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The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind Hardcover – May 31 2010

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 960 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (May 31 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674045661
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674045668
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 5.2 x 23.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 Kg
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #329,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By A. Volk #1 HALL OF FAMETOP 10 REVIEWER on Sept. 14 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book appears to represent the culmination of thirty years spent studying children from a biological perspective. Konner made his name studying the !Kung bushmen in southern Africa in the 70's, but since then he has branched out to many different areas of research, including children. Konner takes a firmly evolutionary approach to studying children, believing (correctly) that "nothing in biology [including children] makes sense except in the light of evolution". This book is easily the most detailed evolutionary approach to studying children that I've ever read.

It includes tons of neurological details, cross-cultural comparisons (lots of hunter-gatherer info), psychology, genetics, cross-species comparisons, and evolutionary theory. Simply put, it is the best current resource on childhood from an evolutionary perspective. But Konner isn't simply a biological determinist. Like virtually all evolutionary developmental scientists Konner is a firm interactionist. Nature works with nurture, and nurture with nature. The second half of the book is largely devoted to discussions of the environment and culture, and how they work with, are affected by, and evolve with children's biology.

The book is split into four main sections: Phylogenetic Origins of Childhood (i.e., the historical evolution of childhood), Anatomical Bases of Psychosocial Growth (i.e., the neuroscience of childhood and the general biology of childhood), The Evolving Social Context of Ontogeny (i.e., the fit between a child and their environment), and The Transmission and Evolution of Culture (i.e., how culture changes and is changed by, childhood). At close to 1,000 pages, this book is indepth and broad at the same time.
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Format: Hardcover
A great reference. Very readable and easy to understand. Some vocabulary to look-up but worth it as this is a useful text that can be used by parents and teachers as we try to better understand our kids. A long but well-written synthesis of decades of research. Reminds me of E.O. Wilson. Great to also see his call for more cooperation and dialogue among and between all the relevant disciplines as for far too long science has created self-imposed and self-interested islands who all inhabit the same ocean. Konner has helped me develop my own brain theory thus providing a more solid foundation of what I believe and know about children. This influences for the better what I do as a Dad and a teacher. Immensely helpful and worth the effort. At last we see a way to justify slowing down the scripted life of children in favor of free play.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
Groundbreaking Standard Work June 15 2010
By Hans-Martin Hueppi - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Melvin Konner's "The Evolution of Childhood" is a comprehensive research report in the field of evolutionary oriented developmental psychology, biology, anthropology and neurobiology. It is a groundbreaking book and will establish itself as a standard work. Clear, concise and exciting, even for non specialized readers (the reviewer is a German speaking psycholinguist and had his professional training in the sixties.) Thanks to its excellent apparatus, it provides insight into many areas, e.g. psycholinguistics, sexual development (including homosexuality), or the issues of adoption and many more.
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Worth the effort Aug. 15 2010
By Vernon - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having no formal science background, this book was quite a challenge but well worth the effort. I've read many books on brain science, psychology and human development since my wife was pregnant with our first child. This is one of very few that has no ax to grind. It is a detailed accounting of the major research in human development which has left me humbled by the precariousness of human life and thankful for the luxury of raising children in the twenty first century. I highly recommend.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Difficult read but lots of great information Feb. 18 2011
By Adam D. Shomsky - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The Evolution of Childhood is a difficult read for the non-professional (like myself) but there is plenty of great information inside. I continue to be impressed by Konner's encyclopedic knowledge of his subjects and amazed by the sheer volume and quality of research cited. For instance, research is cited which gives the percentage of time infants in various hunter-gatherer groups spend with their mothers, fathers, siblings, other children, other adults, etc. It specifies these percentages at different ages ranging from just after birth until several years of age so that quantitative analysis is possible showing how the child's social interactions change over time, and these measures can be directly compared to other cultures. This kind of analysis seems to overcome what must be a difficult challenge of anthropology - objective description with minimal influence of cultural or personal expectations.

