Top 2016 Human Biology Books

These are my picks for the top twenty human biology and primatology books published in 2016. These books cover topics as diverse as gibbon evolution, cultural evolution, and primate cognition. YMMV, and they are not ranked in any way. Included are the text blurbs; personal reviews available on request!

Want more book recommendations? Check out the other top 2016 book lists: Zoology; Invertebrates; Arthropods; Vertebrates; Phylogenetics; Evolution; Ecology; Geology; Historical Geology; Palaeontology; Botany; Environmental; Climate Change; History; Philosophy.


  • Through an in-depth analysis of six truly transformative human-animal relationships, Fagan shows how our habits and our very way of life were considerably and irreversibly altered by our intimate bond with animals. Among other stories, Fagan explores how herding changed human behavior; how the humble donkey helped launch the process of globalization; and how the horse carried a hearty band of nomads across the world and toppled the emperor of China.


  • In Human Evolution: Our Brains and Behavior, Robin Dunbar appeals to the human aspects of every reader, as subjects of mating, friendship, and community are discussed from an evolutionary psychology perspective. With a table of contents ranging from prehistoric times to modern days, Human Evolution focuses on an aspect of evolution that has typically been overshadowed by the archaeological record: the biological, neurological, and genetic changes that occurred with each “transition” in the evolutionary narrative. Dunbar’s interdisciplinary approach – inspired by his background as both an anthropologist and accomplished psychologist – brings the reader into all aspects of the evolutionary process, which he describes as the “jigsaw puzzle” of evolution that he and the reader will help solve. In doing so, the book carefully maps out each stage of the evolutionary process, from anatomical changes such as bipedalism and increase in brain size, to cognitive and behavioral changes, such as the ability to cook, laugh, and use language to form communities through religion and story-telling. Most importantly and interestingly, Dunbar hypothesizes the order in which these evolutionary changes occurred-conclusions that are reached with the “time budget model” theory that Dunbar himself coined. As definitive as the “stones and bones” are for the hard dates of archaeological evidence, this book explores far more complex psychological questions that require a degree of intellectual speculation: What does it really mean to be human (as opposed to being an ape), and how did we come to be that way?


  • Lemurs share a common distant ancestor with humans. Following their own evolutionary pathway, lemurs provide the ideal model to shed light on the behavioural traits of primates including conflict management, communication strategies and society building and how these aspects of social living relate to those found in the anthropoid primates. Adopting a comparative approach throughout, lemur behaviour is cross-examined with that of monkeys, apes and humans. The Missing Lemur Link reviews and expands upon the newest fields of research in lemur behavioural biology, including recent analytical approaches that have so far been limited to studies of haplorrhine primates. Different methodological approaches are harmonised in this volume to break conceptual walls between both primate taxa and different disciplines. Through a focus on the methodologies behind lemur behaviour and social interactions, future primate researchers will be encouraged to produce directly comparable results.


  • Citing remarkable evidence based on his extensive research of primate behavior, de Waal attacks “Veneer Theory,” which posits morality as a thin overlay on an otherwise nasty nature. He explains how we evolved from a long line of animals that care for the weak and build cooperation with reciprocal transactions. Drawing on Darwin, recent scientific advances, and his extensive research of primate behavior, de Waal demonstrates a strong continuity between human and animal behavior. He probes issues such as anthropomorphism and human responsibilities toward animals. His compelling account of how human morality evolved out of mammalian society will fascinate anyone who has ever wondered about the origins and reach of human goodness.


  • Howler monkeys (genus Alouatta) comprise 12 species of leaf-eating New World monkeys that range from southern Mexico through northern Argentina. This genus is the most widespread of any New World primate and can be found to inhabit a range of forest types from undisturbed rainforest to severely anthropogenically-impacted forest fragments. Although there have been many studies on individual species of howler monkeys, Howler Monkeys is the first comprehensive volume that places information on howler behavior and biology within a theoretical framework of ecological and social adaptability. This is the first of two companion volumes devoted to the genus Alouatta.


  • The Construction of Human Kinds synthesizes recent work in evolutionary, cognitive, and social psychology as well as social theory and the philosophy of science, in order to offer a naturalistic account of the social construction of human kinds. Mallon begins by qualifying social constructionist accounts of representations of human kinds by appealing to evidence suggesting canalized dispositions towards certain ways of representing human groups, using race as a case study. He then turns to interpret constructionist accounts of categories as attempts to explain causally powerful human kinds by appealling to our practices of representing them, and he articulates a view in which widespread representations produce entrenched social roles that could vindicate such attempts.


  • An eye-opening blend of storytelling, memoir, and science, Monkeytalk takes us into the field and the world’s primate labs to investigate the intricacies of primate social mores through the lens of communication. After first detailing the social interactions of key species from her fieldwork—from baby-wielding male Barbary macaques, who use infants as social accessories in a variety of interactions, to aggression among the chacma baboons of southern Africa and male-male tolerance among the Guinea baboons of Senegal—Fischer explores the role of social living in the rise of primate intelligence and communication, ultimately asking what the ways in which other primates communicate can teach us about the evolution of human language.


