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On the Origin of Tepees

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  148 ratings  ·  26 reviews

Science writer and television journalist Jonnie Hughes travels the American West to explain how human culture evolves.
Kindle Edition, 322 pages
Published July 5th 2012 by Oneworld Publications (first published August 9th 2011)
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Jonnie Hughes
Aug 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  (Review from the author)  ·  review of another edition
Well I would say that wouldn't I.
Linda Robinson
Sep 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is a magical road trip through evolution, both genetic and meme-ic. A wacky lunch date with Hunter S. Thompson and Carl Linnaeus. DNA-wise, we stopped evolving about 2 million years ago. This explains both my exhusbands. But what have humans been up to since then? I'm not going to tell you because you will thoroughly enjoy finding out for yourself. Our heads are as big as it's reasonable to get, given how they have to arrive in the world, so humans have been busy, busy doing other thin ...more
Oct 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Science writer Jonnie Hughes sets out on a trip across Middle America and Canada with his brother to explore the evolution of the tepee (how long did it take him to figure out a subject that would sound like ‘species’, I wonder?). Along with the travelogue and his discoveries about the tepee (and cowboy hats and a few other things), he explains to us the theories of evolution and natural selection among living things, and the idea of memes. Not memes as in internet quizzes or cat pictures, but m ...more
Margaret Sankey
This is a charming and fascinating book, which hooked me from the first pages describing the "Maul" of America. British Hughes and his brother arrive in Minneapolis for a rental car trip across the great plains in search of tepees--Chippewa, Lakota, Cheyenne, Crow, four-poles models, three-pole model, different ties and smoke flaps and asymmetric quirks--and the geographic and geological changes in the land and animals the tepee makers used. Along the way, Hughes delivers smart asides on human e ...more
Jim Leckband
Aug 11, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't get the rhyming pun of the title until halfway through the book. A first class pun, it scans the same as the original, is relevant to the topic and is humorously unexpected.

Hughes uses the range of teepee types (number of poles, smoke flaps, etc.) to explore the final difference that makes man the dominant species on Earth - the use and transmission of ideas. Up until we could communicate ways of doing stuff we were subject to the normal Darwinian evolution where it was the environment
Jul 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
Weird. Entertaining, informative but weird. A combo of a travelogue, a history of Native Americans and a description of memes. If you don’t know what a meme is then this is probably a good place to start. If you do then I don’t know that this book will add much to your knowledge but you will learn about tepees.
Jan 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: white
This is a book on memes that doesn't use the word 'meme' until more than 200 pages in, up until that point using other words like 'idea' and 'noosphere' (the world of ideas, analogous to the biosphere or atmosphere). The author is trying to determine if the idea of ideas as replicating, reproducing, surviving entities that can evolve, is itself an idea that has merit. To his credit, he does so not only by looking in broad strokes at how ideas work and are transmitted, but also by taking a very d ...more
Jul 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This got a starred review in Publishers weekly:

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 an
Sep 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part travel writing, part anthropology, part philosophy of culture. Like all of my favourite books, this one is hard to pigeon-hole but easy to recommend. Jonnie Hughes writes unpretentiously and the book takes many pleasantly surprising turns.

If you're curious to see a meme-based theory in action, or if you're just looking to learn a little about the native cultures that have variously inhabited the Great American Plains, this book will deliver on both counts.
Wiebke Kuhn
Nov 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This may be a candidate for a common book - an interesting discussion of evolution, both in the biological and cultural sense, focusing on North America, tepees (and yes, the title does play of the Origin of Species), genes, memes, and the noosphere.
As I had just finished E.O. Wilson's Diversity of Species, some small parts of the book sounded very familiar, but then of course that would make perfect sense in a book about how ideas slowly develop from one person to the next.
May 19, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A thinking book... a lesson in biology and culture and something more esoteric and somewhat magical.
Do ideas come from an individual or a culture? Do they develop and mutate like genes?

Bonus features: the Mall of America (my home town!) and Montana and Alberta, which I just visited. I learned why there was a sign to "Head-Smashed-in Buffalo Jump" on the road from Banff to Glacier.

Looking forward to more by Jonnie Hughes!
Jane Walker
This was disappointing.
Until quite late in the book it seemed that Hughes was describing the spread and evolution of ideas in a fresh and interesting way. His style is irritating at times, but he is clear in what he wants to say. And I was thinking that he had a better account of this than the "memes" theory, which seems to mean everything and nothing. But the Hughes comes to memes, which his own theories are apparently meant to justify and explain. And I stopped believing.
Julie Hudson
Half way through the book before it dawned on me that the title was a play on words based on Origin of Species. All about evolution of culture and ideas and he takes a trip round US. Had a quiz question at Xmas about how many Indian tribes you could name and even though in middle of book that goes on about them I still couldn't remember any. Wouldn't recommend not flowing enough. Intro best bit.
Tito Quiling, Jr.
Aug 15, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, travel
I deducted one star because I wish it could've been longer. Hahaha! Hughes's work combines travel writing, cultural mapping and philosophy, even delving into anthropology and biology to trace the migration, the divide, and the growth of selected living beings to situate his point. While the author focused on North and (a bit) of South American landscape, he was able to discuss several assumptions of how our "mall culture" came to be, springing from the once barren and frigid landscape.
Mike Barnett
Dec 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice enjoyable read about the theory of memes and how they are a second replicator in addition to genes. Extremely accessible -- I definitely recommend it if you are interested in evolution. Which you should be!
The central idea in this book is that ideas (memes) are subject to Darwinian evolution (natural selection) and, having hijacked our ancestors, are the reason we are so different from all other life on earth. Read the rest of my review:
Aug 10, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I received the book for free through Goodreads First Reads. I thought this book looked very interesting.....but I have tried several times to read the book and I really just can't get into it.....I don't think it is fair for me to "rate" the book at this point. Thanks Goodreads.
Denise Louise
Aug 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A clear and concise summary of how cultural evolution parallels biological evolution, and how they have fed off of each other in human development. And yet I always feel I'm missing one last piece. The complexity of life and of culture continue to strike me as just beyond logical.
Jim Wilson
Dec 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although the title is a horrible pun, the book is a thought provoking examination of the transmission of ideas. Will go back and reread it periodically.
Mary Bush
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Very engaging and readable.
Nov 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
All sorts of interesting little historical/cultural tidbits. It is an easy read centered around discovering the origin of an idea (tepee) and how culture has evolved.
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Social evolution for laymen. Highly readable and introduces me to a lot of concepts unfamiliar to me. plenty of sources to pursue if you're so inclined.
Emily Brown
Aug 31, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science, kindle
this book is incredible! it uses darwin to explain culture and memes, it's the science of trends. i enjoyed every page, everyone should read this book!!!!
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Would love to hear the author in person. Fascinating analysis of people, ideas...actually everything. Just reading it made my head spin.
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Apr 14, 2012
Wayne White
rated it it was ok
Aug 27, 2012
Mattias Martens
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Mar 11, 2015
Jeff Stibel
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May 15, 2013
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Erica Scott
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Apr 03, 2012
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On The Origin Of Tepees 1 6 Aug 15, 2011 08:42AM  
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Jonnie Hughes is an award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker specialising in science. He has written regularly for Geographic Magazine, BBC Wildlife Magazine, The Guardian and The Times. His films have aired on National Geographic, Discovery, the BBC and Channel 5. He has won awards from the Association of British Science Writers and the Wellcome Trust for his science writing, a BBC Radio On ...more