accompanies a BBC TV series and video of the same name. As the subtitle indicates, Robin McKie's new book tells the story of human evolution
, warts and all, over the last four million years or so. From a shared ancestor with the higher apes, an upright walking ape-human in Africa, McKie takes our story through the Ice Age to the domination by modern humans.
One of the few unique attributes of humans, which sets us apart from our nearest living relatives, the chimps, is a concern with our own history. Judging by the increasing number of TV programmes, interest in our own prehistory is at last emerging from the shadow of the dinosaurs. Although there has been serious scientific investigation of this history and our ancestry for well over 150 years now, it is still a bit surprising how little we know.
The quest to discover our story is a bit like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle; but there is no picture to tell us what the finished jigsaw should look like, we have no idea how many pieces there are altogether. And the few pieces we do have are mostly incomplete. A positive consequence is that practically any new bit of evidence can change our idea of the overall picture. So, the story is constantly changing. As science editor for the British newspaper, the Observer, McKie is able to provide a very readable and up-to-date account of our remarkable story for the general reader.
One of the most fascinating questions explored by McKie concerns our relationship with the Neanderthal people, who died out 30,000 years ago. Comparison of Neanderthal DNA with that of living humans, suggests that our ancestors did not interbreed with the Neanderthals. Recently however, skeletons have been found which seem to show a complete mixture of Neanderthal and modern human (Cro-Magnon) characters. One of the great assets of ape man is that McKie uses extensive quotes from interviews with the scientists who work on human prehistory, so we get as close as possible to the bare bones of the story.
Altogether, the excellent text, art work, photos and graphics along with notes, a bibliography and index makes ape man very attractive for the general reader and allows it to stand alone from the TV series. --Douglas Palmer