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Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding Paperback – May 15 2011

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; unknown edition (May 15 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674060326
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674060326
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.6 x 2.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 771 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #8,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A. Volk #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on May 20 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
That's twice now that Sarah Hrdy has written the book I wish I had. At least this time I got a paper out before I read her book. This is an excellent book on how the need for parenting help beyond mothers has shaped the evolution of the human species. It's well-written and easy to read for both academic and general audiences.

What's striking about humans is just how much parenting children can get from such a wide range of people: mothers, fathers, grandparents, aunts/uncles, siblings, cousins, friends, teachers, daycare workers, etc. That's unlike virtually any other animal, especially the other Great Apes. Hrdy examines how and why this kind of extra parental care, known as alloparenting, arose. Her examples are thoughtful and well-researched, although a little light on the psychology side (versus anthropology- her forte). I agree with virtually every hypothesis she presents, whether it's the importance of grandparents or the driving evolutionary pressure of an increased need for parenting resources beyond what a typical mother could provide on her own.

This book is not like Mother Nature in that it takes a bigger view of parenting. It's less about how and why we parent then who and why parents. There's a couple of places where I'd like to see more info, but I'm splitting hairs as this book is a really detailed and indepth look at parenting throughout different times, places, and cultures via an evolutionary lense. For the average reader, this book will be a highly revealing look at how and why the human species parents the way it does. In that regard, I enjoyed her final chapter where she explores the implications of our alloparenting history for modern parenting and the "myth" of the nuclear family.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Bernie Koenig TOP 100 REVIEWER on Aug. 16 2009
Format: Hardcover
Natural Law, Science, and the Social Construction of Reality
Art Matters: The Art of Knowledge/The Knowledge of Art

There is a popular saying around about how it takes a village to raise a child. While most people probably think it sounds good but doesn't really mean anything in our individualistic society, this book shows that it really does take a village, or at least an extended family, to properly raise a child.

This is a fascinating book and probably should be read by all people who want to be parents, for it demonstrates quite clearly the need for extended care of children. What Hrdy does is to provide the whole anthropological basis for this view.

The main issue discussed in the book is the importance of children coming into contact with as many people as possible in the formative years because this is how children learn how to make sense of the expressions of other people and how they become socialized.

Humans have a greater capacity for understanding intersubjective communication than other animals. So may studies before have concentrated on the similarities between apes and humans, but now we get to see what some of the significant differences are as well. Understanding facial expressions of others is one of the important differences. For children to become properly socialized they need to know how to interact with others. The most important thing is to be able to recognize what other person's expressions mean, so each person know what is going on.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
60 of 62 people found the following review helpful
Why us and not them? May 13 2009
By Brad L. Stone - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This book should be read by anyone with an interest in human evolution but especially by those with an interest in human uniqueness. Dr. Hrdy writes beautifully, is vigorous in her attention to empirical evidence, but she is also willing to speculate about the conditions that fostered uniquely human traits. Among the most obvious of these traits are our extended lifespans, prolonged childhoods, big brains, perspective taking (mind reading) or intersubjectivity, language use, cumulative culture, mutual understanding, norm formation and enforcement, altruistic punishment, and moral judgment. The list could of course go on but what concerns Professor Hrdy more than these individual traits is describing the conditions or preconditions fostering these co-evolving traits. As she notes, the most common explanation for our pro-social traits is group competition but, as she argues, such competition is common among other primates, especially the Great Apes, and the question becomes "why us and not them?" She does not discount completely the role of group competition but argues that by far the most important reason that humans display their uniquely pro-social suite of traits is that "novel [child] rearing conditions among a line of early hominins meant that youngsters grew up depending on a wider range of caretakers than just their mothers, and this dependence produced selection pressures that favored individuals who were better able at decoding the mental states of others, and figuring out who would better help and who would hurt" (p 66).Hrdy argues that cooperation more than competition accounts for our unique traits, although the two are hardly incompatible.

Dr Hrdy speculates that within the genus Homo, Homo erectus may well have exhibited cooperative breeding--that is, groupmates or alloparents other than mothers tended to children, including nonkin--and that they may have been emotionally modern. By 1.8 million years ago Homo erectus was almost as large and as large brained as Homo sapiens, and, although male australopithecines were twice as large as females, males and females among Homo erectus were only slightly more dimorphic than Homo sapiens. Whatever the precise date for the emergence of cooperative breeding within our line, humans, unlike any of the Great Apes, have cooperative breeding and this fact Dr Hrdy maintains is the precondition that made the remarkable human suite of traits possible.

In these brief comments I have stressed the speculative features of Dr. Hrdy's argument because they are both the most novel and interesting elements. Let me stress in conclusion, however, that the author attends scrupulously to data and evidence, so even if one is less convinced than I am about the theoretical claims she makes, the book will instruct the reader on every page, especially if it is read slowly.