  • In The Origins of Fairness, Nicolas Baumard further explores the theory that morality was originally an adaptation to the biological market of cooperation, an arena in which individuals competed to be selected for cooperative interactions. In this environment, Baumard suggests, the best strategy was to treat others with impartiality and to share the costs and benefits of cooperation in a fair way, so that those who offered less than others were left out of cooperation while those who offered more were exploited by their partners. It is with this evolutionary approach that Baumard ultimately accounts for the specific structure of human morality.


  • Based on the latest scientific discoveries, this “unauthorized biography” of the Humans recounts the story of our distant ancestors during the past 6 million years, since the line of our extended family separated from that leading to modern chimpanzees. The book explains how different species evolved, both anatomically and cognitively, and describes the impacts of climatic and environmental change on this process. It also explores the nature of relationships within and between species, describes their everyday lives, and discusses how isolated individuals became members of larger social groups. The concluding chapters highlight the paramount importance of the emergence of symbolic thought and discuss its contribution to the formation of institutions, societies, and economies. The multifaceted picture that emerges will help the reader to make sense not only of “what we were”, but also of “what we are”, here and now. Humans: An Unauthorized Biography is both entertaining and rigorous in integrating results from a wide selection of disciplines. It will be particularly suitable for people with a curious and open mind, keen to overcome long-standing prejudices on man’s place in nature.


  • The Nature of Culture introduces a model of the expansion of cultural capacity as a systemic approach with biological, historical and individual dimensions. It is contrasted with existing approaches from primatology and behavioural ecology; influential factors like differences in life history and demography are discussed; and the different stages of the development of cultural capacity in human evolution are traced in the archaeological record.


  • Costly and Cute: Helpless Infants and Human Evolution (School for Advanced Research Advanced Seminar Series)

    by Wenda R. Trevathan [University of New Mexico Press Published in Association with School for Advanced Research Press, Paperback]
    Price: $45.60 £39.31 EUR 49,14 EUR 49,99 EUR 51,85 EUR 48,59 -

  • Scholars have long argued that the developmental state of the human infant at birth is unique. This volume expands that argument, pointing out that many distinctively human characteristics can be traced to the fact that we give birth to infants who are highly dependent on others and who learn how to be human while their brains are experiencing growth unlike that seen in other primates. The contributors to Costly and Cute propose that the “helpless infant” has played a role in human evolution equal in importance to those of “man the hunter” and “woman the gatherer.” The authors take a broad look at how human infants are similar to and different from the infants of other species, at how our babies have constrained our evolution over the past six million years, and at how they continue to shape the ways we live today.


  • The #1 best-selling book for the human anatomy course, Human Anatomy, Eighth Edition is widely regarded as the most readable and visually accessible book on the market. The book’s hallmark strengths—detailed art that teaches better, a reader-friendly narrative, and easy-to-use media and assessment tools–are enhanced through assignable anatomy animations and tutorials in MasteringA&P, more prominent in-book media references, and updated Focus Figures. Within the book, photos reinforce real-world applications, and cadaver photos and micrographs appear side-by-side with art, working together to help readers accurately visualize key anatomical structures.


  • The Evolution of the Primate Hand demonstrates how the primate hand combines both primitive and novel morphology, both general function with specialization, and both a remarkable degree of diversity within some clades and yet general similarity across many others. Across the chapters, different authors have addressed a variety of specific questions and provided their perspectives, but all explore the main themes described above to provide an overarching “primitive primate hand” thread to the book. Each chapter provides an in-depth review and critical account of the available literature, a balanced interpretation of the evidence from a variety of perspectives, and prospects for future research questions. In order to make this a useful resource for researchers at all levels, the basic structure of each chapter is the same, so that information can be easily consulted from chapter to chapter. An extensive reference list is provided at the end of each chapter so the reader has additional resources to address more specific questions or to find specific data.


  • The objective of Multidisciplinary Approaches to the Study of Stone Age Weaponry is to showcase the contemporary state of research on recognizing and evaluating the performance of stone age weapons from a variety of viewpoints, including investigating their cognitive and evolutionary significance.


  • Although eugenics is now widely discredited, some groups and individuals claim a new scientific basis for old racist assumptions. Pondering the continuing influence of racist research and thought, despite all evidence to the contrary, Robert Sussman explains why―when it comes to race―too many people still mistake bigotry for science.


  • Humans have always been influenced by natural landscapes, and always will be—even as we create ever-larger cities and our developments fundamentally change the nature of the earth around us. In Human Ecology, noted city planner and landscape architect Frederick Steiner encourages us to consider how human cultures have been shaped by natural forces, and how we might use this understanding to contribute to a future where both nature and people thrive.


  • Evolution of Gibbons and Siamang provides insight into gibbon diet and community ecology, the mating system and reproduction, and conservation biology, all topics which represent areas of substantial progress in understanding socio-ecological flexibility and conservation needs of the hylobatid family. This work analyzes hylobatid evolution by synthesizing recent and ongoing studies of molecular phylogeny, morphology, and cognition in a framework of gibbon and siamang evolution. With its clearly different perspective, this book is written to be read, referenced, and added to the bookshelves of scientists, librarians, and the interested public.