After a long hiatus due to unexpected complications from cataract surgery, I am able to get back to my roundups of science books covering the second half of 2019. To keep these posts of manageable size, I will group books by topic or theme. In this one, we will focus on human traits as seen through the lenses of biology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology
My usual caveat: For my Roundups, I don’t read all of the books in detail, but they are published by reputable publishers and written by credible authors. I browse them enough to recommend picking them up from a library or bookstore shelf.
My usual request: Because freelance book review opportunities have almost disappeared, I now rely on Amazon referral fees to cover the cost of maintaining my online presence. If you are inclined to buy any of these books from Amazon, please use the links here so I can get a small referral fee. Another way to thank me is to click my portal to Amazon for whatever shopping you plan to do. I get reports of what people buy but not who is buying, so I will not be able to say thanks. But please know that I am grateful.
The first book concerns a topic that has been occupying a lot of our mental energy here in the United States, a virulent political divide. Author Avi Tuschman writes in the Preface of the revised edition of Our Political Nature: The Evolutionary Origins of What Divides Us that the book “brings into the light the hidden dynamics of our most deeply held political convictions. It explains the factors that influence who we vote for, who we choose as mates, and whether or not we believe in God. The book also helps readers understand that the polarizing left-right divide is by no means unique to America; in truth, similar political spectra run through almost every country around the world.” The book is based on his ten years of research at Stanford University and his present career as an advisor to heads of state on shaping public opinion.
When we think of politics, we usually think of the bonds and divisions of tribal behavior. But our most rewarding connections, writes science journalist Lydia Denworth, come through Friendship. As the dust jacket copy states, her book, subtitled The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond, “takes us in search of friendship’s biological, psychological, and evolutionary foundations. She finds friendship to be as old as early life on the African savannas–when tribes of people grew large enough for individuals to seek fulfillment of their social needs outside their immediate families.”
MacArthur Fellow and professor emerita of psychology at the University of San Diego Patricia Churchland explores an important human trait for forming bonds, whether political of deeply personal, in Conscience: The Origins of Moral Intuition. The book’s publicity is enticing: “Combining groundbreaking research in neuroscience with wisdom from philosophers, such as Socrates and Aristotle, Churchland explains how the brain’s neurobiology makes us social creatures and how our biological wiring to care for and connect with others, along with our unique personality, forms the foundation for our own distinctive conscience.”
Our roundup closes with a book that takes us full circle, returning to politics. Why We’re Wrong About Nearly Everything: A Theory of Human Misunderstanding by Bobby Duffy, professor of public policy and director of the Policy Institute at King’s College in London will make you think twice about everything you think you know (which may not be a bad thing). Its publicity notes, “Duffy looks at misconceptions we have on various issues—like immigration, crime, climate change, and health—and the serious consequences they have for many aspects of our lives. Our delusions can lead us to fixate on minor social problems while ignoring the more pressing matters…. He urges us to move back to reality and provides simple tactics to stop flawed thinking.”
I will be back in a day or two with my next roundup. I have a stack of books for math and physics nerds like me. Happy science reading!
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