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The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional

3.86  ·  Rating details ·  354 ratings  ·  63 reviews
In the tradition of Jared Diamond s million-copy-selling classic Guns, Germs, and Steel, a bold new synthesis of paleontology, archaeology, genetics, and anthropology that overturns misconceptions about race, war and peace, and human nature itself, answering an age-old question: What made humans so exceptional among all the species on Earth?

Creativity. It is the secret of
Hardcover, 352 pages
Published March 21st 2017 by Dutton Books
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Dannii Elle
I received this in exchange for an honest review from NetGalley. Thank you to the author, Agustin Fuentes, and the publisher, Dutton Books, for this opportunity.

This non-fiction details the history of humanity's creative spirit emerging in perhaps the most obvious and yet unforeseen of ways. This isn't concerned with the, so-called, creative geniuses, but with the everyday man and woman.

The earliest hunter-gatherers showed signs of this creative spark in their use of fire and the construction of
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was a easy read for me as I was familiar with Jared Diamond's books, it was almost like reading a summary of every chapter in Guns, Germs and Steel with a tinge too much of moral justifications added. ...more
Caidyn (he/him/his)
This review and others can be found on BW Book Reviews.

Being a psychology major, you have to have a passing familiarity with evolution. Not just our old ancestors, but more than that. Knowing that you can track the progression of human brain growth and how/when skills might have been acquired by looking at the size of a skull. Then you can compare humans and apes, seeing what may or may not match up. How humans could have become the way they are.

Then, there's evolutionary psychology with how thi
Apr 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
A deep and very well researched work on the importance of creativity from an anthropological point of view. Fuentes presents the “creative spark” as the element that differentiates us from other creatures and helped humans become the dominant species on Earth.
It is all incredibly interesting, alas; it’s presented in a very dry voice. I’m pretty sure that someone who actually studies Anthropology will find it riveting and will understand all the mentions of topic specific elements. I just read it
Jul 13, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This wasn't the kind of book I was expecting, but it was a fascinating anthropological study on human creativity. ...more
Alaia M.
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Creative Spark by Agustín Fuentes
Dutton and Random Penguin House, 2017, 340 pages

The Creative Spark is a fascinating book that tells the story of the evolution of our unique creativity that made our species the (arguably) great species we are today. Fuentes believes that the creativity used in a child’s finger painting is the same creativity that inspired early Homo to work together, make tools, hunt, and gather.
The book begins at the very beginning of our species, even before we
Sep 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: psychology
The author did a good job of discussing what anthropologists and evolutionary biologists know about the origins and development of creativity in humans. There are things we really don’t know and others we can have more confidence in based upon the evidence discovered. Some of these lines of evidence and the conclusions they reach can challenge traditional ideas about how we think of ourselves and how we became who we are. The emphasis on the amount of cooperation we needed to evolve both from bi ...more
David Burns
Jan 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book cannot be rated with just five stars, it deserves many more! Although I struggled in the early stages of reading and wished for a "Reader's Digest" version of many chapters, in the end it became abundantly clear why I needed to read and understand it all. Bringing together the abundance of research, knowledge and refinement of many others, Agustin Fuentes pulled all loose ends together for me and I feel like I now understand "us" much better. I grew up with a questioning mind, often ge ...more
Mike Putnam
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Overall, a solid introductory treatment of the notion of creativity/imagination and how it made humans exceptional in the further development of our species. One point that is a bit puzzling is the subtle lack of clarity in delimiting and distinguishing 'creativity' from 'imagination' proper. It's unclear if these two concepts are identical with one another or under which conditions they should be bifurcated. Aside from this point, the general guiding thesis provides a nuanced treatment on the e ...more
Samantha Magrini
Feb 03, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m sure for someone without a background in anthropology this would be an enlightening read. I will say that it’s positives are that it’s well written for the layman, and flows fairly effortlessly.
However, I feel that much of it is based on subjective information, rather than hard fact or data, and that when given the opportunities to really buckle down and provide some detailed insight on an area of focus, it is instead glossed over with caveats of ‘we may never know’.
Worth taking a look at,
Jun 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
This is an interesting book about the evolution of humans and the role of creativity in that process.

