My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I got a review copy of this back in July from the publisher through NetGalley and unfortunately had a couple of others in front of it with ticking expiration dates, as well as assigned reading for a class and a few other obstacles. I needed to devote some dedicated time to reading this because there is so much here. One other unfortunate complication came up when my ereader glitched and couldn’t verify the license…losing all of my notes from the first half of the book. Redownload, back in business, but sans those notes.
Stewart-Williams explores Darwinism, genetics and sex differences, reproduction, altruism, and cultural influences. (He also includes his takes on how to refute Blank Slaters and Anti-Memeticists in two appendices). I grind my teeth over the sections for which I lost my notes (apologies to the publisher/author – I’m sure other reviewers will be able to synopsize), but trust me that there are wealths of information to be had in there on attractions and preferences, practices, selection, offspring and rearing, monogamy, polyandry and polygyny; altruism and selfishness. And memetics.
Stewart-Williams’s analyses are cogent, his arguments sound; he pokes logical holes in prevalent (and past) theories. He supports his theses with facts and induction (with deduction thrown in.) He cautions against the “risk of mistaking elements of one’s own culture for aspects of human nature,…”
I mark this as five stars because seldom does a book evoke a paradigm shift in me (It happens, just rarely) and this book did. For twenty some years now, I have been resolved to the position that humans evolved to believe in religions – with exception, of course – and the wake-up here was a smack-in-the-face memetic solution that religions (and God) evolved for the human brain. Finally, something that makes sense to me.
Now, as thoroughly researched and eloquently composed as Mr. Stewart-Williams is in this book, he referenced at least one Disney Nature series myth when trying to make a point in his altruism section: “Like suicidal lemmings…”
I would like to read this again, but in physical form. It does not lend well to electronic reading as i couldn’t follow cites easily, or “flip” back and forth between sections as I digested the contents.