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The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional

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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 what makes humans special, hiding in plain sight. Agustin Fuentes argues that your child's finger painting comes essentially from the same place as creativity in hunting and gathering millions of years ago, and throughout history in making war and peace, in intimate relationships, in shaping the planet, in our communities, and in all of art, religion, and even science.It requires imagination and collaboration. Every poet has her muse; every engineer, an architect; every politician, a constituency. The manner of the collaborations varies widely, but successful collaboration is inseparable from imagination, and it brought us everything from knives and hot meals to iPhones and interstellar spacecraft.

Weaving fascinating stories of our ancient ancestors' creativity, Fuentes finds the patterns that match modern behavior in humans and animals. This key quality has propelled the evolutionary development of our bodies, minds, and cultures, both for good and for bad. It's not the drive to reproduce; nor competition for mates, or resources, or power; nor our propensity for caring for one another that have separated us out from all other creatures.

As Fuentes concludes, to make something lasting and useful today you need to understand the nature of your collaboration with others, what imagination can and can't accomplish, and, finally, just how completely our creativity is responsible for the world we live in. Agustin Fuentes's resounding multimillion-year perspective will inspire readers and spark all kinds of creativity.

352 pages, Hardcover

Published March 21, 2017

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About the author

Agustín Fuentes

36 books68 followers
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 the big questions and the small details of what makes humans and our closest relatives tick. He has published more than 150 peer reviewed articles and chapters, authored or edited 19 books and a three-volume encyclopedia, and conducted research across four continents and two-million years of human history. His current explorations include the roles of creativity and imagination in human evolution, multispecies anthropology, evolutionary theory, and the structures of race and racism. Fuentes is an active public scientist, a well-known blogger and lecturer, and a writer and explore for National Geographic. Fuentes’ recent books include “Race, Monogamy, and other lies they told you: busting myths about human nature” (U of California), “Conversations on Human Nature(s)” (Routledge) and “The Creative Spark: how imagination made humans exceptional" (Dutton).

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5 stars
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189 (41%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 74 reviews
Profile Image for Marc.
3,109 reviews1,176 followers
July 31, 2023
I admit I am soft on authors that venture into large syntheses, but only if they are based on a really broad point of view ànd on solid (empirical) research. Apparently Agustin Fuentes is such a person. He's an American biological anthropologist associated with Princeton. What particularly charmed me is that he is averse to reductionist approaches: for each domain of human activity he discusses (dexterity, art, sex, religion, …) he has an eye for complexity and context, and he indicates nuances and also gaps in our knowledge.

Of course I am not well versed enough to be able to make a general assessment of this book, but a number of aspects that I do know something about (the evolution from hominids to humans, for instance) allow me to say that this is a very solid, up-to-date book that offers a truly global look at both the uniqueness of humans and their embeddedness in the natural environment. Yes I know, anthropocentrism has ceased to be woke for a long while now, but I think we should certainly dare to face the ways in which our species distinguishes itself – for better and for worse – from others, without proclaiming 'mankind' master of the universe. Fuentes rightly follows the middle ground, here.

In itself, the focus on creativity is not so earth-shattering and unique. As the book shows, behind that notion lies a complex interaction of consciousness, imagination, cognitive abilities, communication skills, cooperation, and so on. As a result, this book offers much more than an investigation into where and how human creativity originated (of course, the question in that formulation is nonsensical).

More in my History account on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...
Profile Image for Dannii Elle.
2,065 reviews1,474 followers
March 14, 2017
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 the earliest forms of tools for cutting. Every social group shows signs of this creative spark in their hierarchical organisation and ability to cohabitate in the same sector. The human species' entire evolutionary process has shown us that our creative spark is what has allowed us to progress and to grow.

Whilst I found the overall subject matter fascinating, I also found it dwelling on topics I didn't find of much particular interest. There was a lot of focus on the animals we descended from and I wasn't expecting such a large portion of the book to focus on this. I sometimes found myself skimming some sections until it got back to the initial subject it was focusing on.