Here is a little of what is argued in the book.

Some animals have the capacity to use objects as tools. For example, chimpanzees can use lightly modified sticks, and unmodified stones. They learn this behavior from others. Early hominin species were making Oldowan tools around 2.5 million years ago. “Making and using stone tools involves much more information, collaboration, and creativity than
Nathan Albright
May 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: challenge-2019
It is often the case that writers know far less than they presume to know about the subject of creativity.  There are a wide variety of reasons for this.  For one, few people are interested in looking at the history of how creativity has been viewed by others, how it has been conceived, and how recent of a phenomenon it is to be focused on, all of which may be one of those trade secrets of a field that wants to view itself as being far more ancient and worthy than it is.  Connected with this is ...more
Liz Prather
Jun 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I’m not sure why I picked up The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional by Agustin Fuentes, the chair of anthropology at the University of Norte Dame. It’s thick: 292 pages of text with 33 pages of aft notes. Fuentes’ thesis challenges the violence of humanity, the prominence of the “man the hunter, man the killer” theory of human development. Instead, he posits, it was collaboration, compassion, and community that caused humans- these “small, naked, fangless, hornless and clawl ...more
Iza October
Oct 31, 2019 rated it liked it
(Review first published in Shelf Awareness).

In The Creative Spark, primatologist and biological anthropologist Agustín Fuentes challenges previous and current models of evolution. Where Charles Darwin argued for survival of the fittest, Fuentes argues that evolution promotes the survival of the most creative. By synthesizing research from numerous scientific disciplines, including psychology, genetics, biology and even philosophy, he presents a new, compelling model of human development. The ju
Shhhhh Ahhhhh
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Interesting but also sort of boring. The stories about humans are wrong. We know. Early humans had less division of labor than our popular mythology reveals. We know. Cooperation has been a bigger contributor to our development and success at the species level than competition ever has. We know. Creativity is not a uniquely human trait but one which manifests in rudimentary form in some of our relatives in the animal kingdom and elements of it appear randomly in other species often. We know. Hum ...more
Tom Roth
Nov 13, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: evolution, science
I am still not sure whether I should give the book 3 or 4 stars. It is a really interesting read, but certainly not exceptional. The main idea of the book is that our ancestors created their own niche by being creative, and this creativity kept resulting in complex behaviors, such as the construction of stone tools, "domesticating" fire, and eventually complex ideas, such as religion.

While this is certainly an interesting theory, I feel the book tries to explain too much. For example, I really
Feb 12, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
[3.5 stars]

The Creative Spark raises a few interesting points about creativity from an anthropological viewpoint. It was a well-paced overview of various aspects of our history on why creativity was important in our development as humans.

The text is highly readable (or easy to listen to, as I did, on audiobook) for the lay person, however, I found the arguments to be rather repetitive. In certain parts, historical data or findings were being presented but they remained too neutral, making their
Jude Shandiin
Jan 22, 2021 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
I started reading this after listening to an "On Being" podcast featuring Fuentes. The book is mostly boring, and the author's voice is self-righteous. He has credibility as an accomplished researcher who has the expertise to weave together his narrative from archaeological evidences. However he frequently makes a point to put down other theories in this way that pushes his point of view as 100% right while other's conclusions are cloudy-eyed. When it comes to complex work like anthropology, I f ...more
May 06, 2017 rated it liked it
"Creativity is built on interconnections of ideas, experiences, and imagination. Whether in the physics lab, artist's studio, the mechanic's garage, or even figuring out how to make a small paycheck last until the end of the month, creativity is everywhere in the human experience. We are creative every day."

