W.W. Howells Book Award

2022 note from President Holly Dunsworth:

We are currently updating this page. In the meantime, please direct all book related queries to Professor Karen Rosenberg. 

Nominate a book

The BAS strongly encourages nominations of books for the W.W. Howells Book Award in Biological Anthropology. The Howells Award was inaugurated in 1993 in honor of professor emeritus William White Howells of the Peabody Museum (Harvard). Howells is a past president of the American Anthropological Association and a distinguished scholar who has published several landmark books in physical anthropology.

The award is given by the Biological Anthropology Section of the AAA to honor a book in the area of biological anthropology. Books may be single or multiply-authored, but not edited. They should have been published within the last 3-4 years, and once nominated will remain on the list for 3-5 years depending on their date of publication. Nominated works should represent the highest standard of scholarship and readability. They should inform a wider audience of the significance of physical or biological anthropology in the social and biological sciences, and demonstrate a biocultural perspective.

Please send your nominating letters and either copies of or references to published reviews to Karen Rosenberg, Chair of the W.W. Howells Book Award Committee. Nominations must be received by February 1 to be considered in that year.

History & How to Donate to the Howells Fund

The W.W. Howells Prize was established in 1993 to honor William White Howells, then emeritus professor of anthropology at Harvard University. The prize is in recognition of the important contributions Professor Howells made to biological anthropology and anthropology in general. He served as President of the American Anthropological Association (1951) and as Editor of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (1949-1954) and received the American Anthropological Association Distinguished Service Award (1978) and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists Darwin Award (1992). Professor Howells was an outstanding mentor to graduate and undergraduate students and a dedicated scholar who excelled at introducing the public to biological anthropology. One of the intents of the Howells Prize is to encourage a high standard of writing and scholarship as exemplified by Professsor Howells’ work; thus the award is presented to books that represent the highest standard of scholarship and readability and that inform a wider audience of the significance of biological anthropology.

To our knowledge the Howells Prize is the only award that specifically honors books in biological anthropology. As such it is a unique opportunity to recognize the exceptional work of our colleagues.

The W.W. Howells Award is supported by income from an endowment to the American Anthropological Association for the purpose of this award. However, this income has been reduced by recent low interest rates which threaten the long-term viability of the award. The Biological Anthropology Section of the AAA is undertaking this fundraising drive to increase the Howells Endowment Fund so that we can better honor both the memory of an eminent biological anthropologist and the outstanding work that biological anthropologists are doing today. Our goal in this drive is to raise $10,000, all of which will be added to the fund, to increase the income it generates. Your generous donation will help us reach this goal. Checks for contributions should be made out to the American Anthropological Association with the notation Howells Fund in the memo line. Contributions should be sent to the Howells Award, American Anthropological Association, 2300 Clarendon Blvd., Suite 1301, Arlington, VA 22201.

You can make a donation by [2022 note: stay tuned for a pdf form to be hyperlinked here].

Thank you for your contribution to the W.W. Howells Award
The AAA is a non-profit 501(c) (3) organization and your gift may be tax deductible according to law. Please consult your personal tax advisor for appropriate deductibility. FEIN 53-0246691

Previous Winners






Augustin Fuentes
Race, Monogamy, and Other Lies They Told You: Busting Myths about Human Nature. University of California Press. 2015.

“There are three major myths of human nature: humans are divided into biological races; humans are naturally aggressive; men and women are truly different in behavior, desires, and wiring. In an engaging and wide-ranging narrative Agustín Fuentes counters these pervasive and pernicious myths about human behavior. Tackling misconceptions about what race, aggression, and sex really mean for humans, Fuentes incorporates an accessible understanding of culture, genetics, and evolution requiring us to dispose of notions of “nature or nurture.” Presenting scientific evidence from diverse fields, including anthropology, biology, and psychology, Fuentes devises a myth-busting toolkit to dismantle persistent fallacies about the validity of biological races, the innateness of aggression and violence, and the nature of monogamy and differences between the sexes. A final chapter plus an appendix provide a set of take-home points on how readers can myth-bust on their own. Accessible, compelling, and original, this book is a rich and nuanced account of how nature, culture, experience, and choice interact to influence human behavior.” Source


Lynne A. Isbell
The Fruit, the Tree, and the Serpent: Why We See So Well.
Harvard University Press. 2009.
The anthropologist and animal behaviorist Lynne Isbell elegantly posits here that the human facility with language evolved largely thanks to snakes. Coolly testing hypotheses and assessing evidence across an impressive range of disciplines—neuroscience, primate behavior, paleogeography, molecular biology, and genetics—she argues that our distant primate relatives developed their exceptional ability to see and identify ‘objects that were close by and in front of them’ in order to detect and avoid what was almost certainly their most dangerous predator—the snake… And so, Isbell avers, Genesis has it right: the snake made us human.” – From the review in The Atlantic

Alan G. Morris
Missing & Murdered: A Personal Adventure in Forensic Anthropology.
Zebra Press. 2012.
“a fascinating introduction to old, and not so old, bones.” – Kathy Reichs, best selling author, professor of anthropology and executive producer for the TV series, Bones.

