cover of book

Becoming Human: A Theory of Ontogeny
by Michael Tomasello
Harvard University Press, 2019
eISBN: 978-0-674-98865-1 | Cloth: 978-0-674-98085-3 | Paper: 978-0-674-24828-1
Library of Congress Classification BF713+
Dewey Decimal Classification 155


Winner of the William James Book Award
Winner of the Eleanor Maccoby Book Award

“A landmark in our understanding of human development.”
—Paul Harris, author of Trusting What You’re Told

“Magisterial…Makes an impressive argument that most distinctly human traits are established early in childhood and that the general chronology in which these traits appear can…be identified.”
Wall Street Journal

Virtually all theories of how humans have become such a distinctive species focus on evolution. Becoming Human looks instead to development and reveals how those things that make us unique are constructed during the first seven years of a child’s life.

In this groundbreaking work, Michael Tomasello draws from three decades of experimental research with chimpanzees, bonobos, and children to propose a new framework for psychological growth between birth and seven years of age. He identifies eight pathways that differentiate humans from their primate relatives: social cognition, communication, cultural learning, cooperative thinking, collaboration, prosociality, social norms, and moral identity. In each of these, great apes possess rudimentary abilities, but the maturation of humans’ evolved capacities for shared intentionality transform these abilities into uniquely human cognition and sociality.

“How does human psychological growth run in the first seven years, in particular how does it instill ‘culture’ in us? …Most of all, how does the capacity for shared intentionality and self-regulation evolve in people? This is a very thoughtful and also important book.”
—Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution

“Theoretically daring and experimentally ingenious, Becoming Human squarely tackles the abiding question of what makes us human.”
—Susan Gelman

“Destined to become a classic. Anyone who is interested in cognitive science, child development, human evolution, or comparative psychology should read this book.”
—Andrew Meltzoff

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