by Colin Renfrew
March 7th, 2010
Subtitled "The Making of the Human Mind", this book turned out to be a great disappointment. I have greatly enjoyed Mr. Renfrew's other books, but this one is flat. This appears to be part of a big series of books being put together by Modern Library, and apparently they went to Mr. Renfrew with a lucrative offer: write an overview of archaeology. He wrote their book but it's uninspired; Mr. Renfrew seems altogether bored with the effort. Reading it is almost as much drudgery as it must have been for him to write it. The first four chapters comprise a history of archaeology as a scholarly discipline; they seem tacked onto the book, as if one of the editors wanted more pages or insisted that this material be included. The remaining chapters trace one of Mr. Renfrew's abiding interests, cognitive archaeology. But the material strikes me as a recitation of material rather than an inspired thesis, seeking completeness rather than logical cohesion. He is of course the complete master of the material, and for that I give him credit, and there are a few flickers of excitement, especially when he talks about Teotihuacan. But otherwise this reads like a book written out of a sense of duty, not out of intellectual excitement. I heartily recommend any of Mr. Renfrew's other books, but I do not recommend this one.