Melvin Konner is Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor of Anthropology at Emory. His most recent book, The Evolution of Childhood: Relationships, Emotion, Mind, was published in paperback in November. (December 2011)
Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding
by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
It is possible to see Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s most recent book, Mothers and Others, as the third in a trilogy that began with The Woman That Never Evolved and Mother Nature. It may be the most important. As she demolished, in the first, the idol of an evolved passive femininity, and in the second, the serene, always giving maternal goddess, in her third synthetic work she takes on another cultural and biological ideal: the mother who goes it alone.
Since ancient times, historians and chroniclers have cited reports of travelers about people beyond the edge of civilization, usually to underscore their own superiority. But with the first colonial encounters in the New World, philosophic attempts by Europeans to find lessons in “savage” societies became more insistent. Montaigne, in 1580, …