On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves)

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Overview

Throughout history, we humans have prided ourselves on our capacity to have ideas, but perhaps this pride is misplaced. Perhaps ideas have us. In this book, science writer and documentary filmmaker Jonnie Hughes investigates the evolution of ideas, taking a look at how they seem to have lives of their own. Adopting the role of a cultural Charles Darwin, Hughes travels across the Midwest with his brother to observe firsthand the natural history of ideas—the patterns of their variation, inheritance, and selection ...

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On the Origin of Tepees: The Evolution of Ideas (and Ourselves)

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Overview

Throughout history, we humans have prided ourselves on our capacity to have ideas, but perhaps this pride is misplaced. Perhaps ideas have us. In this book, science writer and documentary filmmaker Jonnie Hughes investigates the evolution of ideas, taking a look at how they seem to have lives of their own. Adopting the role of a cultural Charles Darwin, Hughes travels across the Midwest with his brother to observe firsthand the natural history of ideas—the patterns of their variation, inheritance, and selection in the cultural landscape. In place of Darwin’s oceanic islands, Hughes visits the “mind islands” of Native American tribes. Instead of finches, Hughes searches for signs of natural selection among the tepees.

With a knack for finding the humor in the quirks of the American cultural landscape, Hughes takes us on a tour from the Mall of America in Minneapolis to what he calls the “maul” of America—Custer’s last stand—stopping at roadsides and discoursing on sandwiches, the shape of cowboy hats, the evolution of barn roofs, and more. Original, witty, and engaging, On the Origin of Tepees offers a fresh way of understanding both our ideas and ourselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Ambitious and original. Unlike the vast majority of recent writings about memes, this is a serious book that does "add to the theory". It belongs on the reading list of anybody who hopes to use Richard Dawkins's insight into memes, offering a serious scientific account of cultural change and innovation. That it is entertaining is a bonus, not a substitute for substance.” —Daniel Dennett, New Scientist, Letters

“This book is a delight. Not only has Hughes described the world with meme’s eye vision but he has woven the insights of this view into a funny and endearing travel tale. Anyone interested in memes and the evolution of culture is bound to enjoy it. At last! At last not only has someone seriously adopted a meme’s-eye view of the world but has described the world seen through its lenses with humour, intelligence and real insight. Hughes’ hilarious travels through the American west do for culture what Darwin did for biology. I will buy a copy for both my meme-loving and my meme-hating friends.”—Professor Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine

"Hughes, an award-winning science writer and documentary maker, explores how big ideas begin, evolve, and converge—and whether culture, like biology, follows any Darwinian dictates of natural selection—in this detective story–cum–road trip memoir. Hughes and his brother, Adam, trek across America in their Chrysler in order to trace the evolution of tepees used by the Plains Indians—that "marvel of human ingenuity... the difference between life and death." Along the way, Hughes maps out the genealogies of other cultural artifacts of Americana—the gambrel-roof barn, bourbon whiskey, regional pronunciations and jokes, why Scandinavian immigrants took to the American Midwest, and the invention of the cowboy hat. Taking his cue from Darwin, Hughes intersperses his technical discussions of genetics and biology with sketches—of tepees and such oddities of the animal kingdom as naked mole rats, hammerhead fruit bats, oarfish—and snapshots from the road that keep the reading brisk, personal, and pleasurable. This ambitious book braids together studies in biology, psychology, history, linguistics, geology, and philosophy into an impressively succinct and readable taxonomy of human culture." —Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