The arguments this book raised I had often never heard phrased as such before, and it provided some insightful food for thought. This might not have been wholly what I was looking for, but it was interesting, well-structured and an in-depth insight into human evolution as I have never seen it discussed before.
Profile Image for Sense of History.
409 reviews483 followers
August 10, 2023
It is impossible to discuss the whole scope of this book. I limit myself to the introduction and one of the chapters on human evolution. Agustin Fuentes is not exactly modest to begin with: “The goal of this book is a far more nuanced, complete, and judicious account of our evolution than has previously been possible. This new story is based on a synthesis of the full range of relevant research, old and new, across evolutionary biology, genetics, primate behavior, anthropology, archaeology, psychology, neuroscience, ecology, and even philosophy.” So here we are back to the theory of evolution and the endless debates about it. The author admits that he is a supporter of the EES, the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis. It offers a different take on the classical concept of natural selection: “Rather than being a lethal competition for survival in which the biggest, baddest, and “fittest” battle it out on the playing field of life, natural selection is a filtering process that shapes variation in response to constraints and pressures in the environment.” It is therefore not surprising that Fuentes, wherever he can, puts the emphasis on the factor of cooperation in (pre)human evolution. So much so that you wonder if this book should not have been titled 'The cooperation spark', but I must admit that the aspect of creativity is certainly touched upon at least as often.

Many books on prehistorian times indulge in unbridled speculation, which is understandable given the very limited source material available to us, but which really frustrates me when done without scruples. Archaeology has progressed by leaps and bounds in recent decades (with 'ancient DNA research' being the most recent novelty), but it remains an almost impossible task to interpret the finds in a reliable manner. It’s obvious that also Fuentes has to proceed speculatively. But in his case it is done in a prudent, reasoned manner, based on concrete archaeological material and sustained by the most recent theories of the social sciences. That results in a plausible story about human evolution, with the necessary nuances and an eye for the gaps.

Fuentes even succeeds in convincingly knocking one of my admired authors, Steven Pinker, off his pedestal. Referring to The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, he shows that Pinker’s analysis of violence in prehistoric times is built on quicksand. That critique touches me, of course, but it strengthens my appreciation for Fuentes, without completely undermining Pinker's thesis. In short, this is a book that certainly provides much inspiration to better understand the earliest evolution of man.
Profile Image for Ilana.
613 reviews164 followers
April 23, 2021
Many readers say this book is a pop culture equivalent of better and more in-depth works. I found it to be an excellent overview of human history and why we take as many things as we do for granted. It examines some of the sources of many of our conflicts with nature and lays bare that denial of our own animal nature is the cause for self-hatred and countless prejudices about people.
Profile Image for Adriana.
2,672 reviews31 followers
July 4, 2017
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 as gibberish in between the super interesting facts about human evolution.
I would recommend this book even with the slightly college textbook feel. It’s incredibly informative and it does present some very interesting facts. It’s just a book that you have to be willing to dedicate all your attention to; definitely not a beach read.

Mandatory note: Got my copy thru Good Read’s First Reads.
Profile Image for Yogeeswar.
64 reviews26 followers
December 4, 2018
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.
63 reviews1 follower
January 20, 2021
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 getting into trouble for not "toeing the line". By now, near 80, I plan to never stop asking the more difficult questions. I am not presupposing that I have any special talent or knowledge, in fact, the more I read and learn, the less I am confident of any and everything. I understand that this is not a comfortable position for many to take, but it allows me complete freedom to continue seeking better answers about everything! Fuentes furthered that "Spark" with which I am either blessed or afflicted.
Profile Image for Nelson Zagalo.
Author 10 books333 followers
October 13, 2019
Não posso dizer que desgostei —do livro "The Creative Spark: How Imagination Made Humans Exceptional" (2017) — mas no final senti que nada acrescentou, que tudo não passou de um mero relembrar com um redirecionar interpretativo da História. Fuentes faz um levantamento do evolução humana, e apresenta a Criatividade como o elo que tudo fez girar, sem o qual nunca teríamos chegado à espécie dominante que hoje somos. Como premissa é interessante, o problema é que todo o levantamento feito centra-se apenas no elencar dos eventos ocorridos, sem qualquer relação direta ou particular com a criatividade, ou melhor com todo o manancial de teorias e história sobre a Criatividade. No fundo Fuentes limita-se a apresentar a evolução das capacidades cognitivas como fruto dessa suposta criatividade, tendo eu de lhe dar razão, não é algo propriamente novo, podendo ser se este tivesse apresentado variáveis, factores ou qualificativos próprios dessa tal criatividade ao longo da evolução, distintos das meras componentes de inteligência.

