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Tree of Origin: What Primate Behavior Can Tell Us about Human Social Evolution [Hardcover]

Richard Byrne , Prof. Robin Dunbar , W.C. McGrew , Anne Pusey , Charles Snowdon , Craig B. Stanford , Karen B. Strier , Richard W. Wrangham , Frans B. M. de Waal
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Book Description

April 30 2001

How did we become the linguistic, cultured, and hugely successful apes that we are? Our closest relatives--the other mentally complex and socially skilled primates--offer tantalizing clues. In Tree of Origin nine of the world's top primate experts read these clues and compose the most extensive picture to date of what the behavior of monkeys and apes can tell us about our own evolution as a species.

It has been nearly fifteen years since a single volume addressed the issue of human evolution from a primate perspective, and in that time we have witnessed explosive growth in research on the subject. Tree of Origin gives us the latest news about bonobos, the "make love not war" apes who behave so dramatically unlike chimpanzees. We learn about the tool traditions and social customs that set each ape community apart. We see how DNA analysis is revolutionizing our understanding of paternity, intergroup migration, and reproductive success. And we confront intriguing discoveries about primate hunting behavior, politics, cognition, diet, and the evolution of language and intelligence that challenge claims of human uniqueness in new and subtle ways.

Tree of Origin provides the clearest glimpse yet of the apelike ancestor who left the forest and began the long journey toward modern humanity.


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From Publishers Weekly

Nine of the world's leading primatologists come together in this engaging volume to discuss many of the evolutionary forces that have created Homo sapiens. Edited by the eminent de Waal (The Ape and the Sushi Master, Forecasts, Feb. 19) of Emory University, all nine essays find an appropriate middle ground neither too technical nor too simplistic. Each also summarizes the current state of research into some aspect of primate behavior and what we can learn from it about the evolution of human life and culture. The acquisition, distribution and preparation of food is central to the contributions by Craig Stanford and Richard Wrangham. Stanford argues that collaborative hunting may be responsible for the development of social intelligence, while Wrangham cogently links the discovery of cooking to the creation of the human mating system. Richard Byrne's contribution discusses the evolution of human intelligence by examining patterns of tool use and food manipulation in living primates. Charles Snowdon explores the twin concepts of communication and language by looking broadly across the animal kingdom and wrestling with the question of whether or not there is such a thing as a language instinct. William McGrew does much the same for culture, effectively demonstrating that humans can no longer be considered the sole purveyors of culture. With nine separate essays, it is not surprising that a fair amount of repetition occurs, but the strengths clearly outweigh the shortcomings in this provocative book.

Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Here, noted primatologist de Waal (Chimpanzee Politics) invited scientists who participated in a 1997 symposium on primate behavior and human social behavior to shed new light on the origins of human evolution. The authors draw on their collective years of research observing nonhuman primates to find comparisons between primates and man in such areas as ecology, sex and reproduction, social organization, culture, cognition, language, and hominization. Since the great apes are the nonhuman primates most closely related to humans genetically, they are the primary subject of the studies in this volume. Dr. Karen Strier broadens the horizon with her study of the muriqui, a South American monkey. While each primatologist competently addresses the subject of human origins, their theories vary and sometimes even clash. The individual pieces are intriguingly interesting, but the whole complex puzzle remains unsolved. The text is supplemented with research notes from each author. For academic and larger science collections. Raymond Hamel, Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Ctr. Lib., Madison
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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5.0 out of 5 stars Essays on our roots Aug. 27 2002
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
The greatest scientific quest is finding our place in Nature. This leading primatologist has collected a series of essays on primate behaviour in an outstanding effort aimed at answering that question. De Waal's credentials as a student of chimpanzee behaviour are well-known. He's joined here by researchers of equal status in presenting the most recent findings in the field. De Waal states in the Introduction that research in human behaviour falls into two camps - human beings are an entirely unique species or human evolutionary roots are visible in many of our related species. He and his fellow essayists adhere to the second theme, the one that has gained significant adherence over the past several decades of research. "The proliferation of research on monkeys and apes . . . has influenced the way we look at our place in nature."
This collection brings to view much of that research, a compendium long overdue in de Waal's estimation. His team provides new insights into primate behaviour. They combine the research finding with speculations on how modern monkeys and apes reflect the evolutionary roots of our own relations with each other. The topics covered show the impact of environment, the patterns of sex and reproduction, social organization and cognition. The collection addresses the "process of hominization" leading from ape-like ancestors to modern humans. If all this sounds like a series of lofty scientific pedantry, fear not. All the authors present their information in open, conversational style. Although the result of a scholarly seminar, the writing throughout is clear and unpretentious. Anyone interested in their evolutionary roots or in the status of the research will find this collection rewarding.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essays on our roots Aug. 27 2002
By Stephen A. Haines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The greatest scientific quest is finding our place in Nature. This leading primatologist has collected a series of essays on primate behaviour in an outstanding effort aimed at answering that question. De Waal's credentials as a student of chimpanzee behaviour are well-known. He's joined here by researchers of equal status in presenting the most recent findings in the field. De Waal states in the Introduction that research in human behaviour falls into two camps - human beings are an entirely unique species or human evolutionary roots are visible in many of our related species. He and his fellow essayists adhere to the second theme, the one that has gained significant adherence over the past several decades of research. "The proliferation of research on monkeys and apes . . . has influenced the way we look at our place in nature."
This collection brings to view much of that research, a compendium long overdue in de Waal's estimation. His team provides new insights into primate behaviour. They combine the research finding with speculations on how modern monkeys and apes reflect the evolutionary roots of our own relations with each other. The topics covered show the impact of environment, the patterns of sex and reproduction, social organization and cognition. The collection addresses the "process of hominization" leading from ape-like ancestors to modern humans. If all this sounds like a series of lofty scientific pedantry, fear not. All the authors present their information in open, conversational style. Although the result of a scholarly seminar, the writing throughout is clear and unpretentious. Anyone interested in their evolutionary roots or in the status of the research will find this collection rewarding.
The quality of this compilation makes choice of place difficult, if not impossible. Each author presents new information and delightful analyses of the importance of the findings. Craig Stanford discusses the role of meat eating [not hunting] in building social relationships. Studied closely in the field in both ape and human societies, meat distribution and sex have a clear evolutionary role. Richard Wrangham carries this theme a step further in his analysis of the social role of food preparation - cooking. He stresses how early cooking must have emerged in hominid evolution and what its likely social impact was in our development. Richard Byrne extends this analysis to describe several forms of food acquisition and processing among various primate species.
If any issue transcends the others in the role of humanity, it is that of human cognition. To those contending only human cognitive abilities are worth studying, several authors respond that "evolution does not proceed by inspired jumps . . . but by accretion of beneficial variants" over time. In order to comprehend the evolutionary path of cognition, definitions are of primary importance. Cognition is here defined as "a species' package of information-processing capabilities" encompassing individual, social, technical and other skills. Robin Dunbar shows how these skills were likely reinforced through selectively chosen group size. He examines variations in primate group size and how these impact social behavior. Charles Snowdon addresses the mainstay of human "uniqueness" in an outline of language
development. In the final essay, William McGrew considers the question of "culture." What is it and how was it derived? McGrew refers to eight criteria, developed many years ago by Alfred Koeber, and applies them in a historical context. McGrew emphasizes that humans are not the only social species. Language enhanced abilities inherited from our predecessors.
This book addresses older ideas and breaks new ground. With a strong foundation in the intensive primate studies achieved during the past three decades, the collection calls for further studies in the field. What these will bring to light will increase our knowledge of where we fit in Nature. There are assuredly many surprises remaining to be revealed. Will you help search for answers to some of these questions?
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ideas that snap, crackle and pop Dec 6 2004
By Showme - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I checked this book out of the local library many weeks ago, having come across it via a desultory shelf scan. I was so engrossed by the book, I kept renewing it, then returned it to the library and bought my own copy.

Each chapter got my synapses firing with interesting information about how the evolution of human culture might be inferred from primate behaviors and primate and human physiology. I scribbled numerous notes that started with "I wonder if ... " or "Is it possible that ...", using the data from the authors as jumping-off points.

For example, before I read the book, I'd been wondering if it'd be possible to identify and track back as far as possible in time a collection of aphorisms that all cultures shared, such as "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach," to see what might be learned about our cultural evolution - and how closely our "culture" was actually tied to our physiological hard-wiring. Lo and behold, one of the articles in Tree of Origin appears to offer a heart-through-stomach theory for how humans came to pair off as couples.

The discussion about the size of our neocortex (neocortices?) and its relationship to the size of social groups we can "manage" expanded another line of thinking on my part about what might really be at the roots of what we call racism and of our propensity toward bloody conflict. It's possible that one core cause is our brains' maximum capacity for social complexity, rather than "just" a learned behavior that one can discard through an intellectual process.

The book reminded me of Desmond Morris' books, The Human Ape and The Human Zoo, both of which I also found fascinating.

Now that I own this book, I can re-read it and mark it up as I wish!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent essays May 20 2009
By Rabid Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
These essays--by some of the best names in the field--cover broadly everything you might want to know about our distant past. I especially enjoyed the works on culture and language, but I encourage anyone who reads this book not to cherry-pick the essays, but instead to read it cover-to-cover including the notes provided for the text, which, contrary to being mere academic citations, were instead fascinating commentary not to be missed!

If I were teaching a class about humans, I would include this as a text, and I am thinking of encouraging my (older) children to read it over the summer as an adjunct to their studies in Biology.
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