The present book is a work of non-fiction focusing on how primates evolve into creativeness. The book does not focus on known creative geniuses but, in fact, ordinary pre-homo sapiens hominid
Yip Jung Hon
Sep 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: reference
The main point of the book is that human creativity and ingenuity played, and continues to play, a colossal role in shaping our lives. However, I got tangled up in the mess of explanations that had little or nothing to do with the central argument -- such as the behaviors of other animals, fascinating as they may be. This book went off track many times! Furthermore, many explanations of how our behaviors evolved were highly theoretical, and while the explanations were theoretically plausible, it ...more
D.R. Oestreicher
Oct 28, 2017 rated it liked it
Many disciplines strive to answer questions like these: What makes humans unique? Why have they been so successful? Recent progress in evolutionary biology, anthropology, and other diverse fields have provided novel suggestions, but the answer remains as elusive as ever. However, the two-decade success of Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond has made such books a genre of their own. The Creative Spark by Agustin Fuentes is one of the latest entries putting forward the premise that creative co ...more
Jun 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017
This was really solid, accessible, and interesting. I especially enjoyed the chapter on religion--it was definitely a new way for me to think about how religion (both early and the later evolution to the big three today) developed. The role of creativity, of wishing/hoping, in questioning how we came to be in this environment, really isn't an angle that I had considered, and that while god(s) may have been around since the beginning, we had to develop a certain amount before we could have that r ...more
Laura Anne
Sep 17, 2017 rated it liked it
Anthropology is the interesting part - especially at how much is guess work.
The views about the how fast humans developed due to creative cooperation is fascinating and is directly applicable to the teaching profession. It would also, in my mind, be a warning for the increasing isolation of our children and their developing brains.
The author draws a lot of broad conclusions and eventually gives you a template to live by, which was odd.
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
A very interesting and easy to follow analysis of the interconnected ways in which brain development and creativity boosted human evolution.

The different chapters discuss different aspects of humanity: language, art, spirituality, cooking, domestication and the way in which each of them changed not only humans but also their environment.

Full of interesting facts, this was a very rewarding read, and strangely enough, the narration by the author wasn't bad at all *laughs*
A well researched Book on the importance of creativity from an anthropological point of view. Fuentes presents the “creative spark” as the element that differentiates us from other creatures and helped humans become the dominant species on Earth.

It does have a "textbook" feel to it, being on the "dry' side. Someone who actually studies Anthropology might have a different opinion though.
A. J.
Aug 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
3.5 to 4 stars for a very thorough book dissecting myths and best guesses of the drivers of human (homo sapien sapien) evolution/"success." Fuentes goes through a myriad of ideas, data, educated guesses and tries to support his supposition that creativity is what separated us and led to our rapid selection as the sole hominid (who have taken over the planet like no animal before.) ...more
Sep 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was intrigued by the subject of the evolution of the human's evolution of brain capabilities and how it affected the growth of our society. This book definitely delivered in covering and explaining the timeline. I learned a lot and had a good time reading this book. I would definitely suggest this book for those who are interested in this specific component of evolution. ...more
Mar 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a good read, and an important reminder that we live on the cutting edge of existence. There are those (Eckhart Tolle, I'm making fun of you) that would have us shrink from stepping into the Unknown, that would tell us our ability to contemplate the past and create the future are burdens that are too great. That's a ridiculous notion, and this book outlines exactly why. ...more
Jul 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
fun book about the origin of human creativity and its values, interesting to think about the shared appreciation for aesthetics amonst animals, and how humanity started to create more and more complex and fancy tools. the creation of story telling acts as a binding mechnism, and the part about the domestication of wolves is cool
Dec 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
Didn't read the whole book, I skipped around to the sections that interested me. The author does an excellent job of weaving in all of the accumulated data of humankind from hundreds of thousands of years ago to the present. I found the parts on food and gender most fascinating - and it ties into my present beliefs of reality, and life. ...more
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Agustín Fuentes, trained in Zoology and Anthropology, is the Edmund P. Joyce C.S.C. Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. His research delves into the how and why of being human. Ranging from chasing monkeys in jungles and cities, to exploring the lives of our evolutionary ancestors, to examining what people actually do across the globe, Professor Fuentes is interested in both ...more

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