Julgo que o maior problema do livro assenta na quantidade de tempo investida a contar histórias sobre a evolução que estamos todos cansados de ler, e eu nem sequer sou especialista em evolucionismo. De certo modo, sofre do problema dos livros académicos que precisam de apresentar todo o lastro de onde partem, tecendo considerações, mas regendo-se especialmente por apresentar e descrever, o que para um livro de divulgação não funciona. Como se não bastasse, a concretização do livro acaba sendo parca, o recontar da evolução do ponto de vista da criatividade pouco ou nada acrescenta ao que hoje sabemos sobre a Criatividade, tendo-se perdido uma premissa que parecia ter bastante para dar.

Publicado no VI: https://virtual-illusion.blogspot.com...
Profile Image for Paul.
63 reviews6 followers
September 4, 2018
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 biological and cultural perspectives is a recurring theme in the book.

Care is taken to be sure we separate what the evidence shows from what we can or can not reasonably conclude from it including significant questions which remain unanswered. The book provides a coherent explanation of our two million year history with respect to how and why humans became so creative along with food for thought on how we can apply these perspectives to our current challenges.
Profile Image for Yenny Alvarez.
127 reviews3 followers
January 28, 2019
"La chispa creativa" es un libro de divulgación científica, combina cómodamente información de diversas ramas de las ciencias, tales como paleontología, arqueología, antropología biológica y social, química, entre otras. El análisis se centra especialmente en la creatividad humana y la cooperación, enfocando su papel en la evolución del género Homo y de nuestra propia especie, Homo sapiens sapiens. Excelente texto, transmite mucha información de forma agradable, fácil de leer, fácil de recordar; además transmite la actitud positiva que sin lugar a dudas viene de una perspectiva personal del autor, encantador. No concuerdo totalmente con esta perspectiva tan alentadora, pero me llena de motivación y un poco más de esperanza en el futuro del planeta y en la humanidad.
6 reviews
September 25, 2017
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 were bipedal. Fuentes describes how we slowly stopped dwelling in trees and abandoned walking on all fours entirely. Our brains got bigger and along with bigger brains came new creative thinking. Thoughts of using items on the ground as tools or altering them to make them useful is what distinguished our species from our primate relatives. Fuentes beautifully unfolds the tale of our evolution and special creative thinking and argues why he believes that the creativity used in a painting or sculpture comes from the hunting-gathering creativity used millions of years ago.
Because there is a lot of information to give about human evolution, the book is split into four unique parts: “Sticks and Stones”, “What’s for Dinner?”, “War and Sex”, and “The Great Works”. “Sticks and Stones” and “What’s for Dinner?” are mainly about the developing species learning to make and use tools. There are lots of references to groups of monkeys and how their social structures weren’t all that different from ours. “War and Sex” shows the delicate balance between peace and war in addition to how we stopped limiting sex to a function that was for reproductive purposes only. The last part, “The Great Works” is about religion, arts, and architecture, three things that still shape the world today.
Although The Creative Spark was certainly interesting, it lacked a captivating feel to it. I realized by reading this book that when reading nonfiction, I prefer shorter books. This book was still well-written and thought through thoroughly, but it didn’t have the compelling story that I crave as a reader. The author effectively proved his point though, and I would even say I agree with him. I learned a lot from this book and I have a more in-depth understanding of human evolution and the creative spark that set our species apart from all the others. In addition to this, the book gave me more insight into our modern world. The author wrote this book beautifully, but I realized that long books packed with heavy facts make it challenging for me to maintain my focus.
I would recommend this book to anyone who loves a long read about science, culture, humanity, and creativity. I should warn readers that there is a chapter that talks about sex, but only the science of it. For readers who prefer a story with an actual plot and characters, I would not pick up this book. Over all, The Creative Spark is innovative and any reader into science and evolution would absolutely love it.

