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As the adage goes, home is where the heart is. This may seem self-explanatory, but none of our close primate cousins have anything like homes. Whether we live in an igloo or in Buckingham Palace, the fact that Homo sapiens create homes is one of the greatest puzzles of our evolution. In Home: How Habitat Made Us Human, neuroanthropologist John S. Allen marshals evidence from evolutionary anthropology, neuroscience, the study of emotion, and modern sociology to argue that the home is one of the most important cognitive, technological, and cultural products of our species evolution. It is because we have homes relatively secure against whatever horrors lurk outside that human civilizations have been able to achieve the periods of explosive cultural and creative progress that are our species hallmark.
Narratives of human evolution are dominated by the emergence of language, the importance of hunting and cooking, the control of fire, the centrality of cooperation, and the increasingly long time periods children need to develop. In Home, Allen argues that the home served as a nexus for these activities and developments, providing a stable and safe base from which forays into the unknown both mental and physical could be launched. But the power of the home is not just in what we accomplish while we have it, but in what goes wrong when we do not. According to Allen, insecure homes foster depression in adults and health problems in all ages, and homelessness is more than an economic tragedy: it is a developmental and psychological disaster.
Home sheds new light on the deep pleasures we receive from our homes, rooting them in both our evolution and our identity as humans. Home is not simply where the heart is, but the mind too. No wonder we miss it so when we are gone.
John Allen is a neuroanthropologist and research scientist at the Dornsife Cognitive Neuroscience Imaging Center and the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. He is also research associate in the Department of Anthropology, Indiana University, Bloomington. The author of several trade books and textbooks, Allen lives near Lexington, Kentucky.
"[A] well-presented natural history [...] The author guides readers through unfamiliar territory by looking at feelings of home as a cornerstone of human cognition, as basic perhaps as language [...] The perspective that Allen brings to this work makes clear that one can buy a house, but a home is built on evolutionary history, cultural traditions, technological advances, psychological factors, and personal experiences. Excellent supplementary reading for a variety of college courses, but the book s scope and accessibility make this one for general readers, too."
– Kirkus Reviews
"This important book by John Allen ranges from prehistory, in which the changing concept of home played a major role in making us the humans we are, to modern times, in which eviction and homelessness are frequent horrors of the present. Allen thus alerts us to something we tend to overlook because we take it for granted: the central role in all our lives of our homes."
– George A. Akerlof, Nobel Laureate in Economics
"Allen takes the reader on a delightful tour. From chimpanzee beds and Neanderthal burials to refugee angst and the comforts of the kitchen, Home presents an evolutionary view of a vital component of human happiness."
– Richard Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University and author of Catching Fire