The Singing Neanderthal

Barbara King in Bookslut:

029764317701_1Given its emotional power, it’s odd to discover that music’s evolutionary history has been neglected. Theories about the origins of technology and language crowd anthropologists’ shelves, but most evolutionists fall silent about music. In The Singing Neanderthal: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body, British archaeologist Steven Mithen sets out to redress this gap.

On page five, Mithen commands attention by announcing a dual intention to take on academic superstar Steve Pinker’s (The Blank Slate, How the Mind Works, The Language Instinct) views on the evolution of music and to atone for his own “embarrassing” past neglect of music (The Prehistory of the Mind). I was hooked; Pinker-worthy, non-ego-driven scientists don’t grow on trees. Happily, this initial promise of provocation is fulfilled, for Mithen offers a fascinating argument about the evolutionary relationship between music and language. To be precise, it is provocative, fascinating and, I think, quite wrong on multiple points. But how much fun is it, really, to curl up with a book that lulls you into placid agreement?

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