Give me that juicy bit over there

Jerry Fodor

  • The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body by Steven Mithen
    Weidenfeld, 374 pp, £20.00, June 2005, ISBN 0 297 64317 7

I’m in a pout about this book; I’m conflicted. On the one hand, there are several respects in which it seems to me to be very good. Mithen knows a great deal and he writes well by the received standards of cognitive science (which are not daunting). So his book is both edifying and a pleasure to read. If you’re in the market for a summary of what’s known (a little) and what’s surmised (a lot) about the evolutionary history of our species, I’d be hard put to think of a better one to recommend. Also, and more to the point, the question to which the book wants to address itself is thoroughly fascinating to, as Mithen says, ‘anyone who has an interest in the human condition’. Namely: ‘Why should we be so compelled to make and listen to music?’ And if all that’s not enough, there’s a theory of the origin of language (that again!) thrown in for free.

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