A Different Kind of Animal: How Culture Transformed Our Species

Robert Boyd

My review 2020-07-10

Robert Boyd has done ground-breaking research on the evolution of Homo sapiens focusing on the role of culture. Being individually smart has traditionally been the explanation for why humans have succeeded in thriving in almost any environment on Earth. Boyd makes the case that this cannot be the whole truth, and maybe not even the main reason. Instead, our sociality combined with our cumulative culture are the key elements. Our adherence to and enforcement of cultural norms creates conditions where selection between cultural groups produces adaption to local environments in true Darwinian fashion.

In this book, Boyd summarizes a research program that has successfully combined anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary theory, game theory and formal mathematical modeling and simulation. The book is surprisingly easy to read. The inclusion of short essays with critical comments from four scientists, together with a reply from Boyd, makes this an excellent introduction into a fascinating field.