by Daniel Quinn
We start the Atavist's Bookshelf off with a well-known and well-loved book, Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. Many of our readers are probably very familiar with Daniel Quinn's work, and can probably see similarities between the new tribalism that Quinn supports and Atavism. That's because those similarities are there: Quinn, and this book in particular, were integral in the development of Atavism.
If you're not familiar, here's a synopsis of the book: a man meets a talking gorilla, who teaches him to look at the BS story his culture has fed him since his birth from an outsider's perspective, and question whether the way that our culture tells us we should live is wise.
So now you can probably see why this is the first book on our list. While it may have certain shortcomings, the dialectical nature of the book makes it a great tool for breaking open the cultural worldview that's omnipresent in our lives.
That being said, there were some reservations about selecting this for the first fictive entry on the bookshelf. Why? For one theing, the book's plot is not incredibly strong. I mean, it's dependent on a monkey being able to psychically communicate with people. It's a tad gimmicky. And though it works for what Quinn wants to say pedagogically, when I re-read the book I find myself skipping through the backstory and most of the plot, to get to the real meat and potatoes of the book: the dialogues between student and teacher.
Ishmael is, rightfully, tremendously popular with teenagers and young adults, and it's a great vehicle for skepticism. It should be read in that context: as an introduction to a practice of skeptically considering how we live and how our culture affects us and an explosion of the status quo. So there it is. No. 1 on the Atavist's Bookshelf. Read it, but don't stop there.
Oh, and if you're not sold yet, Quinn's retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel alone is worth the price of admission.
The Atavist's Bookshelf
If you want to understand Atavism, you have to go beyond us. Atavistic thought is all over the place in intelligent books written by people who have never heard of Atavism probably don't agree with us in lots of ways. But that doesn't mean we don't recommend reading them...
1. Sex at Dawn
by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha
If we were to recommend one book for someone interested in Atavism to read, this would be it.
First of all, it's about sex, so it's pretty much guaranteed that you'll be interested.
Second, it's about a lot more than sex. Ryan and Jetha go deep into all sorts of misconceptions that people have about human nature and life before agriculture. In order to lay the groundwork for their thesis, which is that humans did not evolve in monogamous relationships, the authors end up delving into and breaking apart the entire Hobbesian myth that many people assume to be the truth about our 'natural' selves.
And thirdly, it's fun. The authors do a good job of keeping the atmosphere light, even as they're discussing important issues. This has actually been one major criticism of the book: that it comes off as snarky at times. But books about sex have to walk a fine line, because people so easily get defensive about the topic. Especially if you're in a monogamous relationship, it's hard to read about non-monogamous relationships without feeling jealous or defensive, and the humor that the writers bring in to their arguments helps to subvert that response.
And if you're not convinced yet, remember: it's about sex. You like sex. So read it!