-Alaia M.
Profile Image for Mike Putnam.
28 reviews11 followers
August 20, 2017
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 emergence of art, religion, and science in modern cultures, and engages in long-standing debates concerning the purported violent nature of our earlier ancestors.
February 4, 2018
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, but I don’t feel it’s really made any solid headway in developing its theory that creativity has shaped human existence.
Profile Image for Raejean.
155 reviews14 followers
July 13, 2018
This wasn't the kind of book I was expecting, but it was a fascinating anthropological study on human creativity.
45 reviews1 follower
August 29, 2022
Curiosidad, capacidad cognitiva, enseñanza y aprendizaje colaborativos y creatividad nos ha hecho lo que somos y debemos utilizarlos para nuestro bien y el de la Humanidad.
Profile Image for Liz Prather.
Author 3 books10 followers
June 30, 2017
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 clawless” creatures” to rise above all other species. At the outset of the book, Fuentes dispels four misconceptions about human evolution and suggests it was our hopefulness and creative spark that defined humans and allowed our kind to develop tools, figure out food storage and processes, protect our young, and grow large brains. He suggests this hopeful creativity and compassionate collaboration that is the key to human development, not a biological bent toward war and sexual dominance.

The sheer vastness of history, plus considering the lives of hominins who lived 3 million years ago spun my head at times. That Fuentes and his fellow anthropologists can unravel such luminous stories of real people from a fossil pile of bones, pot shards, and crude whittled tools is part of the joy of reading this book. Fuentes layers evidence of his compassionate creativity theory through the worlds of food, sex, war, faith, science, and art. And the best part of slogging through the epochs and ages with Fuentes is the coda chapter at the end, where he uses the evolutionary path that our ancestors forged as a beacon for future generations to follow. He lays out a set of ideas that might easily be a self-help guide for human creativity. He names failure, diversity, and conflict as keys to creative solutions. In regard to eating, he says drink lots of water, and forage wisely, eat fresh, and eat socially. (This quote made me happy: “A true Paleo diet makes no sense.” ) In regard to sex, he says “humans have an expansive range of sexual behavior, and as long as one’s own version of it does not involve harm or coercion, it’s part of the range of regular human experience.” In regard to faith, he says, “no single human tradition or institution, religious or otherwise, has all the answers or owns the right answers.”

This book is a hopeful one to read in such a dark time. Creativity and cooperation will continue to save, grow, and grace us for the next two million years.
Profile Image for Maher Razouk.
673 reviews187 followers
January 3, 2023
سواء كان الأمر يتعلق بمراوغة الحيوانات المفترسة ، أو صنع الأدوات الحجرية ومشاركتها ، أو التحكم في الحرائق ، أو سرد القصص ، أو مواجهة تغيرات المناخ ، فقد تعاون أسلافنا بشكل خلّاق للتعامل مع التحديات التي ألقى بها العالم عليهم. في البداية فعلوا ذلك بطرق كانت أكثر فاعلية بشكل هامشي من تلك الخاصة بأسلافهم ��ا قبل الإنسان والأنواع الأخرى الشبيهة بالبشر. بمرور الوقت ، توسعت هذه الميزة الصغيرة وصُقِلت ودفعتهم إلى فئة خاصة بهم.

الاكتشافات الحديثة والتحولات في نظرية التطور وعلم الأحياء - مثل الرؤى حول كيفية تأثير بيئتنا وخبراتنا الحياتية على عمل جيناتنا وأجسادنا ، إلى جانب النتائج الجديدة في السجل الأحفوري والحمض النووي القديم - غيرت القصة الأساسية للإنسانية . يوضح سرد جديد أن البشر اكتسبوا مجموعة مميزة من المهارات العصبية والفسيولوجية والاجتماعية التي مكنتنا ، بدءًا من الأيام الأولى ، من العمل معًا والتفكير معًا من أجل التعاون الهادف. تخبرنا جيناتنا جانبًا واحدًا - من القصة - فقط عن كيف أصبحنا مبدعين في مستويات متزايدة من التعقيد.

