Tag Archives: book reviews

The Dragons of Eden: a Book Review

The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human IntelligenceThe Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence by Carl Sagan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars ★★★★★

“Dragons of Eden” is of course way outdated (1977) and often more speculative than scientific, but it is a very charming, amusing and thought-inspiring book which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading. Framed within the Big History of the Universe converted to 1 year to illustrate the relative time scales, it presents a bunch of fascinating subjects very well:

  • brain anatomy, the mind’s conflicting operative systems, and the evolution of intelligence
  • prehistory with mammals and “dragons” (dinosaurs)
  • dreams and why we sleep
  • prehistoric suppression and (probably) eradication of other humanoids by humans, and the ethics of modern human society’s continued imprisonment and exploitation of apes for scientific research
  • potential bases of mental illnesses
  • anthropocentrism (which Sagan is very much guilty of himself btw)
  • speculations about the future of humanity linked to space exploration and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (of course… as usual).
  • there is also a comically outdated chapter about computers

I don’t necessarily agree with Sagan’s opinions or conclusions, and I don’t expect the science to be entirely (or even mostly) correct/up to date, but Sagan has a knack for explaining complex subjects so that they are both easily comprehensible and fascinating, and help shed light on the complex evolutionary plot of Life and humanity. A lovely read.

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Songs of the Gorilla Nation: a Book Review

Songs of the Gorilla NationSongs of the Gorilla Nation by Dawn Prince-Hughes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars ★★★★★

I found it almost impossible to review this book straight away, because there aspects of it I strongly dislike and aspects that I find very valuable.

I think it is an important book: It gives a great glimpse into one person’s reality of coming of age with undefined high functioning autism. Most importantly, it describes a strategy for overcoming autistic isolation. Not a cure but a way to kick start the positive feedback loop of social relationships that social learning requires in order to happen.

Dawn is a gifted writer, and the book has brilliant passages and good integrity. Its structure is meaningful, organised into 3 sections:

Part 1. Dawn’s childhood and youth history growing up with undiagnosed autism, knowing something is wrong with her socially, but unable to figure out what it is. She is severely bullied and drops out of school, becomes homeless and hungry, and later finds a way to make a living as an erotic dancer. The roots of her passion for primates is her childhood fascination with ancient humans; and that fascination runs through her life story as a sub-surface theme waiting to unfold.

Part 2: Dawn discovers the gorillas. She is lucky and gets a job in the zoo, and gets more and more involved with the gorilla family. They become her family, and she learns social skills by observing and interacting with them

Part 3: Dawn’s life post-zoo, with the social skills she learned from the gorillas. She establishes a family, works through relationship problems, discovers the name of her condition and gets a diagnosis, gets on meds, and makes her special interest into her study direction and career.
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Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species. A Book Review

Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered SpeciesWolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species by L. David Mech
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ★★★★

“Wolf: The Ecology and Behavior of an Endangered Species” is a “classic” wolf biology book from 1971.

 
 

The book systematically outlines key aspects of wild wolves and their environments: such as their ecological niche, pack structure and population dynamics, physical and mental characteristics, hunting, seasonal movement patterns, key species of prey, and their relations with prey and other stake holders… including humans (and much more).

Some unusual circumstances surround this book: The author says he has urged his publishers to stop republishing it, because some of the research in it is outmoded. He is particular unhappy about the book’s contribution to cementing “the myth about the alpha wolf” and the wolf pack as a dominance hierarchy. He explains the “alpha wolf” problem in this video:

 

 

The publishers, however, continue to reprint and sell the book. Continue reading