Erika Lorraine Milam, Creatures of Cain: the Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America
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Historian of science, Erika Milam’s, new book, Creatures of Cain, is an impressively researched study of a narrowly defined cultural question: how and why did a “new” conception of human nature, grounded in “science,” and emphasizing both our “innate aggressiveness” and a biologically “unique” capacity for murder, suddenly emerge in the mid-1960s; swiftly gain cultural prominence in America; and then just as swiftly succumb to ridicule and dismissal by the mid-1970s in the face of both scientific and political opposition?
Drawing on extensive archival research and interviews with key scientific figures, Milam presents an answer that is both intriguing and disappointing. According to her historical reconstruction, those scientists in the 1950s who wrote for a broader audience about our evolved human nature; such as, anthropologist Loren Eiseley and geneticist Theodosius Dobzhansky, deliberately presented an optimistic vision of human evolutionary “ascent,” which emphasized both a...
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