Francis Fukuyama, “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution” (FSG, 2011)
When I was an undergraduate, I fell in love with Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. In the book Montesquieu reduces a set of disparate, seemingly unconnected facts arrayed over centuries and continents into a single, coherent theory of remarkable… Read More
Fred Spier, “Big History and the Future of Humanity” (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010)
My son Isaiah likes to play the “why” game. Isaiah: “Why is my ice cream gone?” Me: “Because you ate it.” Isaiah: “Why did I eat it?” Me: “Because you need food.” Isaiah: “Why do I need food?” And so… Read More
Azar Gat, “War in Human Civilization” (Oxford UP, 2006)
Historians don’t generally like the idea of “human nature.” We tend to believe that people are intrinsically malleable, that they have no innate “drives,” “instincts,” or “motivations.” The reason we hew to the “blank slate” notion perhaps has to do… Read More
P. Bingham and J. Souza, “Death From a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe” (BookSurge, 2009)
Long ago, historians more or less gave up on “theories of history.” They determined that human nature was too unpredictable, cultures too various, and developmental patterns too evanescent for any really scientific theory of history to be possible. Human history,… Read More
Gregory Cochran, “The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution” (Basic, 2009)
First, the conventional wisdom. Because Homo sapiens are a young species and haven’t had time to genetically differentiate, we modern humans are all basically genetically identical. Because Homo sapiens figured out ways to use culture to overcome natural selection, human… Read More
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