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Summary: What Robin Dunbar suggests--and his research, whether in the realm of primatology or in that of gossip, confirms--is that humans developed language to serve the purpose that grooming served, but far more efficiently. From the nit-picking of chimpanzees to our chats at coffee break, from neuroscience to paleoanthropology, Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language offers a provocative view of what makes us human.Edition/Copyright: 96
Dunbar, Robin : The University of Liverpool
Robin Dunbar is Professor of Psychology at the University of Liverpool
"At the heart of this fresh and witty book is the thesis that gossip is the human version of primate grooming...Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language is in many ways a wonderful book, and its ideas deserve an airing. Mr. Dunbar is a clear thinker and a polymath, marshaling evidence for his thesis from such varied fields as primatology, linguistics, anthropology and genetics."
--Natalie Angier, New York Times Book Review
"Dunbar asks interesting questions, provides a fresh perspective on an old problem and gives readers a zippy intellectual ride."
--Jo Ann C. Gutin, The Nation
"[Dunbar's] is an intoxicating idea, somewhere between brilliant and loopy. On the way to fleshing out this bracing thesis, Dunbar gives us what he calls a `magical mystery tour' of scientific disciplines, including neurology, linguistics, evolution and more...[H]is ideas and language can be delightful."
--John Schwartz, Washington Post Book World
"We're chatterers and snoops, every one of us, according to this fresh, witty book, and there's an evolutionary reason: gossip, like primate grooming, helps cement social ties."
--New York Times
"This book, which gives a deep insight into the emerging field of evolutionary psychology, is about as smart as they come. It tackles the related questions of brain size and the evolution of language, and relates our love of gossip and small talk to the endless grooming routines of other primates. It's `Dilbert' for those who want to know why."
--David Warsh, Boston Globe
"Robin Dunbar's Grooming, Gossip, and the Evolution of Language, is a highly enjoyable speculation, in Neo-Darwinian mode, of how and why humans came to have language. The argument of the book is the now not unfamiliar argument that the point of talking is being able to make small talk (the 'gossip' of the title), and that small talk produces social cohesion and mitigates social conflict. In other words, it does what primatologists have long claimed grooming does for non-human primates...The book is frequently humorous and charming, always readable, and often modest in tone...The citations to his own and others' original research and the review of the literature on non-human primate language and grooming practices, are part of what make this book well suited for a general readership, but also appropriate for a more specialized academic and student readership."
--Charis Cussins, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences
"Dunbar has written provocative book about the sociology of language use...[A] fascinating study."
"It may seem a stretch to connect the origin of speech with the grooming behavior of baboons, but Dunbar's research has persuaded him of such a link. This intriguing book presents his thesis, which he formulated after noting a relationship between maximum group size and the ratio of neocortical tissue to total brain volume. Dunbar then extrapolates to humans, proposing 150 as the upper range of people any one person can personally maintain relationships with via our equivalent of grooming: gossipy chitchat...[H]e argues the case, in evolutionary biological terms, in an elucidating and entertaining manner. How language began fascinates most of us, and consistently delightful are Dunbar's excursions into paleoanthropological anatomy, exigencies of nomadic living, philology of root languages, and the conversational styles at cocktail parties. A relaxed, concise presentation of an evolving theory of linguistic evolution."
"Fascinating theories and cogent insights into why and how we use language, as learned from our simian relatives. Dunbar is a psychologist at the University of Liverpool, but his lucid Darwinian forays into the evolution of language draw widely on the fields of anatomy, linguistics, sociology, and anthropology...An enjoyable romp through the past few hundred thousand years. Where else could you learn that it takes a village to grow a neocortex or that, to reproduce the best genes, women network and men advertise?"
"A novel and exciting argument--delivered with great verve--about the evolution of human intelligence and language."
--Alison Jolly, Princeton University
Harvard University Press
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