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The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution

The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution [Kindle Edition]

Henry Gee
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Product Description


"With a delightfully irascible sense of humor, Henry Gee reflects on our origin and all the misunderstanding that we impose on it. The Accidental Species is an excellent primer on how-and how not-to think about human evolution." -Carl Zimmer, author of A Planet of Viruses "The Accidental Species is at once an eminently readable and important book. Employing years of experience, sharp wit, and great erudition, Henry Gee reveals how most of our popular conceptions of evolution are wrong. Gee delights in shedding us of our assumptions to reveal how science has the power to inform, enlighten, and ultimately surprise." -Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish"

Product Description

The idea of a missing link between humanity and our animal ancestors predates evolution and popular science and actually has religious roots in the deist concept of the Great Chain of Being. Yet, the metaphor has lodged itself in the contemporary imagination, and new fossil discoveries are often hailed in headlines as revealing the elusive transitional step, the moment when we stopped being “animal” and started being “human.” In The Accidental Species, Henry Gee, longtime paleontology editor at Nature, takes aim at this misleading notion, arguing that it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how evolution works and, when applied to the evolution of our own species, supports mistaken ideas about our own place in the universe.
Gee presents a robust and stark challenge to our tendency to see ourselves as the acme of creation. Far from being a quirk of religious fundamentalism, human exceptionalism, Gee argues, is an error that also infects scientific thought. Touring the many features of human beings that have recurrently been used to distinguish us from the rest of the animal world, Gee shows that our evolutionary outcome is one possibility among many, one that owes more to chance than to an organized progression to supremacy. He starts with bipedality, which he shows could have arisen entirely by accident, as a by-product of sexual selection, moves on to technology, large brain size, intelligence, language, and, finally, sentience. He reveals each of these attributes to be alive and well throughout the animal world—they are not, indeed, unique to our species.

The Accidental Species combines Gee’s firsthand experience on the editorial side of many incredible paleontological findings with healthy skepticism and humor to create a book that aims to overturn popular thinking on human evolution—the key is not what’s missing, but how we’re linked.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 658 KB
  • Print Length: 224 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press (15 Oct 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S. r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00F19LJY6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #146,409 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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More About the Author

Henry Gee is a longtime editor at the prestigious science journal 'Nature'. His books encompass the depths of time and the outermost reaches of space, whether in non-fiction (DEEP TIME, JACOB'S LADDER, THE SCIENCE OF MIDDLE-EARTH) or fiction (THE SIGIL TRILOGY, BY THE SEA.) His latest book, THE ACCIDENTAL SPECIES: MISUNDERSTANDINGS OF HUMAN EVOLUTION is already attracting rave reviews. "If you only read one book on human evolution, or indeed one book on evolution, make it this one," writes Ted Nield (SUPERCONTINENT; INCOMING). "Quite simply, the best book ever written about the fossil record and humankind's place in evolution," adds John Gribbin, author of The Monkey Puzzle and In Search of Schrödinger's Cat. Author photo - John Gilbey

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're all in this together... 7 Dec 2013
I grew up in the fifties, and by the time I'd gotten into high school, I was already well aware of the ubiquitous artist's timeline rendering of the human march of evolution, left to right: amphibian emerging from the slime at the left, to proudly march at the far right in almost naked glory as a recognizable man. The Crown of Creation.

Taking that incredibly self-absorbed view to task is the nature of Henry Gee's astounding and brilliant treatise, The Accidental Species. This is a book, destined for readers of a scientific bent, to be sure, but it is also at times very, very funny and almost spiritual in its evocation of the interlinked family of all living things.

Recent anthropological discoveries and recovered fossil evidence has supported Dr. Gee's position that Charles Darwin's work has been misapplied and misunderstood categorically by science and education for a very long time. The specific area he addresses is the evolution of man, which now appears to resemble less the time-honored timeline rendering, and more the tangled branches of a growing tree. He often refers to Darwin's depiction of evolution, not as a single plane of ordered existence, but more, "A tangled bank", where many lives evolve according to their own needs, simultaneously and continuously visible and invisible. It leaves a much muddier, more complex model than the one I was taught from.

Henry Gee, an editor at Nature magazine, has written about his facility with new information, often receiving word of a discovery or a data model long before its publication to the community at large. He has a solid track record of sorting those findings which are critically important from those that simply add to the body of data.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Evolution Book that is Appealing to All 10 Nov 2013
I spend much of my time reading cosmology and physics books, so I have been aware for awhile that I need to delve into the area of Evolution, where I have been quite deficient in learning the basics. I just needed the right author, with right book, who could provide the concepts explained with humor and a level of understanding that would appeal to a novice like myself. I found Henry Gee`s The Accidental Species. I had no idea that Darwin never mentioned the word Evolution, in his book, The Origin of the Species, or that there was an amazing discovery in 2004 of a meter high hominin, in the cave of Flores, that they eventually nicknamed The Hobbit after the Tolkien creature because of his size. These are some of the amazing facts and anecdotes, that you will find, laced with humor and wit throughout the book. We learn, in the book, about controversies regarding the accuracy of fossils and the discussions about whether our genetic origins came from Africa or not. I do not want to provide any more spoilers, so please get the best book on the market relating to evolution. If you are a novice or just want be more informed as a scientist then this is the book for you. I have read the book and I am now waiting for the movie.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By B. M. Clegg TOP 1000 REVIEWER
This is one the best popular science books of the year, so I feel a touch of regret that it has been published by an academic press. Don't get me wrong, Chicago University Press has done an excellent job with it - the book is a thing of beauty - but there are two ways this can get in the way of a wide readership. One is that people might be put off because academic books tend to be stuffy and dull. This one isn't. And secondly because it is rather expensive.

I'd love to see this book as a mass market paperback because I want lots of people to read it. In fact I'd go so far as to say that a copy should be given to every 16-year-old. Not because it's aimed at younger readers, but because this is the best book I've ever read for putting evolution into perspective, and for giving a real understanding of the nature of the fossil record and what it can and can't tell us, not to mention explaining the power and limitations of science.

Henry Gee shows eloquently why the concept of a `missing link', while attractive to journalists, is just wrong - along with those popular drawings that have an apparent evolutionary progression from an ape-like creature, through a cave man, to a modern person. With the enthusiasm of someone who knows his bones firsthand, Gee tells us about what we do know from fossil remains, particularly in early and pre-humans, but also about the huge gaps. He explains clearly and precisely just what evolution is - and what it isn't. And he gives short shrift to creationists who have in the past quote-mined his books to give `evidence' of how `even evolutionists' say that evolution is wrong.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellence. 6 Feb 2014
By Noosh
The book is very easy to read and I would urge anyone in school struggling to come to terms with evolution to give this a read as it is the most concise way I have seen it explained. Highly recommended to curious, smart-thinking folks.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
With characteristic wit and style, Gee demolishes the simple-minded notion that the evolution of humans was a process of linear progression. Instead he presents a compelling account of, perhaps paradoxically, the extreme sparseness of the fossil record (these days complemented by our deep understanding of genetics and genomics) and the rich complexities of adaptation through natural selection of variation. Accessible to interested teenagers and above, I would say.
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