Thinking Big: How the Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind


published on 14 July 2014

Thinking Big: How Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind, by Drs. Clive Gamble, John Gowlett, and Robin Dunbar, explores the prehistoric and ancient origins of our social lives in a mere 224 pages.

Divided into seven chapters, Thinking Big is centered on some provocative questions about the evolutionary development of the human mind: “When and how did the brains of our hominin ancestors become human minds?” and “When and why did our capacity for language or art, music and dance evolve?”

Exploring first the controversial “social brain hypothesis” advanced by evolutionary scientists, the second half of this title is concerned with how this assertion fits within existing archaeological, anthropological, and fossil remains. This is where the heart of the book lies.

This publication includes 57 black-and-white illustrations – many of them statistical tables and charts – and an excellent selected reading appendix, organized by chapter. One wishes that a timeline of evolutionary milestones might have been included. The preface and sources of illustrations sections are relatively inconspicuous.

The results posited in Thinking Big would be of interest to professionals in the social sciences as well as biologists (and perhaps even linguists). Gamble, Gowlett, and Dunbar reveal that despite our collective “human” advances in the arts and sciences over thousands of years, we still exhibit behaviors and sentiments that reflect a more distant evolutionary past.

Thinking Big: How Evolution of Social Life Shaped the Human Mind was published by Thames & Hudson, and it is available in the US for $24.63 and 12.89 in the UK.

About the Reviewer

James Blake Wiener
James is a writer, public speaker, and former academic who is interested in cross-cultural exchange and world history. He handles internal and external business communications at AHE and builds partnerships with international organizations.