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August 2015 Vol. 52 No. 12

University of Chicago Press

The following review appeared in the August 2015 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Science & Technology
Biology - Zoology

2014-20610 CIP
Whitehead, Hal. The cultural lives of whales and dolphins, by Hal Whitehead and Luke Rendell. Chicago, 2015. 417p bibl index afp ISBN 9780226895314, $35.00; ISBN 9780226187426 ebook, $21.00.

This extremely well-written book is an exemplary attempt at peacemaking in the so-called culture wars.  Whitehead (Dalhousie Univ., Nova Scotia) and Rendell (Univ. of St. Andrews, Scotland) provide a clear historical perspective on the study of animal culture, up-to-date literature reviews on behavioral innovations and traditions in non-human animals, comprehensive classifications of social mechanisms (i.e., the building blocks of culture), and careful critical analyses of the similarities and differences between human and animal cultures.  The title of the book does not give a full appreciation of the long-term and fascinating research by Whitehead and Rendell.  The authors’ insight and open-mindedness allow them to successfully address key definitional issues (e.g., ethnic markers, social norms); discuss the strengths and weaknesses of several methodological approaches to studying culture (e.g., method of elimination, experimental designs); link brain size, cognition, communication, and sociability; and explain the (mal)adaptive consequences and evolutionary implications of cultural transmission (e.g., gene-culture coevolution).  The authors emphasize the role of the aquatic environment in driving cultural evolution.  Spiced up with excellent quotations, this book will resonate well with a broad readership, from cetacean lovers to students of animal behavior to the general public.

--J-B. Leca, University of Lethbridge

Summing Up: Essential. All readers.