Brad Lowell Stone
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Mothers and Allo-others April 25 2009
By Carol Miller - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding (Belknap Press) Hrdy's book is the most exciting and revolutionary book I have read on the subject of human evolution. Her main thesis is that prior to Homo erectus our ancestors developed a facility for infant and child care by many group members, allowing the mother to attend to other tasks and, over time, infants to evolve larger brains and childhood into a longer, richer learning period. This thesis is well backed by extensive studies regarding apes, primates, other mammals, and human hunting and gathering societies.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
important ideas Sept. 8 2009
By Herbert Renz-Polster - Published on
Format: Hardcover
This is a very important piece of work that expands and clarifies Hrdys line of reasoning in her first book, Mother Nature. She presents such a huge amount of research into the socioemotional and evolutionary underpinnings of empathy and nurturing behavior that it is sometimes a little hard to view the forest behind all the trees. Although this is definitely not a book geared towards the novice it is well written and a must-read for everyone working in the field of anthropology. Btw, the photos are gems in their own right.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Read the first book Sept. 4 2010
By Mark E. Shaffer - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is no doubt that Sarah Hrdy is one of the best (the very best in my opinion) scientific thinkers and writers on female and particularly maternal nature, and all that entails. She combines historical, social, physiological, and evolutionary data and perspectives in a brilliant, objective (often politically incorrect) synthesis - and it certainly doesn't hurt that she has been there herself as a mother. If you are primarily interested in the evolution of human maternal instincts from primates, then this is the book for you. To me, it seemed to be her culminating, well-informed speculation on how human female nature evolved over millions of years. However, if a less evolutionary, data-grounded treatment of human female and maternal nature in general is what you're after, then for me at least, her earlier book "Mother Nature" is the better choice.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Addressing the biggest of all questions - what made human beings what we are? May 17 2011
By Graham H. Seibert - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Mothers and Others" is a worthy successor to Hrdy's 1999 "Mother Nature," which provided a sociobiologist's analysis of the relationship between mothers and children. This book examines cooperative childcare or in the human species. This adaptation in humans is unique among great apes, although corporative breeding occurs elsewhere in the animal kingdom.

Hrdy sticks fairly close to her thesis, that humans are unique in the way we employ "alloparents," that is, other caregivers in the nurture of our children, and especially in the vast variety of arrangements that seem to work. In descending order, the most important relationships are the mother's mother, sisters, and daughters. Among the important males are of course the father, but also to a surprising degree other men who might be the father, and brothers.

One of the most unique thing about human beings is the variety of relationships. In other species, if a father is useful in raising children, he is pretty generally useful, such as the father fish which let their mouths be used as a nursery. In people, however, the rules vary from culture to culture and even family to family. It is a matter of, whatever works.

The take-home truth is that human babies are tremendously expensive to raise. They take forever to mature. In the days before we became civilized they were highly vulnerable to predators and to starvation. The child had a vastly superior chance of survival if more than one person was responsible for taking care of him. Cooperation was also a superior use of resources: one person could watch two or three kids, giving other mothers the freedom to cultivate crops or gather food.

Continuing a theme from her first book, Hrdy emphasizes that building relationships is a two-way street, and that evolution has obviously favorite children who are good at building relationships. They know how to be cute, how to babble, how to look deeply into a caregiver his eyes, how to be demanding, coy, or whatever it takes to seduce other humans into taking care of them. And in doing this, they become quite Hrdy calls "emotionally modern." Children become good at reading the intentions of other people, a characteristic at which humans are vastly better than our ape cousins.

Hrdy repeats findings that one reads elsewhere about the timeframe in which human beings developed. It boils down to this. A few million years of slow evolution through the Pliocene after we parted company with the chimpanzees. Then, with the emergence of homo erectus at the beginning of the Pleistocene, about 1.8 million years ago, more rapid development of this emotional modernity. Of course, there is little fossil evidence - mostly speculation. However, the fossil record does show the beginnings of tool use, the use of fire, and gradually increasing brain size evidence. Then, only 200,000 years ago or so, homo sapiens emerged, as did language, modern brain sizes, the modern races of man, and the spread of mankind out of Africa.

Hrdy gently dispatches the notion of a primordial patriarchy. Since their mothers kin were so useful in raising her children, matriarchal societies were more likely than patriarchal, although here as always we are an amazingly versatile species. She offers a now common argument that patriarchy probably became a dominant social form after the advent of agriculture, when men needed to band together to into armies to defend what they had amassed, at which point paternity became an issue because there was property worth inheriting.

Most of Hrdy's examples are taken from well studied groups of primitive humans in Africa and the Amazon. They offer the most probable models of human society as it existed tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago. She asks some interesting questions. Infants today are certain to get enough calories to survive regardless of the society in which they live. However, she asks, is it not quite likely that they did not get the emotional support that they need to develop into fully socialized human adults? Is our society changing, perhaps degenerating, as children are raised in environments in which they have less emotional security than their ancestors?

Both of Hrdy's books should be required reading well outside the field of sociobiology. They throw a bracing dash of cold water on the highflown theories of political scientists, religious advocates, educators, feminists and others who purport to have discovered great truths about how to socialize and educate the human animal.

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