Monday, October 5, 2009

Beautiful Minds

Beautiful Minds: The Parallel Lives of Great Apes and Dolphins
© 2008 Maddalena Bearzi, Craig B. Stanford
368 pages

As this was a personal reccommendation from a friend, I opted to read it before continuuing in Saylor's Roma sub Rosa series. I'm interested in both primate and cetacean intelligence, making the recommendation rather spot-on. Beautiful Minds functions primarily as a comparison of primate (chiefly chimpanzee) and cetacean (primarily dolphin) biology and societies. The authors do not make the comparisons themselves: as experts in their respective fields, they split related chapters and each discuss that topic (intelligence, politics, sex and gender roles) within their own field. The reader is left to see the similarities and differences for himself for the most part. The book quotes from books I've actually read this year -- Frans de Waal's Our Inner Ape and Jacques-Yves Cousteau's Dolphin. What makes the primate-dolphin similarity so intriguing is that their respective ancestors were not similar: we come from different areas of the mammalian line, and so what similarities there are, particularly in the case of intelligence, represents convergent evolution. I think this helps the case that intelligence has evolved in part to deal with larger social groups, as the great apes and cetaceans are such social creatures. The book also serves as a warning, as nearly all of the animals discussed are in danger of going extinct within another human generation.

I definitely recommend it to those interested in primates, cetaceans, biological causes of culture, intelligence, or anthropology.


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