- Paperback: 384 pages
- Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 31, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0674025598
- ISBN-13: 978-0674025592
- Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 48 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #212,319 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
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Why should music be so important to us? Steven Mithen begins his task with a detailed analysis of music and musical ability, drawing on musicology, psychology and neurobiology to build a comprehensive and erudite picture of music's capacity to move us...This is a long-overdue book, which approaches human evolution from an intriguing as well as entertaining angle. (R. I. M. Dunbar Times Literary Supplement 2005-07-28)
Mithen draws on archaeological record and current research on neurology and genetics to explain how and why humans think, talk and make music the way they do. If it sounds impenetrably academic, it isn't: Mithen acts as a friendly guide to the troves of data on the evolution of man (and myriad sub-mysteries of the mind, music, speech and cognition), translating specialist material into an engrossing narrative casual readers will appreciate...Mithen's expertise in the science and history of his subject is combined with a passion for music that makes this book enjoyable and fascinating. (Publishers Weekly 2006-02-27)
Mithen has many fascinating suggestions about how the circumstances of early hominid life on the African savanna may have provoked changes in anatomy and improved the range and precision of communication...By bringing music to the fore, Mithen remedies earlier neglect and offers his readers the most perspicacious portrait of the role of communication among our remote predecessors that I have ever encountered. That is a great accomplishment...Mithen's book, in short, seems destined to become a landmark in the way experts and amateurs alike seek to understand the character and evolutionary importance of hominid and early human communication...[The Singing Neanderthals] offers a learned, imaginative overview of the most important and most elusive dimension of the real but unrecorded past: i.e., how communication among our predecessors changed their lives, sustained their communities, and promoted their survival. No one has previously undertaken that task so well. (William H. McNeill New York Review of Books 2006-04-27)
With a fascinating blend of neurology, anatomy, archaeology, developmental psychology and musicology, Mithen seeks the source of our propensity for making music, a universal human feature that has been strangely neglected compared with the origin of language. (Blake Edgar Scientific American)
Among the most dicey academic inquiries are the ones that deal with the origin of human consciousness. Faced with difficulties of such daunting scope, Steven Mithen remains undaunted. In his 1996 book, The Prehistory of the Mind, he argued that both the origins of thought and the origins of human language are natural outcomes of evolution. But according to the first chapter of Mithen's latest work, The Singing Neanderthals, that story was incomplete. What it neglected was the central role of music in the psychosocial makeup of our species...'Without music,' Mithen writes, 'the prehistoric past is just too quiet to be believed'...Thus, Mithen speculates, humanity might have developed much as the individual does: music first, then language. From an evolutionary standpoint, music would not only help ensure the well-being of the individual, but also the cohesiveness of the group. Calling on primate studies, Mithen likens group music-making to grooming, an activity that evokes feelings of contentment and belonging...Taken as a look at the natural history of music, Mithen's book is thoughtful and certainly entertaining. (Laurence A. Marschall Natural History 2006-10-01)
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen is a book that has you making up your own theories about how grunts became speech and songs. (Doris Lessing Granta 2008-12-09)
About the Author
Steven Mithen is Professor of Early Prehistory and Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Reading.
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I spend a lot of my free time actively listening to music. I have a large vinyl record and CD collection acquired since my childhood and I take pride in keeping it well maintain. I only watch an average of 10-12 hour of television per month. So alternatively I listen to music, all kinds of music. I also love to read a lot of non-fiction and have over the past year become interested in paleo-anthropology and our human and societal evolution. While searching "neanderthal" on Amazon I came across this book and obviously I found the title appealing. Wow, this book was incredible! It covers human development from our ancient hominid ancestors and proposes a theory of how they communicated along with the evolution of music and language. I found it extremely interesting. It was also one of the most "fun" reads I've ever experienced. I'll never look at human behavior and communication the same. I can see so much more meaning in various human activities which I previously took for granted and I see the shadows of our ancient ancestors everywhere. Thank you Steven Mithen.
The Singing Neanderthals is one of those rare books (and I've read many!) that meaningfully furthers such a quest of envisioning and truly understanding ancient life. During the page-turning hours in which I devoured this book, I was privileged to live in the worlds of our hominid ancestors and cousins. However, these insights also lead to a deeper understanding of one’s own humanity – one’s wiring, instincts, and human experience.
All that said, The Singing Neanderthals did not consist merely of musings and imaginings. From a scholarly standpoint, the model(s) presented for the development of language and music, as well as their supporting arguments and research, were very sound.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in understanding, appreciating, or learning more about human origins, language, music, and why we are the way we are today.
One of the main topics I took form the book was author's way of discussing Chomsky's generative grammar. For longer time already I was suspicious about Chomsky's universal rules distributed by genetics and this book gave me arguments against it.
I disaggreed sometimes but still the book provoked my own thinking. I had started to read it because I wanted to know something about origins of art within humankind development but it gave me much more.
The book is written in very readable manner and the author shows respect to all whom he criticizes.
Last not least - I like the book title very much. Could you imagine a Neanderthal standing at the top of a hill singing Song of Joy?
Much is speculation and at times one has the impression that the author sees his own speculation as not being all that speculative (e.g. even his main argument that Neanderthals are music-using but not language-using animals is, I believe, still open to debate - as is his statement that music emerged after language evolved). Furthermore some of his assumed truths (such as genetic proof that there was no interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans) appear to me to be more a matter of belief than fact.
In all as other reviewers have indicated and in detail described, a work worth reading and well-referenced.