Books to review

HEB Book Reviews

The Human Ethology Bulletin is an online peer-reviewed journal publishing scholarly works within the broad research tradition of Human Ethology. Each volume includes reviews of recently published books that touch on ethology. Below is a list of books we are currently seeking reviewers for. If you are interested in reviewing one of the books on this list please click on the book cover below to automatically contact our book review editor, Amanda Hahn. If you would like to suggest a book not listed below, please click here to share your suggestion.


Books in Need of a Reviewer

Out of Eden: The Surprising Consequences of Polygamy
Author: David Barash

Barash combines a rich array of evidence from evolutionary biology, animal behavior, and anthropology to document the extent of human polygamy. He argues that humans are not naturally monogamous, but that we have the capacity to overcome our biological inclinations and predispositions

Not So Different: Finding Human Nature in Animals
Author: Nathan Lents

Lents argues that the same evolutionary forces of cooperation and competition have shaped both humans and animals. Identical emotional and instinctual drives govern our actions. By acknowledging this shared programming, the human experience no longer seems unique, but in that loss we gain a fuller appreciation of such phenomena as sibling rivalry and the biological basis of grief, helping us lead more grounded, moral lives among animals, our closest kin.

The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional
Author: Agustín Fuentes

Fuentes weaves fascinating stories of our ancient ancestors’ creativity, arguing that this key quality has propelled the evolutionary development of our bodies, minds, and cultures, both for good and for bad. It’s not the drive to reproduce; nor competition for mates, or resources, or power; nor our propensity for caring for one another that have separated us out from all other creatures.

Does Altruism Exist?: Culture, Genes, and the Welfare of Others
Author: David Sloan Wilson

Does altruism exist? Or is human nature entirely selfish? In this eloquent and accessible book, famed biologist David Sloan Wilson provides new answers to this age-old question based on the latest developments in evolutionary science.

Payoff: The Hidden Logic That Shapes Our Motivations
Author: Dan Ariely

Payoff investigates the true nature of motivation, our partial blindness to the way it works, and how we can bridge this gap. With studies that range from Intel to a kindergarten classroom, Ariely digs deep to find the root of motivation—how it works and how we can use this knowledge to approach important choices in our own lives.

Population Wars: A New Perspective on Competition and Coexistence
Author: Greg Graffin

Population Wars is a paradigm-shifting book about why humans behave the way they do and the ancient history that explains that behavior. In reading it, you’ll see why we need to rethink the reasons for war, not only the human military kind but also Darwin’s “war of nature,” and find hope for a less violent future for mankind

What Would Animals Say If We Asked the Right Questions?
Author: Vinciane Despret

Despret argues that behaviors we identify as separating humans from animals do not actually properly belong to humans. Combining serious scholarship with humor, this book poses twenty-six questions that stretch our preconceived ideas about what animals do, what they think about, and what they want.

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s Forgotten Theory of Mate Choice Shapes the Animal World – and Us
Author: Richard O Prum

A major reimagining of how evolutionary forces work, revealing how mating preferences—what Darwin termed “the taste for the beautiful”—create the extraordinary range of ornament in the animal world.

The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone
Author: Steven Sloman & Philip Fernbach

Humans have built hugely complex societies and technologies, but most of us don’t even know how a pen or a toilet works. How have we achieved so much despite understanding so little? Cognitive scientists Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach argue that we survive and thrive despite our mental shortcomings because we live in a rich community of knowledge.

The Ancient Origins of Consciousness: How the Brain Created Experience
Author: Todd E. Feinberg

After assembling a list of the biological and neurobiological features that seem responsible for consciousness, and considering the fossil record of evolution, Feinberg and Mallatt argue that consciousness appeared much earlier in evolutionary history than is commonly assumed. Combining evolutionary, neurobiological, and philosophical approaches allows Feinberg and Mallatt to offer an original solution to the “hard problem” of consciousness.

