Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding

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9780674060326: Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding
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Somewhere in Africa, more than a million years ago, a line of apes began to rear their young differently than their Great Ape ancestors. From this new form of care came new ways of engaging and understanding each other. How such singular human capacities evolved, and how they have kept us alive for thousands of generations, is the mystery revealed in this bold and wide-ranging new vision of human emotional evolution.

Mothers and Others finds the key in the primatologically unique length of human childhood. If the young were to survive in a world of scarce food, they needed to be cared for, not only by their mothers but also by siblings, aunts, fathers, friends―and, with any luck, grandmothers. Out of this complicated and contingent form of childrearing, Sarah Hrdy argues, came the human capacity for understanding others. Mothers and others teach us who will care, and who will not.

From its opening vision of “apes on a plane”; to descriptions of baby care among marmosets, chimpanzees, wolves, and lions; to explanations about why men in hunter-gatherer societies hunt together, Mothers and Others is compellingly readable. But it is also an intricately knit argument that ever since the Pleistocene, it has taken a village to raise children―and how that gave our ancient ancestors the first push on the path toward becoming emotionally modern human beings.

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About the Author:

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy is Professor Emerita of Anthropology at University of California–Davis.

Review:

In the study of mothering, Sarah Hrdy has no peer. In Mothers and Others, we are treated to Hrdy's infectious writing, taking the reader on a tour of our evolved history as a cooperatively parenting species. The ideas are big, bold, and brain-bending. (Marc Hauser, author of Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong)

Boldly conceived and beautifully written, Mothers and Others makes a strong case that we humans are (or should be) cooperative breeders. It is an indispensable contribution to the debate about how and why we came to be the most successful primate of them all. (Melvin Konner, author of The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit)

As was the case for her earlier classic, Mother Nature, Sarah Hrdy's Mothers and Others is a brilliant work on a profoundly important subject. The leading scientific authority on motherhood has come through again. (E. O. Wilson)

"What if I were traveling with a planeload of chimpanzees? Any one of us would be lucky to disembark with all ten fingers and toes still attached...Even among the famously peaceful bonobos...veterinarians sometimes have to be called in following altercations to stitch back on a scrotum or penis," Hrdy writes. What she found is that our unique mothering instinct, quite different from gorillas and chimpanzees, meant that the children most likely to survive were those who could relate to and solicit help from others. We evolved to be wired for empathy for, consideration of, and intuition into how others are feeling. (Jessa Crispin Smart Set 2009-02-11)

To explain the rise of cooperative breeding among our forebears, Hrdy synthesizes an array of new research in anthropology, genetics, infant development, comparative biology. (Natalie Angier New York Times 2009-03-02)

For as long as she's been a sociobiologist, Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has been playfully dismantling traditional notions of motherhood and gender relations...Hrdy is back with another book, Mothers and Others, and another big idea. She argues that human cooperation is rooted not in war making, as sociobiologists have believed, but in baby making and baby-sitting. Hrdy's conception of early human society is far different from the classic sociobiological view of a primeval nuclear family, with dad off hunting big game and mom tending the cave and the kids. Instead, Hrdy paints a picture of a cooperative breeding culture in which parenting duties were spread out across a network of friends and relatives. The effect on our development was profound. (Julia Wallace Salon 2009-05-11)

Hrdy's lucid and comprehensively researched book takes us to the heart of what it means to be human. (Camilla Power Times Higher Education 2009-05-07)

Hrdy's much-awaited new book, is another mind-expanding, paradigm-shifting, rigorously scientific yet eminently readable treatise...Mothers and Others lays the foundation for a new hypothesis about human evolution...Mothers and Others is overflowing with fascinating information and thinking. It's a book you read, pausing regularly to consider the full import of what you just read...Sarah Blaffer Hrdy has added another enormous building block to our thinking about our origins with this new book. Our species is lucky to have her. (Claudia Casper Globe and Mail 2009-05-09)

Provocative. [Hrdy] argues that unlike other apes, Homo sapiens could never have evolved if human mothers had been required to raise their offspring on their own. Human infants are too helpless and too expensive in their demands for care and resources. So human females have to line up helpers--sometimes extending beyond their own kin--to raise their young. That requires both males and females to invest heavily in social skills for bargaining with other members of their groups. Hrdy suggests that females in ancestral hunting and gathering groups may have thrived because they were free to be flexible in this way. Female flexibility was reduced when humans established settlements requiring male coalitions to defend them, probably leading to greater control of females by males...The most refreshing aspect of [this] book is the challenge [it] offers to what we thought we already knew. (John Odling-Smee Nature 2009-04-30)

If Sarah Blaffer Hrdy were a male scientist, I might be tempted to say that her new book Mothers and Others arrives like an intellectual time bomb, or that it throws a grenade into accepted notions of human evolution. But those are aggressive, competitive metaphors, and one of the essential points of Mothers and Others is that aggression and competition have been given far too central a place in the standard accounts of how our species came into being. From Charles Darwin onward, those accounts are mostly the work of men, and Hrdy points out in meticulous detail how partial and biased was their understanding of the remote past...Mothers and Others offers enormous rewards. It is not only revolutionary; it is also wise and humane. (Mark Abley Calgary Herald 2009-05-10)

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