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy
Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding.
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2009.
Hrdy presents her hypothesis systematically and painstakingly, chapter by chapter, so that the result is compellingly plausible.” – William McGrew, American Scientist

Wenda Trevathan
Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives: How Evolution Has Shaped Women’s Health.
Oxford University Press. 2010.
“The casual but scientifically assertive tone of this book renders it particularly useful for students and novices in the field of evolutionary biology and anthropology. The author tackles complex concepts by providing basic theoretical foundations, followed by discussions of the issues, and, on occasion, a suggested ‘solution’. A well-reasoned balance is achieved between scientific and social complexity and the ‘bigger picture’.” – Anne L. Grauer, Department of Anthropology, Loyola University Chicago

Bernard Chapais
Primeval Kinship: How Pair-Bonding Gave Birth to Human Society.
Harvard University Press. 2008.
“Primeval Kinship is a treasure chest of comparative research on human and primate social structure, organization, and behavior. This book will reignite and reinvigorate discussions of the evolution of primate and human society. It will be a model from which future social and physical anthropologists, primatologists, and social scientists can build.” –Robert Wald Sussman, Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Sciences, Washington University in St. Louis

Alan Walker and Pat Shipman
The Ape in the Tree: An Intellectual and Natural History of Proconsul.
Harvard University Press. 2005.
From Robert Proctor’s Science book review: “The Ape in the Tree is a fine account of new ways to puzzle out the behaviors of fossilized animals from odd scraps of bones.” –Carel van Schaik and Perry van Duijnhoven

Carel van Schaik
Among Orangutans: Red Apes and the Rise of Human Culture.
The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. 2004
From Scientific American review: In this book, Carel van Schaik, a highly regarded Dutch primatologist now at Duke University, concludes that “intelligence is … socially constructed during development.” This won’t surprise you–until you realize that he is referring not to humans but to orangutans, the large red apes of south Asia.

Nina Jablonski
Skin: A Natural History.
University of California Press. 2006.
This book takes a new look at the evolution of skin focusing on human sweatiness, its range of coloration, and cultural decorations of the skin.

Donna L. Hart and Robert W. Sussman
Man the Hunted: Primates, Predators and Human Evolution.
Westview Press (Perseus Book Group). 2005.
This book dispels the myth of “man the hunter” and replaces it with the theory and supporting evidence that early hominini were very vulnerable to predation.

Christopher Beard
The Hunt for the Dawn Monkey: Unearthing the Origins of Monkeys, Apes and Humans.
University of California Press. 2004.
Beard’s discovery in China of the earliest known primates is reshaping critical debates about the geographic origins of anthropoids and humans. Among his many accomplishments, Dr. Beard was a recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” award in 2000.

John Relethford
Reflections of Our Past : How Human History is Revealed in Our Genes.
Westview Press. 2003.
“An important contribution to the literature on human origins.” – Booklist

Jonathan Marks
What It Means to be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes.
University of California. 2002.
“A trenchant assault on genetic reductionism and a spirited call for a more critical science…” – American Scientist 

Kenneth A. R. Kennedy
God-Apes and Fossil Men Paleoanthropology of South Asia.
University of Michigan Press. 2000.
“Kennedy shines in his detailed discussion of the history of race and the traditional three races of India… I would consider this book a must for all anthropologists with an interest in Asia and the roots of European civilization.” – Donald Tyler,  American Journal of Human Biology, Volume 13, No. 6

2000mother nature
Sarah Hrdy
Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species.
Pantheon. 1999.
“Mother Nature is a stunning achievement. The book reveals the highest scholarship with an unparalleled breadth in the use of the comparative method.  Hrdy expertly uses the comparative method. Hrdy expertly uses the comparative method to illustrate her points by contrasting biology and behavior across species and orders, and by making full use of human variation both through evolutionary and historical time and across space and cultures. This book is a very accessible, scientific discussion of the evolutionary history of maternal care written by a first rate scientist.” – Jane B. Lancaster, Editor of Human Nature

Ian Tattersall
Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness.
Harcourt Brace. 1998.
“Since Darwin wrote The Descent of Man in 1871, many evolutionary constructions have been conceived, usually bearing the features of their cultural and social contexts. With Ian Tattersall’s smoothly developed argument about the evolution of distinctively human nature, cultural belief plays a decisive role.” – The New York Times Book Review, Robert J. Richards

1997race human evol
Milford Wolpoff and Rachel Caspari
Race and Human Evolution: A Fatal Attraction.
Simon & Schuster. 1997.
The authors of Race and Human Evolution are ardent multiregionalists, and their book is the first comprehensive exposition of that theory for a general audience… a spirited book, at times personal and combative, always earnest and thorough. They leave no doubt where they stand: “We predict we will never find a cradle of modern humanity, because a single source for modern humans does not exist.” – The New York Times Book Review, John Noble Wilford

James W. Wood
Dynamics of Human Reproduction: Biology, Biometry, and Demography.
Aldine de Gruyter. 1994.
“A ‘must-have’ reference text for any researcher interested in the biocultural determinants of human fertility and is appropriate as a textbook at the graduate level. I expect it to remain a standard in the literature of demographic anthropology and reproductive ecology for many years to come.” – American Journal of Physical Anthropology

Matt Cartmill
A View to a Death in the Morning: Hunting and Nature through History.
Harvard University Press. 1993.
This book is an elegant, erudite, stimulating essay on the history of Western ideas about humans and nature.” – Adam Kuper, Nature

William McGrew
Chimpanzee Material Culture: Implications for Human Evolution.
Cambridge University Press. 1992.
“…an important contribution both to our understanding of chimpanzee behavior (it provides the first critical synthesis of a widely scattered literature of very variable quality) and to our understanding of the process of hominization. It will be particularly valuable if it persuades social scientists to take the work of primatologists and other animal biologists more seriously.” – R.I.M. Dunbar, Nature

Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth
How Monkeys See the World: Inside the Mind of Another Species.
University of Chicago Press. 1990.
“A fascinating intellectual odyssey and a superb summary of where science stands.” – Geoffrey Cowley, Newsweek