Erika Lorraine Milam. Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America. 408 pp., 33 b/w illus., app., notes, index. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019.
“Human nature” is nearly as pliable and ambiguous a term as “Cold War” but Erika Lorraine Milam pins down these slippery concepts in Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America. Milam successfully crafts an important analysis of the science of human nature that crystallized around questions of aggression in post-war America. Milam’s “Cold War” is less of an international geopolitical event than it is a setting in which US governmental concerns about American society intersected with and funded the work of anthropological experts studying the origins of human behavior. Against this backdrop, Milam sets out to discover how questions of human behavior became important and how the science of evolution gained popular explanatory power to answer them. In Creatures of Cain, Milam examines American social science after World War II and its attempts to make sense of humanity’s species-level relationship with violence. This book spans the late 1950s and the emergence of the “killer ape” hypothesis and ends in the 1980s with the rise of sociobiological explanations for violence.Continue reading