باستخدام هذه القدرات ، بدأ أسلافنا في مساعدة بعضهم البعض . بدأوا في تقاسم الطعام لأسباب غذائية واجتماعية على حد سواء وتنسيق الأنشطة بما يتجاوز ما هو مطلوب للبقاء على قيد الحياة. أصبح التصرف بطرق تفيد المجموعة ، وليس فقط الفرد أو العائلة ، أمرًا شائعًا بشكل متزايد. هذا الأساس من التعاون الإبداعي ، والقدرة على التعايش ، ومساعدة بعضنا البعض ودعم بعضنا البعض ، والتفكير والتواصل ببراعة متزايدة ، حوّلنا إلى كائنات اخترعت التقنيات التي تدعم المجتمعات واسعة النطاق ، وفي النهاية الأمم. أدى هذا الإبداع التعاوني أيضًا إلى تطوير المعتقدات الدينية والأنظمة الأخلاقية وإنتاجنا للأعمال الفنية الرائعة. بالطبع ، لقد غذى أيضًا وسهّل بشكل مأساوي قدرتنا على المنافسة بطرق أكثر فتكًا. طبقنا نفس أساليب الإبداع في قتل الأعضاء الآخرين من جنسنا كما فعلنا ذلك في التلاعب ببيئة الكواكب حتى أصبح قريباً من الدمار الكامل. ومع ذلك ، بينما يبدو واضحاً أن البشر قادرون على إحداث ضرر شديد ووحشي ، فإن ميلنا نحو التعاطف يلعب دورًا أكبر في تاريخنا التطوري.
Agustín Fuentes
The Creative Spark
Translated By #Maher_Razouk
Profile Image for Shhhhh Ahhhhh.
781 reviews21 followers
January 30, 2020
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. Humans aren't inherently war-like and violence is typically something intimate and emotional (a crime of passion rather than a premeditated act) not only today but historically. We know.

Yet, despite how much seemingly obvious material is in this book, for anyone that has spent any time at all investigating the science behind human history, it seems to synthesize it all into a new take. One which is profoundly interesting. The take is simply this: The narratives of human history are large scale misinterpretations of qualities about our species so ubiquitous that they fall utterly beneath our notice. We are so far removed from our family in the animal kingdom as a result of hundreds of thousands of years of refinement of this trait, this proclivity, that it no longer occurs to us the scale of the change from where our species began. We do not interpret even basic inventions as the profound pieces of art, craftsmanship, imagination, daring, and evolutionary success that they are, so used to miracles as we are. This book works diligently to nudge that emotional vantage point on our place in our own history and our place in the world's history into alignment with the facts available through science today.

I would recommend this as my primer of choice on the subject of human history and development. Over Pinker. Over Diamond. You read me right. WOULD RECOMMEND!
4 reviews
February 13, 2022
Intriguing topic, was really hoping to love this book, however the best I can say is I liked it. The author constantly reviews each previous chapter throughout the current chapter. Get's a bit annoying.
Profile Image for Riversue.
810 reviews11 followers
September 24, 2020
I really enjoyed this. Fuentes has a good grasp of his subject and provides a fascinating read.
Profile Image for Jerry.
202 reviews11 followers
June 30, 2017
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 selecting a rock or stick, as it is, to use.”

“The making of the Oldowan tools required a set of manipulations made possible by hands like ours and a capacity for predicting the outcomes of hitting rocks in certain ways (physics!) Most important, each group seems to have had many toolmakers (and possibly everyone in the group was a toolmaker). This suggests a process of sharing information, passing around knowledge to make and use these tools within groups and across generations – the first tangible sign of our collaborative creativity... The most common Oldowan tool is a sharp stone flake created by striking a stone core (often called a cobble) with another stone, called a hammer stone... This simple stone toolmaking process opened up a space for our ancestors to grow their brains and increase social and cognitive complexity: two core features of our evolutionary history.”

“We know the brain is exceedingly expensive to grow, using 20 to 30 percent of the body's energy during peak growth, between two and seven years of age! There had to be a pretty extreme increase in nutrition between 500,000 and 2 million years ago to power the massive increase in brain size we see in the fossils. The earliest members of the genus Homo (from around 2.3 to 1.8 million years ago) have brains in the 600- to 650-cubic-centimeter range (about 30% larger than apes of approximately the same body size); by 1.5 million years ago we see Homo erectus fossils with brains hitting 750- to 900-cubic-centimeter area; and nearly modern-size brains (more than 1000 cubic centimeters) appearing by 400,000 to 500,0000 years ago. Cleverly invented and utilized tools made the necessary increase in consumed calories possible.”

