their hopes that they will help answer fundamental philosophical questions. They focus on Kuhl's work in early infant phonetic recognition and language acquisition, Meltzoff's work on imitation in infants and Gopnik's exploration of philosophical development in infants, as well as other important work in the field. How do babies learn? they ask, answering that "they are born knowing a great deal, they learn more and we are designed to teach them." They also give refreshing emphasis to the evolutionary basis for infant-caregiver interactions. For example, they explain that "motherese"Athe high-pitched, slightly louder than normal speech with elongated and articulated consonants and vowelsAis not only preferred by babies but also optimally suited to their developing auditory systems. It's ironic, though, that these authors, who from the first pages decry ill-informed condescension to children, should be themselves so unthinkingly condescending in their tone and presentation: "children and scientists," they repeatedly aver, "are the best learners in the world." Agent, Katinka Matson, Brockman Inc.; 5-city author tour.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Reprint edition (December 26, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780688177881
  • ISBN-13: 978-0688177881
  • ASIN: 0688177883
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (66 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,653 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 81 people found the following review helpful By audrey pierce TOP 500 REVIEWER on July 11, 2001
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book presents the latest research concerning child development, but does so in an accessible and friendly way. This is not a how-to book, rather containing information about how children learn and develop over time. Chapters include: What Children Learn About People; What Children Learn About Things; What Children Learn About Language; What Scientists Have Learned About Children's Minds; What Scientists Have Learned About Children's Brains.
To a small extent the book suffers from the usual dilutory effects of having multiple authors. They also try to be a bit too cute sometimes, but this does not overly detract from the book's success as a layman-friendly introduction to child development research.
There is a very useful Notes section, References, and a good Index.
My advice, for all it's worth: If you are going to get one book about child development research, get Lise Eliot's 'What's Going On In There?', which is less precious, more extensive, and better organized. If you are going to get two books, add this to your list. I find myself referring back to the former book fairly often, but I do browse through this one occasionally as well.
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45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Joel Jacobsen on October 31, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you want practical advice on child-rearing, check out Penelope Leach or Dr. Mom. But if you're interested in reading about the latest research in the mental development of infants, this book is absolutely wonderful. It's full of surprising information about how observant and analytical babies are(at less than an hour old, they mimic faces), and gives details about the structure of the experiments used to deduce such information, allowing you to decide for yourself how much weight to give it. Much of the information confirms those of us who have always suspected two day old kids are as intelligent and tuned-in as, say, the typical graduate student -- they just have fewer ways to express it, and less experience to build on.
Better yet, the book is written in a thoroughly engaging and often humorous style that possibly owes something to the first named author's brother, the New Yorker writer Adam (or, more likely, both Gopniks inherited the same literary genes).
But don't expect pointers on burping technique.
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43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By P. Schafer on April 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read this book for a book group and began without much interest. I was caught. This is a beautifully crafted piece of writing. Some of the reviewers seem to be treating it as though it were a manual or reference book for young parents. Rather it is an examination of the status of research into the development of the mind -- research at the trickiest and most preconception-filled level, at the level of the youngest brains -- written for anyone interested in how we learn to perceive and make sense of the world around us. The presentation is enlivened by the authors' own observations. Is there a more accessible analysis and ultimate rejection of the whole nature vs. nurture controversy? A wise and wonderful book I have recommended to friends, and I've been thanked for recommending it. Incidentally, I've recommended it to friends who do not have young children, the hardest to interest in books about young children! The science is formidable when you pause to think about it, yet this remains a humane and accessible book.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bradley P. Rich on May 12, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As the father of a nine month old boy, I have been enthralled with this book. It is not a "how to" book on helping your child learn, but rather is a readable introduction to the current state of the study of cognitive development of babies. If you don't believe that it is possible to know what a baby is thinking, you will be fascinated at the clever experiments that have been constructed to tease out information from a baby's brain. It is surprising who much we can find out about how babies' brains work, and how much that can teach us about the adult human brain.
The tone of the book is chatty, but the content is substantial. The authors discuss the philosophers as well as the scientists who are working in this area. I don't suppose that the average new parent is interested in wading into Chomsky, Ryle or Descartes, but this book actually makes it interesting and compelling.
The book is broken down into the acquisition of particular mental skills. The authors thesis is that babies learn using, more or less, the scientific method, forming hypotheses and then testing them emperically. (The title of the book is a clever word play, referring to this theory, while simultaneously demonstrating what adult scientists are learning from their empirical studies.) While this may seem pretensious, the authors actually make a pretty good case for this theory.
The acquisition of language deviates somewhat from this general theoretical method, but the authors have some fascinating experimental data to illustrate the way babies actually learn language.
In short, this book is highly recommended, not just to new parents, but also to anyone interested in childhood cognitive development or what can be known about the workings of the human brain.
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99 of 118 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 6, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book because, having recently become a father, I wanted to get a better idea of what my baby thinks about and feels from people who make a living studying just that. I also wanted to know how scientists organize and practice the study of infant development; how do you observe an infant's actions and draw information about them based on what they do? (or don't do.) While The Scientist In The Crib is full of a lot of interesting anecdotes, and I certainly wouldn't question the authors' credibility, it is disappointingly organized around very general concepts as opposed to chronology, so that the thread of actual development is difficult to follow from one section to the next. This book really seems more like a series of articles, some more and some less interesting. The chapters examine what children learn about people [chapter 2], things [chapter 3], and then language [chapter 4], and then what scientists have learned about children's minds [chapter 5] and then what scientists have learned about children's brains [chapter 6](the distinction between minds and brains is probably much more meaningful if you're working in the field). There are two different sections entitled 'what newborns know.' I found myself skipping around looking for information relevant to my son and the age that he is now. I suppose if I was not so personally invested in these questions I could examine things in the lofty and generalized manner of this book, but, really, parenting is more a practical than a philosophical pursuit, and a chronological approach would have made the information (and there is a lot) much more accessible and interesting for parents.
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