With the seeming plethora of books explaining the Darwinian roots of the mind, you might be forgiven for querying the need for another. Yet Human Evolutionary Psychology is actually a rather unique book, given its panorama of this increasingly disjointed subject. Its encompassment of several approaches to studying the evolution of human behaviour and the mental mechanisms it is derived from, in a single volume, brings a welcome maturity and balance to a subject that needs to rise above the petty infighting that has proved more antagonistic that elucidating.
In a cogent first chapter the authors sensibly state that the two conflicting study methods, human behavioural ecology and evolutionary psychology, are actually fully reconcilable and furthermore, actually complementary, since essentially, they are two sides of the same coin. Both are needed to obtain a comprehensive picture and together provide a more secure explanation of the facts than either could by working alone.
There then follows a chapter explaining some basic evolutionary theory (people with previous experience of behavioural ecology can probably skim most of this) and then seven chapters looking at human behavioural responses to differing environments. The next two chapters are concerned with looking at some of the psychological mechanisms that mediate these responses. The final two chapters look at language and culture respectively.
We should be aware that the mind does not function like some black box, completely hardwired to produce an invariant response to a given stimulus; we wouldn't have lasted very long as a species if that were the case. Likewise, evolutionary psychologists should be keen not to portray their science as a similarly contrived explanation of human nature. This book does that job admirably. It recognises that the sometimes subtle interplay that culture and biology has on human action is complex, enough so to be wary of clear-cut answers. Yet conversely it dispels the notion that such complexity somehow invalidates inquiry altogether. Human beings apply context dependent rules, that they operate under complex conditions does not necessarily mean that we cannot come to understand more about these rules.
Though some of the behavioural ecology studies can sometimes have rather too many 'maybes' in the interpretations, the speculations are usually always acknowledged with the admission that more work needs to be done. This may frustrate some but for people going into the subject that's what makes it exciting! This field is new, it isn't drowning in dogma and the previous studies give a good feeler for the 'state of the game' out there.
Passionate, balanced (especially on the subject of cognitive modularity), occasionally witty but always fascinating, this book provides the most comprehensive introductory text I have come across and a very worthwhile purchase for those looking for such text to this science. It also goes to pains to assert that some of the more sensitive analyses are not justifications or concessions to inevitability..