On the Origin of Tepees



On the Origin of Tepees is my first book.

US and Canada cover

ISBN: 978-1-4391-1023-2

Publisher: Free Press (North America)

Facebook page: here

Twittering book: here


Here’s the jacket blurb and some reviews:

Why do some ideas spread, while others die-off? Are they subject to a kind of “survival of the fittest”? And if so, does that explain why our species is so different from the rest of life on Earth?

Throughout history, we humans have prided ourselves on our capacity to have ideas, but perhaps this pride is misplaced.  Perhaps ideas have us!  After all, ideas do appear to have a life of their own.  And it is they, not us, that benefit most when they are spread.  Biologists have already come to the opinion that our genes are selfish entities, tricking us into helping them to reproduce. Is it the same with our ideas?

Jonnie Hughes, a science writer and documentary filmmaker, investigates the evolution of ideas in order to find out. Adopting the role of a cultural Charles Darwin, and with his brother in tow, Hughes heads off across the Midwest on a cultural Galapagos trip, venturing out to observe first-hand, the natural history of ideas – the patterns of their variation, inheritance and selection in the cultural landscape. In place of Darwin’s oceanic islands, Hughes visits the “mind-islands” of Native American tribes. Instead of finches, Hughes searches for signs of natural selection among the tepees.

With a knack for finding the humor in the quirks of the American cultural landscape, Hughes takes us on a Bill Bryson like tour—from the Mall of America in Minneapolis to what he calls the “maul” of America Pokies, Custer’s last stand—stopping at roadsides, discoursing on the way we select sandwiches, the shape of cowboy hats, the evolution of barn roofs, the wording of jokes, the wearing of moustaches and, of course, the differences between the tepees of different tribes. En route, he reveals, in a most original, witty and engaging manner, a startling and fresh way of understanding both our ideas and ourselves.




Ambitious and original. Unlike the vast majority of recent writings about memes, this is a serious book that does “add to the theory”. It belongs on the reading list of anybody who hopes to use Richard Dawkins’s insight into memes, offering a serious scientific account of cultural change and innovation. That it is entertaining is a bonus, not a substitute for substance.”

-Professor Daniel Dennett, author of Darwin’s Dangerous Ideas, in New Scientist, Letters


“This book is a delight. At last! Not only has Hughes adopted a meme’s-eye view of the world but he has woven the insights of this view into a funny and endearing travel tale. Anyone interested in memes and the evolution of culture is bound to enjoy it. Hughes’ hilarious travels through the American west do for culture what Darwin did for biology. I will buy a copy for both my meme-loving and my meme-hating friends.”

-Professor Susan Blackmore, author of The Meme Machine

“Part anthropology, part history, with a sprinkling of Bill Bryson-like memoir, On the Origin of Tepees strips the subject of density with witty storytelling and one-liners. He dabbles in linguistics, biology, geology, and more.”

-Psychology Today

“Brisk, personal, and pleasurable. An impressively succinct and readable taxonomy of human culture.”

-starred review, Publishers Weekly