Lewin has undertaken a formidable task in relating the issues, personalities and technologies involved in tracing the path of human evolution. Dealing with such giants in the field of paleoanthropology as Mary and Richard Leakey, Don Johanson and others would be daunting to anyone lacking the confidence in his abilities. His aptitude is clear to the reader as he walks a tightrope in presenting the complex topics involved in this story. Nearly all the persona are still with us, and it's to Lewin's credit that he manages to compose this story without blackening anyone's reputation.
Tracing the line of our ancestors is becoming an increasingly involved process. From skimpy fossil records, scattered over remote locations around the globe, researchers are striving to understand which line depicts the path of our evolution and which branches have split off to expire without further contribution. Once the evidence lay with bones, how they were formed, changed, and contributed to resulting modern humans. Lewin recounts that the fossil record is no longer enough, and advanced technologies can tease out answers from the most subtle clue.
Lewin's account of Misia Landau's study of paleoanthropologists as perpetrators of "hero myths" is a splendid beginning. Because the basic issue is: "how did we become the way we are", then all the stories on human evolution begin at the end - today's human. The "big names" in the field each addressed this question with vigour. Each interpreted the evidence with force, but not always based on what the evidence warranted. It surely follows that "contention" is an inevitable result. There simply weren't enough fossils to realistically trace the human lineage.
Using Landau's ideas as a foundation, Lewin traces the history of thinking on human evolution through paleoanthropology's leading figures. From Raymond Dart's Taung Child through the Ramapithecus, Lewin depicts how many paths have been drawn of the human lineage by able workers. New evidence has forced constant revision. For years, the most notable revisionist was the Leakey family, Louis, Mary and Richard. The Leakey's finds kept urging the origins of humans into a remoter past. A very remote past. A past abruptly truncated by Don Johanson's find of Lucy, and by the introduction of new technologies.
Lewin takes us through the problems of dating fossils and tracing evolutionary paths with superior journalist's skill. Tracing elusive chemicals and microscopic tracks in rock crystals shouldn't make for heady reading. Lewin, following Landau, demonstrates how the science can be clouded by personalities and ambitions. The KBS Tuff chapters don't become mired in technology, but give the research a human, if not always pleasant, aspect. Lewin shows clearly how the controversies must be endured in order to present the clearest picture of how humanity evolved. This is a highly informative book, written from a fervent interest in the topic. You cannot help being drawn into the story. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]