I regularly get emails asking what’s on my bookshelf (or RSS feed). Now and then I like to answer those questions and share a bit of what I’ve been up to. Truth be told, my reading of late has revolved around themes I’m covering in my upcoming book, The Primal Connection. Think along the lines of play, creativity, ancient wisdom, sensory experience, social bonds, hunter-gatherer history, and an inner wild (to name just a few). In other words, it covers the many lifestyle elements that can further connect us with our inherent blueprints – beyond the basics of diet and fitness. The method (as always) examines the incongruence between how we evolved and how we live today. The purpose, of course, is informed choice to help us create healthier, more content, and fulfilled lives in the modern age. I’ll make an official, more detailed announcement in the coming weeks, but I can happily divulge this much today: it will be hitting the shelves September 17th.
Now for a look at some of the books I’ve been reading…
The Two Million-Year-Old Self by Anthony Stevens
Stevens is a Jungian analyst who makes the case for archetypal psychiatry by suggesting we’re more than the sum of our individual experiences – that we come into life with a genetic blueprint and its “‘psycho-biological’” expectations. To confound these expectations, as modern life often does, creates a deeply-reaching “frustration of archetypal intent.” Such is a formidable source of modern discontent and malady, Stevens proposes. He discusses the archetypal significance of ritual and traditional healing relationships as well as the power of our “environment of evolutionary adaptedness.” We find fundamental vitality, he suggests, when we “risk making ourselves vulnerable to the influence of the primordial survivor in our own lives.” Steven’s book is an amazing, if provocative, read that illuminates a distinctive but compelling perspective on mental health.
The Bridge to Humanity: How Affect Hunger Trumps the Selfish Gene by Walter Goldschmidt
We’ve known for some time that the selfish gene model couldn’t fill in the full picture of our evolutionary development. What about the forces of altruism, kin loyalty, compassion, etc.? Goldschmidt goes beyond the usual discussions of kin selection to examine our species’ “biological ontogeny for affect hunger” – our changing but ever-present, lifelong need for social affection and belonging. Affect hunger, he argues, motivated the acquisition of culture and language and fostered a sense of mutuality within early human societies. Using evidence as diverse as ethnography to neurological research, he makes the case for this instinctual demand as it plays out throughout the life cycle and argues that modernity has reshaped its form but not force. In doing so, he takes up questions of social order, status, specialization, and modern depersonalization. It’s definitely a unique anthropological text and an illuminating perspective on social wellness.
Deep Play by Diane Ackerman
Somehow I can’t read enough about play, and this find is definitely at the top of the list. For any Ackerman fans out there, you know her style – deeply confessional, lavishly metaphorical – is reason enough to pick up her books. Her work is always an amazing sensory encounter. (On that note, I’d recommend her A Natural History of the Senses as well.) All this said, Deep Play covers the emotional experience of play like no other. She focuses on more intense, “deep” forms of play, those that brings us to states of ecstasy, reverie, and exhilaration – along the lines of Maslow’s “peak experiences.” She examines deep play within the realms of movement and physicality, creativity, spirituality, and wilderness. In addition to the historical and cultural commentary, she includes many personal examples of her own deep play as well. She’s an incredible writer and truly a woman who’s lived a rich life.
As an anthropologist and photographer/writer (he’s currently an Explorer-in-Residence for National Geographic), Davis has spent decades traveling the world and spending time in some of the world’s last, most isolated traditional societies. For anyone interested in the lifestyle (with its remarkable, vanishing knowledge and skills) of our ancient ancestors, this book is an incredible read. Using both his personal and anthropological understanding of these groups, he challenges assumptions about modern progress and the “natural” trajectory of humanity. Within intimately drawn accounts, he illustrates the rich lives and forgotten mastery of several traditional societies across the globe. Compelling, also, is his discussion of the “ethnosphere,” which he defines as “the sum total of all thoughts and intuitions, myths and beliefs, ideas and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness.” It’s an awe-inspiring concept and a little appreciated legacy, he contends, that we’re rapidly losing as traditional cultures go extinct.
After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC by Steven Mithen
If you ever thought anthropology was dry as old beef jerky, you’d welcome Mithen’s approach. Using a rich array of the best evidence that exists about this prehistoric era, he spins an amazing – and engaging – narrative of life during this period as it likely looked across all corners of the globe. John Lubbock, Mithen’s fictional device and time traveler narrator, shares his observations of the early cultures he encounters while Mithen weaves additional anthropological theory and detail into the chapters. The result? It’s by far the most appealing and one of the most broadly informative anthropology texts I’ve come across. Mithen gives readers a window into the “day to day” lives of our hunter gatherer and early farming ancestors. He also offers an in-depth explanation of the sporadic transition from foraging to agricultural lifestyles and explains the little appreciated climate and population related factors behind this shift.
Wisdom and the Senses: The Way of Creativity by Joan M. Erikson
It’s generally known that Joan Erikson, a psychologist in her own right, contributed significantly to the work of her husband, the late Erik Erikson, who created the well-known and revolutionary theory on psycho-social development across the life stages. In Wisdom and the Senses, she weaves her own take on the life cycle model. Specifically, she examines creativity through the lens of ontogeny, the epigenetically rooted, “time-specific developmental confrontation[s]” we encounter throughout our life stages. As children and as adults, she argues, we’re subject to a “timed pattern,” or “life sequence” of challenges that creativity can poignantly apprehend and engage. She discusses everything from play to art, possessions to relationships with deep nuance and unique dimension. Our sensory experiences, she says, comprise the base for finding our way through these stages and the questions they present. The senses represent the raw material we use to interpret the world and to create an imaginative, vital life for ourselves.
Thanks for reading today, everyone, and know that I appreciate the personal emails. I’ll have more about the book coming up. In the meantime, I hope this post gives a satisfying early glimpse. The staff and I are excited to be in the home stretch. Let me know your thoughts – and share your own reading suggestions with the Primal community. Have a great week, everybody!