on 15 December 2000
This book is really interesting and gives a fascinating insight into how networking and social 'grooming' (and I don't mean dressing presentably in public!) are not only essential but important for our personal safety and survival... look how easy it is to perpetrate crimes against, or renege on deals with, people to whom we have no loyalty ties: Dunbars' example is the taxman! Despite a tendency to reduce human existence to Machiavellian self-interest and propogation of the species, Dunbar makes some very pertinent points and shows how similar we are in many respects to our primate cousins. The true value of this book, however, lies in Dunbar's explanation for the evolution of language in our species. It is a fairly academic read and heavy going at times but well worth the effort. Highly recommended for all 'seekers' of knowledge about the human condition; though I would suggest the childless-by-choice, and/or those with a higher sense of purpose, among us temper any ensuing existential neurosis by reading it in conjunction with The Celestine Prophecy by James Redfield!
on 14 July 2015
Dunbar proposes that language evolved to facilitate gossip. Rather than being trivial, this was crucial for early-human communities, allowing people 360-degree views of their peers' behaviour. This let them detect freeloaders or liars who might compromise the fragile ecology of the group. With the desire to share information about others comes the desire to tell stories of the self - a means of controlling one's own reputation. We might see this as 'phatic' storytelling - we do it to 'groom' and soothe our companions.
on 21 June 2014
Robin Dunbar presents the understanding of a researcher with a talented educator's clearly written style. This is a carefully woven patchwork of many disciplines and intellects that shares examples of data, analysis or conjecture. The reader is treated to a five million year canvas, scores of species, groups and individual perspectives derived from our biological history, relations and prospects.
I'll be following some of recommendations for further reader (pushing the boundaries of my knowledgr and opinions in the process) and seeking novels that delve into arenas I'd not considered before. Several of Dunbar's almost casual observations, used to clarify a point, are themselves avenues for my curiosity. For example, that Victorian mantra "children should be seen and not heard" seems succinctly explained as the consequence of the family group dynamic being stretched too taut thanks to greater survivability of infancy.
I thoroughly recommend Dunbar's writing, not least because I suspect other windows of interest and action may be inspired by it.