“By about 1.5 million years ago we start to see a new type of stone tool... 'Acheulean' early phase and a later phase, around 700,000 to 250,000 years ago... The early Acheulean industry produced more than just choppers and cutters, and it adopted the increasingly common method of refining tools by removing smaller flakes on both sides of the edge, thus making sharper and more resilient edges. It is in this phase of toolmaking than hand axes start to show up, and they last as part of the human tool kit almost into contemporary times.”

“Our ancestors needed meat. They'd become adept at scavenging, using stone tools to cut meat from the remains of kills left by predators, more than 2 million years ago. But passive scavenging, taking the leftover scraps, was not enough. They wanted the best, and the most, meat so they began to 'power scavenge,' getting to kills early and attempting to take them away from predators... If the cut marks from stone tools are overlaid on the predator teeth marks – that is, they cut into the teeth marks... [this is] evidence of passive scavenging. However, starting about 2 million years or so ago we start to find the reverse: the predator tooth marks and other scavenger marks sit on top of the stone tool marks... Now, we don't find any evidence early on that stone tools were used to kill the prey animal... Our ancestors were taking the kills away – they were power scavenging. Whereas passive scavenging requires some creativity, power scavenging takes the creative process to a new level. Choosing when to try to take a kill from a predator, coordinating the behavior of the group to get it done, having the right tools handy, getting the meat from the carcass in a quick and organized fashion, and getting out of there before more predators show up is no easy task.”

Around 400,000 years ago we see evidence of fire places and regular hunting.

Profile Image for Nathan Albright.
4,488 reviews110 followers
May 28, 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 a tendency that is common among contemporary authors, particularly those with scientific pretensions, to attempt to connect various aspects of creativity with evolutionary speculations (rather than recognition of the imitatio Dei of creativity).  As a result, books like this are all too common and not particularly all that worthwhile because they feign a knowledge that they do not possess and do not give credit where it is due, as a result, this book is certainly neither as a creative as it thinks it is nor does it do a good job at capturing the nature of creativity.

The author begins this book with an overture that talks about the trumpeting of creativity, something that is fairly common.  After that the author looks at the supposed "first creativity" of prehistoric mankind with a discussion of creative primates (1) and humanity's place as the last hominem standing (2).  The author speculates on how humanity got to be creative on making weapons like knives (3), the creativity involved with early killing and eating (4), the beauty of standing in line (5), and the way that humanity accomplished food security (6).  It must be admitted that not all human beings at present have food security thanks to the insecurity of their political leadership, though.  The author then turns his attention to how human beings shaped a world through war and sex, talking about the creation of war and peace (7), the immense human creativity when it comes to sex (8), something the author is quite disgusting about.  After that the author turns his attention to three aspects of human creativity that supposedly created the universe, namely religion (9), art (10), and science (11).  It is clear where the author considers truth to lie based on the order he talks about such matters, giving religion short shift as is so often the case among writers who fancy themselves to be scientific.

We can learn about others to the extent that they see certain things as creative.  The author has a great deal of interest in evolutionary speculation and trying to divine truth from contentious bones and assumed prehistory.  He writes a great deal about sex, and fails to understand the nature of moral pollution that we see in the sexuality of human beings (and animals) around us at the present time.  The author also clearly is not someone who views himself as being religion even if his view of science is as totalizing a worldview as any religious worldview he understands only in the shallowest of evolutionary perspectives.  Obviously, given this lack of understanding, the author is going to bring with him defective views on art and morality, which shows though this book.  Admittedly, this book is somewhat entertaining, but in the way that monkeys throwing garbage around is entertaining, not in the sort of entertaining that helps people become better or that genuinely explains how it is that human beings acquired creativity.  One is not going to find such an answer looking down rather than looking up, after all.
Profile Image for Iza October.
113 reviews3 followers
October 31, 2019
(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 jump from our early ancestors' stone tools to modern technology is huge, but in bridging this gap, Fuentes takes readers through a re-creation of our potential evolution and ponders what key moment could illustrate the beginnings of human inspiration. While the details are informed by science and extensive research, Fuentes presents his theories in a captivating narrative that feels like an intriguing mystery.

