The Singing Neanderthals
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Top Customer Reviews
I needn't have worried. By the time I'd read the introduction it was obvious that I was going to enjoy the book. He writes as enthusiastically as he lectures, gently starting with modern-day scenarios that are accesible to most people before laying out his arguments for the evolution of music and language in hominids over the last six million years or so. He appears to be scrupulously fair, pointing out where others disagree with his arguments, but links the whole chain of reasoning together in a convincing manner.
One of the outstanding features of the book for me, coming to the subject without a great depth of understanding of topics such as DNA, or sexual dimorphism in apes, is that I've learnt enough to be able to penetrate the work of others in the field without really noticing that it's happened.
I was sad to discover that I was halfway through the last chapter, torn between wanting to finish it and wanting more.
In 1997, the influencial linguist Steven Pinker, dismissed music as being "useless" in evolutionary terms, a mere by-product of evolution: that premise triggered this book. Mithen argues that music was not only 'useful,' it was vital for human evolution. Mithen is an anthropologist and along side reviewing the paleoarcheological record he draws on many areas of science, from neurology to musicology, to refute Pinker. In the process he demolishes Pinker, and shows convincingly that music is as fundamental to the human condition as language. An absolutely brilliant book!
Mithen's previous works are a foundation for this one, although he openly admits that the phenomenon of music eluded him in them. He makes up for that oversight with a detailed examination of fossil and genetic information to support his thesis. As humans fluent in the use of speech, with its lexicons and syntax, we've become blinded to our true roots. We rush children through infancy, overlooking the process we use in communicating with those who lack words and their meanings. Mithen says this period is critical - both because its universality among cultures should tell us something about our past, and because a better understanding of the communication process can lead to smarter and healthier children. Who, among the mothers we know, fails to "sing" to their newborn?
In Mithen's view, that childhood communication method repeats what our African ancestors did with each other prior to the development of language. Words, in our time, are representative. They "mean" something - an object, an event, a lesson. In those early days, emotions, especially the basic ones of fear, flight, fight or feed, were the only significant topics.Read more ›
Professor Mithen convincingly rises to the task in this book, in which music is explained as `pre-verbal' language. (This is certainly a more compelling view than the idea of music being an accidental irrelevance, as some have proposed.)
Drawing from cognitive psychology, neurophysiology, archaeology, and primatology, Mithen carefully assembles the evidence for his theory. He includes an examination of the possible roles for music in sexual selection, socialisation, and spirituality.
His conclusion is elegant and satisfying : Homo Sapens' ancestors evolved a primitive music, which went on to form the core of Neanderthal communication. Homo Sapiens, however, subsequently evolved verbal communication; this left music partially redundant, but it retained for us its capacity to convey emotion.
Next time you find yourself serenading your loved one, this excellent book will help you to understand what you're doing, and why !
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is stimulating but not a light read. The style is very very dry and academic. Mithen is an earnest academic really writing for his students and peers rather than for... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Graham Hunt
as usual book received in very good condition. treatmrnt of subject did inerest me a lot. sometimes you wonder how historians realize this kind of time voyage in the past. Read morePublished 12 months ago by robert, balthazar
An excellent synthesis of a range of theories about the evolution of music, and our species, and the complex inter-relationship between the two. Read morePublished 17 months ago by Dave Camlin
It looks to be a very useful book on this subject = there is so little written on the origins of music. Ot is as if it is not worth writing abort. How wrong that is.Published 24 months ago by r.a.pugh
A great read whilst doing online course in paleoanthropology so it helped in a big way. Interesting theory on the origins of language.Published on 15 April 2014 by Mr Aidan Linehan
It's a wonderful idea, and I really want to believe it. I was indeed convinced by the central idea of this book, though I suppose I should be cautious given how much I like... Read morePublished on 14 Sept. 2013 by M. D. Holley
An interesting discussion on the origins of music from an evolutionary perspective with contributions from the fields of archaeology, anthropology, psychology along with a bit of... Read morePublished on 29 Aug. 2013 by cwk