Book Reviews in 100 Words or Less: 'A Talent for Friendship: Rediscovery of a Remarkable Trait'

In this season of man-made suffering in much of the world it’s easy to overlook the ways in which our species is armed and outfitted for friendship.
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A Talent for Friendship: Rediscovery of a Remarkable Trait
John Edward Terrell
Oxford University Press

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In this season of man-made suffering in much of the world—Ukraine, the Middle East, Central America—it’s easy to overlook the ways in which our species is armed and outfitted for friendship. Terrell, an anthropologist at the Field Museum, claims that friendship is an evolved capacity and “one of the defining characteristics of our species.” Terrell is well aware that a parade of historians could adduce bloody evidence to the contrary. But in this distractingly chatty book, he uses ethnographic and psychological evidence to show that our species’ tendency is to form durable social ties. He draws on material from New Guinea—a place anthropologists traditionally associate with warlike people—to show that social ties there fostered long periods of stability. Terrell’s view of human nature is a happy one, for a change, but pessimists will worry that the friendships only serve to help us choose sides before the fights with non-friends begin. —Graeme Wood

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