Though all primates develop creative solutions to address complex social problems, no other group of animals is as ingenious. Creativity and innovation are constantly driving the success of human life, and have been for thousands of years. This includes how early Homo made and used tools--acts that require coordination and skill--to more modern inventions of science, religion and art. Fuentes demonstrates that even the most ordinary of occurrences, such as how people agree to basic rules like standing in line at the grocery store, are a marvel. No other creature queues for food. Behind it is a long evolutionary history that he unravels with delight. To look up from The Creative Spark after finishing the last page is to see the world in new, complex ways. Fuentes's work adds depth to our reality and fosters a deep respect and appreciation for the many forms creativity takes.
Profile Image for Tom Roth.
88 reviews
November 13, 2018
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 enjoyed the Fuentes' rebutal of Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Ours Nature, and I think that chapter could be a book of its own. Because it tries to explain so much, some of the information is very generalistic. Therefore, I think the book will be a bit boring for most people with a background in biological anthropology.

My final point of criticism is the last, concluding chapter. While the book is about explaining the role of creativity in human evolution, this last chapter is about how we should live our live and be creative. This chapter is a complete misfit with the rest of the book, unfortunately. It gives me advice about what my diet should look like (not too much animal protein, but not vegetarian because it may be unhealthy). I wonder why Fuentes included this kind of information in the book. He is not a nutritional scientist, and it really does not make sense in relation to the other chapters.
Profile Image for Misa.
72 reviews9 followers
February 12, 2020
[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 inclusion seem rather pointless - I felt that the arguments could have been made more succinct with better use of these examples.

There were points made at the end of the book with concerns for the future and more time could have been spent exploring this instead of having them presented under blunt headings in dot point form; some of these felt very relevant and would have made for a more thought-provoking discussion compared with the majority of the book, which dragged a lot of the time. Also, this book was not free from subjective generalisations which I particularly dislike in non-fiction, but the tone was pleasant on the whole.

I enjoyed the overall reading experience despite the book having issues with flow and coherency particularly towards the end, however, I have to say that I didn’t really learn anything new here. The audiobook was well narrated by the author.

Profile Image for Jude Shandiin .
19 reviews
January 22, 2021
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 feel like we're always learning more. In the end we are left to draw hazy conclusions from limited evidence. I think I'd have been able to engage more with the book if he said 'this is what I think,' more or 'analysis of existing evidence'. Instead, it felt like reading a click-bait article entitled "10 things you thought about human evolution that are WRONG, number 4 will SHOCK you."
It was cool to read about early homo sapien's tool making though. I also loved the sections on our hypothesized co-evolution with wolves and the studies about primate hunting patterns (most consistent hunting for food is done by females, males tend to 'hunt' in groups more for sport).
Profile Image for Diego.
244 reviews30 followers
May 6, 2017
"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 hominids take center stage for most of the book.

The theories and information shared on this book are, without a doubt, fascinating; and yet, they were not what I was expecting when I started reading it. It takes too long for it to reach more interesting aspects such as religion and art. I actually skimmed through a couple of sections because I felt cheated in a way whenever I read more about how humans developed tools and how they raised their offspring.

It is an interesting read but be sure to know what you're getting yourself into when you pick this one up.
Profile Image for fff.
46 reviews36 followers
September 25, 2017
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 felt nebulous and ungrounded in reality.

The worse thing is: the book read like a historical account of the evolution of various aspects of human life (sex, art, science, and society). Most readers already know that. There is nothing groundbreaking in this book, it did not overhaul current models of evolution (as it claimed it would in the first chapter), and it did not place any new insights on the table. It is basically a 280+ page account of what readers already know about how societies and humans develop. This is not a book worth spending time getting through.
Profile Image for D.R. Oestreicher.
Author 8 books45 followers
October 28, 2017
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 collaboration is the answer.

This is a book for the hardcore non-fiction reader. It drifts across the line separating popular science and scholarly science, thirty-three pages of notes for 292 pages of text. If you really love the premise, the first six chapters, 126 pages might the perfect place to stop. You are human; we are collaborating; be creative.

For a more detailed review: http://1book42day.blogspot.com/2017/1...
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