“Ambitious and original. It belongs on the reading list of anybody who hopes to use Richard Dawkins’s insight into memes. That it is entertaining is a bonus” (Daniel Dennett, New Scientist, Letters)—now in paperback.
Throughout history, we humans have prided ourselves on our capacity to have ideas, but perhaps this pride is misplaced. Perhaps ideas have us. In this book, science writer and documentary filmmaker Jonnie Hughes investigates the evolution of ideas, taking a look at how they seem to have lives of their own. Adopting the role of a cultural Charles Darwin, Hughes travels across the Midwest with his brother to observe firsthand the natural history of ideas—the patterns of their variation, inheritance, and selection in the cultural landscape. In place of Darwin’s oceanic islands, Hughes visits the “mind islands” of Native American tribes. Instead of finches, Hughes searches for signs of natural selection among the tepees.
With a knack for finding the humor in the quirks of the American cultural landscape, Hughes takes us on a tour from the Mall of America in Minneapolis to what he calls the “maul” of America—Custer’s last stand—stopping at roadsides and discoursing on sandwiches, the shape of cowboy hats, the evolution of barn roofs, and more. Original, witty, and engaging, On the Origin of Tepees offers a fresh way of understanding both our ideas and ourselves.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
If you are looking for an introduction to the subject of cultural evolution then this book is a great place to start. I recommend you start with this book rather than one of the other more academic books on the subject. If this book peaked your interest then I would continue with "Cultural Evolution" by Mesoudi.
What I really liked was the author's fearlessness in exploring how ideas evolve. He comes to the conclusion that we might not be as much in the driver's seat as we like to think. This is a fascinating hypothesis and one I found convincing. It has a Copernican feel to it, moving humankind away from the center of the cultural universe. Of course, it's more complicated than that but that is gist of his argument.
You will see in other reviews that the notion of memes is "discredited" or "a canard". This is simply not true. It is true, however, that memes remain a controversial topic and many cultural evolutionist have backed away from...
This book has a title which is obviously based on Charles Darwin's 1859 book. It's about the author's discovery of cultural evolution and memetics. The author imitates Darwin's trip to the Galapagos by seeking out cultural islands within the American mainland - mainly looking at artefacts - hats, barns and tepees. It is an unusual mixture of popular science and road trip.
The author uses the metaphor of view-point-altering goggles to help describe his journey. When he puts the goggles on he looks at things through the eyes of a cultural evolutionist - and the world looks pretty different and unusual to him.
The memetics in this book is good. Jonnie Hughes has a pretty good understanding of the topic, in my opinion.
The author spends most of the book on cultural evolution, and then describes how the "gene" revolution - which transformed evolutionary biology in the 1950s and 1960s - has a direct parallel in cultural evolution - which has its own little...
This book contains a light-hearted "modern Englishman travels in the New World" story, interspersed with a vivid summary of broad evolutionary reasons why people are the way they are, written by someone with a fine grasp of popular writing for thoughtful people. I bought several extra copies to give as college graduation presents to psychology and communications majors.
Based on my several years of research into macrohistory, I only found one or two minor points to quibble with; for instance, in discussing the spread of Old World humans to the New World, the author repeated the "inland valley route" theory without mentioning a competing theory of coastal migration. But this is trivial compared to the real accomplishment of presenting a readable, thorough theory to explain the uniqueness of human accomplishments, relative to other creatures on Earth.
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