Review: Our KindEditorial Review - Kirkus Reviews
From pop anthropologist Harris (Good to Eat, America Now, etc.): the Big Picture. While shining the light of anthropology on the full spectrum of behavior--from our sexual precedents in primates to the development of states and religion--Harris is working out a personal agenda. He is antidiffusionist, antirelativist, and strongly opposed to currently popular notions of biological determinism, offering instead cultural evolution to explain behavior (in effect championing free will and the possibility of change for the better). He dismisses the idea that males are naturally more aggressive, pointing to the role of hunter, due to greater size, as the shaper of the distinction (further, because men then controlled weapons, they came to dominate); that we are driven to reproduce (ex-farming societies produce fewer children, as the free labor no longer outweighs the expense); that we must protect our genetic kin (there is a near-universal incidence of infanticide as a form of birth control and sex selection); and that incest taboos are hard-wired (incest is taboo because small hunting bands needed to be exogamous to form alliances for survival). Harris' style is breezy and readable, and much here is fascinating--e.g., unlike most empires that employed captives as slaves to produce more food, the Aztecs' meat- and arable-land-poor environment led to the offering of captives as food, whence their bloody religion of human sacrifice. Some of this is elementary or pointless (for instance, a chapter that explains that breathing has not affected cultural selection); but Harris' provocative, personal views engage throughout: popular anthropology, then, that's likely to be quite popular.