The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable
Author: Suzana Herculano-Houzel

According to Herculano-Houzel, humans have developed cognitive abilities that outstrip those of all other animals – but not because we are evolutionary outliers. The human brain was not singled out to become amazing in its own exclusive way, and it never stopped being a primate brain. If we are not an exception to the rules of evolution, then what is the source of the human advantage?

Primate Behavior and Human Origins
Author: Glenn King

This comprehensive introduction demonstrates the theoretical perspectives and concepts that are applied to primate behavior, and explores the relevance of non-human primates to understanding human behavior. Using a streamlined and student-friendly taxonomic framework, King provides a thorough overview of the primate order.

Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind
Author: Kevin Laland

How did the human mind―and the uniquely human ability to devise and transmit culture―evolve from its roots in animal behavior? Darwin’s Unfinished Symphony presents a captivating new theory of human cognitive evolution. This compelling and accessible book reveals how culture is not just the magnificent end product of an evolutionary process that produced a species unlike all others―it is also the key driving force behind that process.

Evolutionary Psychology and Terrorism
Editor: Max Taylor et al.

While evolutionary thinking has come to permeate both biological and social-science theorising, it has not yet been applied systematically to the areas of terrorism and political violence. This volume seeks to do this for the first time. It presents a collection of essays on evolutionary psychology and terrorism, which encourage the reader to approach terrorism from a non-traditional perspective, by developing new approaches to understanding it and those who commit such acts of violence. The book identifies evolutionary thought as heuristically important in the understanding of terrorism, explores the key conceptual themes, and provides an evolutionary (and cross-species) understanding of the community-wide effects of terrorist attacks.

The Parasite-Stress Theory of Values and Sociality
Author: Randy Thornhill

This book develops and tests an ecological and evolutionary theory of the causes of human values—the core beliefs that guide people’s cognition and behavior—and their variation across time and space around the world. Both a wide span of human affairs and major aspects of human cultural diversity can be understood in light of variable parasite (infectious disease) stress and the range of value systems evoked by variable parasite stress. The same evidence supports the hypothesis that people have psychological adaptations that function to adopt values dependent upon local infectious-disease adversity.

A Different Kind of Animal
Author: Robert Boyd

Human beings are a very different kind of animal. We have evolved to become the most dominant species on Earth. We have a larger geographical range and process more energy than any other creature alive. This astonishing transformation is usually explained in terms of cognitive ability—people are just smarter than all the rest. But in this compelling book, Robert Boyd argues that culture—our ability to learn from each other—has been the essential ingredient of our remarkable success. Based on the Tanner Lectures delivered at Princeton University, A Different Kind of Animal features challenging responses by biologist H. Allen Orr, philosopher Kim Sterelny, economist Paul Seabright, and evolutionary anthropologist Ruth Mace, as well as an introduction by Stephen Macedo.

Why Horror Seduces
Author: Mathias Clasen

Explaining the functional seduction of horror entertainment, this book draws on cutting-edge findings in the evolutionary social sciences, showing how the horror genre is a product of human nature. Through analyses of well-known and popular modern American works of horror–Rosemary’s Baby; The Shining; I Am Legend; Jaws; and several others–author Mathias Clasen illustrates how these works target evolved cognitive and emotional mechanisms; we are attracted to horrifying entertainment because we have an adaptive tendency to find pleasure in make-believe that allows us to experience negative emotions at high levels of intensity within a safe context.

Modern Humans: Their African Origin and Global Dispersal
Author: John F. Hoffecker

Modern Humans synthesizes recent findings from genetics (including the rapidly growing body of ancient DNA), the human fossil record, and archaeology relating to the African origin and global dispersal of anatomically modern people. Hoffecker places humans in the broad context of the evolution of life, emphasizing the critical role of genetic and non-genetic forms of information in living systems as well as how changes in the storage, transmission, and translation of information underlie major transitions in evolution.

Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods: Early Humans and the Origins of Religion
Author: E. Fuller Torrey

Religions and mythologies from around the world teach that God or gods created humans. Atheist, humanist, and materialist critics, meanwhile, have attempted to turn theology on its head, claiming that religion is a human invention. In this book, E. Fuller Torrey draws on cutting-edge neuroscience research to propose a startling answer to the ultimate question. Evolving Brains, Emerging Gods locates the origin of gods within the human brain, arguing that religious belief is a by-product of evolution.

Mate Choice: The Evolution of Sexual Decision Making from Microbes to Humans
Author: Gil G. Rosenthal

The popular consensus on mate choice has long been that females select mates likely to pass good genes to offspring. In Mate Choice, Gil Rosenthal overturns much of this conventional wisdom. Providing the first synthesis of the topic in more than three decades, and drawing from a wide range of fields, including animal behavior, evolutionary biology, social psychology, neuroscience, and economics, Rosenthal argues that “good genes” play a relatively minor role in shaping mate choice decisions and demonstrates how mate choice is influenced by genetic factors, environmental effects, and social interactions.

The Evolution of Imagination
Author: Stephen Asma

Guided by neuroscience, animal behavior, evolution, philosophy, and psychology, Asma burrows deep into the human psyche to look right at the enigmatic but powerful engine that is our improvisational creativity—the source, he argues, of our remarkable imaginational capacity. Considering everything from how imagination works in our physical bodies to the ways we make images, from the mechanics of language and our ability to tell stories to the creative composition of self-consciousness, Asma expands our personal and day-to-day forms of imagination into a grand scale: as one of the decisive evolutionary forces that has guided human development from the Paleolithic era to today.

Books Currently Under Review

From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds
Author: Daniel Dennett

In Dennett’s most comprehensive exploration of evolutionary thinking yet, he builds on ideas from computer science and biology to show how a comprehending mind could in fact have arisen from a mindless process of natural selection. Part philosophical whodunit, part bold scientific conjecture, this landmark work enlarges themes that have sustained his legendary career at the forefront of philosophical thought.

The Origins of Fairness: How Evolution Explains Our Moral Nature
Author: Nicolas Baumard

Baumard explores the theory that morality was originally an adaptation to the biological market of cooperation, an arena in which individuals competed to be selected for cooperative interactions. In this environment, Baumard suggests, the best strategy was to treat others with impartiality and to share the costs and benefits of cooperation in a fair way, so that those who offered less than others were left out of cooperation while those who offered more were exploited by their partners. It is with this evolutionary approach that Baumard ultimately accounts for the specific structure of human morality.

The Bonobo and the Athiest: In Search of Humanism Among the Primates
Author: Frans de Waal

De Waal delivers fascinating fresh evidence for the seeds of ethical behavior in primate societies that further cements the case for the biological origins of human fairness. With vivid tales from the animal kingdom and thoughtful philosophical analysis, de Waal seeks a bottom-up explanation of morality that emphasizes our connection with animals.

Cultural Evolution: Conceptual Challenges
Author: Tim Lewens

While making a case for the value of evolutionary thinking for students of culture, Lewens shows why the concerns of sceptics should not dismissed as mere prejudice, confusion, or ignorance. Indeed, confusions about what evolutionary approaches entail are propagated by their proponents, as well as by their detractors. By taking seriously the problems faced by these approaches to culture, Lewens shows how such approaches can be better formulated, where their most significant limitations lie, and how the tools of cultural evolutionary thinking might become more widely accepted.

Review Guidelines

A book review should incorporate your own opinion on the work as well as allowing the HEB readership to learn about the book and whether or not they, themselves, may want to read it. In particular, a review should include discussion of the strengths and weaknesses of the book.

The main text of a book review is typically 700-1600 words, unless the text itself is particularly lengthy. Authors will additionally provide a brief description of their relevant background and/or experience. Please contact our book review editor for a full description of the HEB book review guidelines for authors.