I had previously read Konner's The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit and found this book to be of a similar style, which in my experience is the upper echelon of professional scientific writing. Some areas were far more accessible than others. The book is broken up into five parts; part two covers the maturation of the neural and endocrine systems, and that's where the reading gets really dense. I made no attempt to keep straight the dozens (hundreds?) of brain regions mentioned, remember what their significance is, etc. Sentences such as this mean little to me: "In approximate order of development, these are the cingulum bundle (linking the frontal and cingulated cortex to the hippocampus); the stria terminalis (amygdala to the bed nucleus of the stria terminalis [BNST] in the hypothalamus); the mammillothalamic tract (hypothalamus to anterior nucleus of the thalamus); and the fornix (hippocampus to septal area, ventral striatum, and hypothalamus, especially the mammillary bodies)." The extra explanations in parentheses are just as incomprehensible to me as the phrases they were meant to explain. Some sections were heavy with this type of language and were not particularly informative or interesting to me, although they may be to a neurologist. But I figure such content such is to be expected when I'm reading a book aimed at professionals.

Despite these difficulties, I found plenty of interesting information. I'll summarize a few random points here that I found interesting:
"there is no human society in which males have primary or even equal responsibility for the care of offspring" [p 470] (remember not to make the naturalistic fallacy and derive "ought" from "is.")

"The overwhelmingly important predictor of interpersonal violence is training boys for aggression in later childhood." [p 472]

"Testosterone (T) administered to various mammalian females reduces their nurturing behavior...male Mongolian gerbils' parenting of neonates is inversely related to T levels." "But physiological differences go deeper than current hormone levels, owing to fetal brain androgenization...female rates androgenzied at four postnatal days show less nurturing behavior, approaching normal male levels."

"In many societies around the world children and parents sleep in the same room, and children have numerous opportunities to observe their parents having sexual intercourse...In fact, the most common sequel of such an observation, so common in these societies, is that children play at sex, amid many giggles." [p 480]

Hunter-gatherer groups (who are discussed extensively because their lifestyle is the best approximation we have of the lifestyle of our ancestors during most of human evolution) wean their children between the ages of two and three and a half years of age. Substantially lower weaning ages in western cultures is probably a recent development.

In a study of ninety cultures, "mother and infant slept in the same bed in forty-one, in the same room with bed unspecified in none of the ninety did mother and infant sleep in separate rooms, a pattern that probably did not precede the industrial state." [p 409]

"The sclera, or whites of the eyes, have tripled in size since our ape ancestors just as brain size has, making human gaze direction much easier to determine and follow." [p 506]

In a study of 141 societies, "premarital sex was rated as 'expected, approved; virginity has no value' in 24.1 percent; 'tolerated; accepted if discreet' in 20.6 percent; and 'mildly disapproved; pressure towards chastity but transgressions are not punished and nonvirginity [is] ignored' in 17.0 percent." [p 525] However, it seems that fertility comes at a much later age in traditional cultures than in the West. "Despite nonrestrictive rules and apparent high levels of adolescent sexual activity, early pregnancy and childbearing were uncommon."

"We now know that about half the normal variation in personality is due to genetic variance with stability across the lifespan, especially in adulthood, and that child-rearing patterns have limited effects." [p 611] For a book-length argument to that effect, I recommend Judith Rich Harris' The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do, Revised and Updated.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
The definitive work on infant and childhood development. Aug. 13 2010
By J. Hunt - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Emory professor/researcher Melvin Konner, who holds an M.D. and a Ph.D., took 30 years to prepare this comprehensive overview of infancy and childhood - and it shows. Extraordinarily thorough and engagingly written, The Evolution of Childhood is the definitive work on this critically important subject. It is sure to be an immensely useful resource for professionals as well as a fascinating read for the general public.

Jan Hunt, M.Sc., author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Wow. Excellent information - I wish I had a better vocabulary! Jan. 10 2011
By pjean - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read a lot and work in early childhood education. The book is a very good read - but tough for someone that is not familiar with the vocabulary of a researcher. That being said, it is still worth the commitment to get through the book because it provides a wealth of information based on years of research from a diverse set of researchers. However,this book is not for the faint of heart or those who want to breeze through a book and not really have to pay attention.

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