The Village Effect: Why Face-to-face Contact Matters Kindle Edition
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I was disappointed to not see as much regarding neuroscience as I would have liked (I am, of course, very biased). In counseling right now, the need for social bonds to assist in brain development and avoiding illness is undeniable - a lack of good attachment and support systems are well known to cause mental illness. What this book excels at is explaining the very basics to a layperson.
If you want a more detailed purview, read Helen Fisher or Louis Cozolino's work. However, for most people this is a nice introduction. This book is about the behavioral manifestations of social neuroscience principals, even though it doesn't mention it literally for the most part.
Susan Pinker makes a persuasive case. Her book is well-researched and well-written. She knows what she is talking about, and clearly has thought a lot about what she says. That face-to-face contact has a different effect on us humans than Internet or other contact makes a lot of sense. There's nothing face-to-face about Facebook. Humans have long been a very social species, and our modern lifestyles seem to bring a little alienation and distance between even people who live close to one another. Internet ties do little to bring the closeness that being together in the flesh brings.
But while the book made me think, I also thought the book had a big flaw -- making too much out of stories and experiences. Susan Pinker begins the book with a lengthy description of some people living long lives in a mountain village on the Italian island of Sardinia, arguing that their close social contacts lead to their long lives. That could be true. But it can also be that genetics play a part, or lifestyle, or environmental factors. Human beings are complex, not simple. It's dangerous to connect cause and effect based on anecdotes, no matter how powerful or detailed. That kind of science is too soft.
Some other things that bothered me are less important. The sister of Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker (the last name certainly caught my eye and made me wonder whether she was spouse, sister, or daughter), Susan Pinker works that fact into her book awfully casually, saying several times just "my brother Steve." She also makes some glowing remarks about her son and daughter and works them into the book in a way that seemed a little too pushy and personal. (Her husband too is mentioned, but just as an aside and in a much less personal way.)
And the blurbs from well-known authors like Daniel Pink and Charles Duhigg seemed to me unwarranted, and maybe due to her brother's name being the same as her own. That may be too harsh an indictment for the evidence I have, but her book seemed a far cry from a book like Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Not that there is anything wrong with different writing styles and different ways of thinking. But while Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature seems to me a book that everyone should read, Susan Pinker's The Village Effect seemed a lot less substance and a lot more fluff. Not a bad book, certainly, but not an outstanding one either.