A Foot in the River: Why Our Lives Change— and the Limits of Evolution

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Oxford Univ, $34.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-19-874442-9
This unclassifiable book—part history, part science, part speculation—seeks to explain the interaction between evolutionary change (a scientific reality) and cultural change (a historical one). Like all historians, University of Notre Dame professor Fernandez-Armesto (Our America) invokes historical knowledge to illustrate the ways human cultures develop. But unlike most historians, he invokes the natural and physical sciences to lay out how the behavioral evolution of species interacts with cultural evolution. Ingeniously citing studies of the thought and behavior of many nonhuman cultures, he shows how the actions of nonhuman animals, even perhaps their cognition and understanding, can be so close to that of humans. But adopting the role of soothsayer, Fernandez-Armesto argues that human cultural change seems to be accelerating—that cultural change has overtaken evolution as an explanation for large-scale change and will continue to do so. This is “big history” to the utmost degree, an attempt to unite science and history in a single explanatory scheme much like the work of Jared Diamond. Excessively erudite, extraordinarily wide-ranging, and written with great clarity, the book is also speculative and unconvincing. Fernandez-Armesto is sure to stir up debate, lure others into similar speculation, and perhaps strengthen the chance of closer mutual endeavors between the physical sciences and the humanities. (Dec.)
Reviewed on: 10/12/2015
Release date: 12/01/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 304 pages - 978-0-19-880680-6
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