An Audio-Book Review: Okay, actually It’s a Series of Lectures…

Roots of Human Behavior

A lecture series by Dr. Barbara J. King

Published by The Teaching Company


The Lectures:

Sometimes I forget that I have already reviewed something and start listening to it all over again. This was the case with Poul Anderson’s Brain Wave recently. I listened to the first few tracks thinking, “This sounds very familiar.” And when I looked it up it turned out I had, indeed listened to it back in 2016. Oh well. By the way, I did enjoy what I listened to. It was a nice example of science fiction from the 1950’s, full of interesting concepts without getting too heavy. This review, however is not about that. No, this is about yet another series of lectures I listened to recently, this time given by biological anthropologist, Dr. Barbara J. King (The College of William and Mary).

Recorded lecture series, I have found, can be a hit or miss proposition and sometimes one’s enjoyment of such lectures is entirely dependent on one’s interest in the subject. I will admit freely that with two degrees in Anthropology under my belt, this was definitely a subject I was interested in, although way back when I was in school, much of the material Dr. King presents was either very new or entirely unknown. To date myself, I had a class in Physical Anthropology taught by Dr. Donald Johanson before he found the famous Australopithecine fossil, “Lucy.” (Btw, that was another great class and it’s a shame that was not recorded)

In any case, while the few behavioral studies on apes and monkeys were touched on, there was not a lot of time spent on them, probably because they were just starting to produce results that were clearly observed on multiple occasions. It was a delight for me to come across this series and be able to catch up, although this course was created in 2001. So, it probably is not the latest on the subject, but for someone who hasn’t looked seriously at it since about 1980, that was good enough.

I enjoyed Dr. King’s presentation style – not every reviewer agrees with me – and I would have had no trouble both staying awake and absorbing what she had to say even at an 8am class (actually I never have had an Anthropology class at 8 am – I suspect none of my professors would willingly teach at that hour). I found her lecture style engaging, if not overly emotional (do you really want an emotional lecturer? How would you judge their objectivity?), But she presented the content clearly and even managed to point out where others have argued over the meaning of observed behaviors and while she frequently uses material from her own research, she carefully gives credit to others in the field as well.

If there was anything to criticize (and I don’t think this really counts) I think I might have liked more discussion of pre- Homo sapiens hominid behavior, although, in fairness, no one alive has ever observed the behavior of any of our evolutionary cousins and ancestors and what we believe is based on our observations of the monkeys and apes extrapolated to the hominids as they gradually evolved into modern humans.

So, all told, if this is a subject you are even only vaguely interested in, I recommend this lecture series highly. It’s a great introduction to biological anthropology. Also, I see that Dr. King has at least one other lecture series recorded, which I look forward to listening to as well.

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