"On the Origin of Tepees is not your usual sort of book. Jonnie Hughes, a British TV and radio science guy, is like a carnival barker on serious weed. He is like Carl Sagan without segues, Jacques Cousteau without the hat, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom without the kingdom … Wait, wait, I’ve got it: On the Origin of Tepees reminds me of a mind-blowing book I was given in first grade. It was called Animals Do the Strangest Things, and it called into question pretty much everything I’d been told so far (at 6) vis-à-vis evolution; namely that people were in charge of animals, people were smarter than animals, people were more inventive than animals and, of course, people were funnier and nicer than animals (none of which turned out to be true). Hughes wants us to understand the world differently; to understand the evolution of ideas and how those ideas shape the choices we make (individually and as a species) and our cultural evolution. He has chosen to do this in what he considers a surreal landscape — America. Now don’t get huffy: This is not Baudrillard exclaiming over the American materialist wasteland, or even de Tocqueville marveling in his paternal way over our fabulous optimism; this guy is totally comfortable (maybe too comfortable) with the idea that, grand theories aside, we are not in control of our evolution, any more than the hammerheaded fruit bat, the oarfish, or the naked mole rat. We need new goggles with which to see ourselves and through which to fully appreciate Darwin’s work. Hughes has got some."—Los Angeles Review of Books

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439110249
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 6/19/2012
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 668,944
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonnie Hughes is a science writer and filmmaker. He is a regular contributor to Geographic Magazine, BBC Wildlife Magazine, The Guardian, and The Times, and his films have won him a BBC Radio One Award for factual radio and an American Genesis Award for Best Popular Television Documentary. He lives in England.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Part I Only Human

1 Weirdoes 3

Misting Up

The Top Five Weirdest Wonders in All Creation

Super-Natural?

2 The New World 19

The Great Indoors

Sandwich Selection

Little Lars on the Prairie

The Road to the Ultimate Problem Solver

Future-proof

A World of Our Own

Into the New World.

Part II What's the Idea?

3 Evolution, Minnesota 39

Is the Force with Us, Always?

Mr. Darwin's Idea

Finch Mob

Barn in the USA

4 Variation, North Dakota 52

Plains Sailing

Barn Different

A Port on the Plains

"Home Sweet Home"

5 Inheritance, South Dakota 65

Biological Brothers, Cultural Cousins

The Front of the Barn

Dead Man's Hand

Tepee or Not Tepee

Big Country, Big Picture

6 Selection, Wyoming 82

Mindless

The Evolution of the Cowboy Hat, Served Three Ways

The Idea

Part III History Lessen

7 Mind Out? 103

Goggles Off

Watchmaking

Differently Dull Flip-books

Auto-barn

8 How the West Was Won I: Finding the Edges 114

Hear the Herds

Trail and Error

The Southern Herd

The Nature of Panic

The Northern Herd

9 How the West Was Won II: June 25, 1876 127

Cidture's Last Stand

Getting to the Phone

A Space for Design

A Space for Genius

10 How the West Was Won III: America Making 141

The Maid of America

Making America

The Secret of Sitting Bull's Tepee

Part IV Who's Driving?

11 A Beginner s Guide to Tepee Taxonomy 155

Among the Crow

Sort It Out

Tongues in a Twist

Drummers in the Dark

A Pattern of Islands

Poles Apart

12 Bound by Imagination 177

The World Turned Upside Down

The Medicine Wheel

Imagineering

Life's Ratchet

Building a Super-super-superorganism

Flippin' Gulls

The Yellowstone Blues

Life Is Simple

13 The Genes of Culture 205

A Model Idea

Blackfoot Country

The Idea Behind These Goggles

The Indian Tipi

On the Origin of (These) Tepees

Part V Mysteries Solved

14 The Past 227

The Dawn of the Smelly Heads

Border Crossings

Food for Thought

The Art of Aping

Head-Smashed-In

Humaneering

A Symbol Creature

Reason to Believe

The Ghost of an Idea

15 The Present 259

Welcome to the Jungle

Idea Ecology

The (Post)Modern World

The Truth

Notes 277

Bibliography: The Goggle Makers 279

Index 287

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Customer Reviews

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    Posted July 4, 2012

    Fernwhiper

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  • Posted September 7, 2011

    A Darwin apologetic

    The best attempt ever to bring Darwin to the average person. This isn't a technical journal that bores one but a well written book about the theory of evolution.

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    Posted November 29, 2012

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    Posted October 1, 2011

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