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The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis: Most Credible Theory of Human Evolution [Paperback]

Elaine Morgan
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

9 Sep 1999
Why are we the only members of the ape family who are hairless, walk upright, shed tears and communicate by a verbal language? Why are human babies plump, when the infants of other apes are skinny? Why is our sexual behaviour different? In the first full discussion of a theory propounded by the late Sir Alister Hardy, Elaine Morgan points to the dramatic similarities between ourselves and the aquatic mammals - whales, dolphins, seals, sea otters - and argues that the only theory of evolution which explains these satisfactorily is that we, alone among the primates, have returned to life on land after a period of adaptation to an aquatic environment. We were once aquatic apes.

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The Aquatic Ape Hypothesis: Most Credible Theory of Human Evolution + The Descent of Woman + The Scars of Evolution/What Our Bodies Tell Us about Human Origins
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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Souvenir Press Ltd; New Ed edition (9 Sep 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0285635182
  • ISBN-13: 978-0285635180
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 21.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 242,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Elaine Morgan was born in 1920 and after studying at Oxford University worked as a television writer. In 1972 she published The Descent of Woman suggesting that human evolution had an aquatic origin. This idea was attacked at first by scientists but the book became an international bestseller. In the decades since Morgan's aquatic ape hypothesis has gained widespread support.

Product Description


"Controversial but highly attractive claims about human evolution
and our human love of water and the sea." -- Margaret Drabble

"It was one of the most outrageous, improbable evolutionary ideas
ever proposed... now the idea... is becoming respectable."
-- 'The Observer'

"More scientific than Genesis, more up to date than Darwin, more
fun than Ardrey... she writes better than Desmond Morris." -- 'Sunday Telegraph'

"Part feminist polemic, part evolutionary bombshell." -- 'The Guardian'

"She is more scientific than Genesis, more up to date than
Darwin... and she writes better than Desmond Morris."
-- 'Sunday Telegraph'

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
4.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Controversial theory of early ape-man evolution 15 May 2009
By Peter Durward Harris #1 HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
People who don't believe in Darwin's theory of evolution have a simple answer to all questions about why humans are markedly different from all other animals - God created everything. To people who believe in Darwin's theory and are interested, the questions pertaining to human evolution are intriguing and controversial. The aquatic ape hypothesis is very controversial within the scientific community but, as the author explains, it deserves serious consideration.

Most of us who believe in Darwin accept that there was once a species of ape living in Africa from which all people are descended as well as all modern apes such as gorillas and chimpanzees. Looking at the modern apes, we can observe some similarities with ourselves but there are also many obvious differences. Those apes are much hairier than us and often spend their time in trees. When they walk on the ground, they generally do so on four legs rather than two. Apes use body language far more than we do, yet our faces are much more expressive than theirs. Our noses are also very different from theirs. There are less obvious but equally important differences such as the location of the larynx. Of course, there are noticeable differences between different species of apes, but they have more in common with each other than any of them do with us.

The author suggests that there may have been a time when our ancestors were forced to adapt to a semi-aquatic lifestyle. On that basis, the likeliest scenario is that we are descended from a group of apes then living in Africa near the Red Sea, maybe around six or seven million years ago. The author doesn't mention the Sahara desert but I know from other sources that it is of more recent origin, maybe three or four million years old, so the region was very different before that.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A not-very-impartial review. 4 Mar 2000
Elaine wrote this book to update the theory with the latest findings, and to answer many of the criticisms levelled at the hypothesis.
I, personally, think she did a good job. It's her most professionally laid out work to date. It's the best book on the topic that I know of. But then, I would say that - I'm her grandson :-)
I was reading her books back when I was eight and younger, and finding them fascinating reading even then. If you don't buy, then I can recommend them as good books to get from a library, too. At the very least, they'll make you think.
What's it about? The hypothesis that the differences in human bodies from those of the apes can be explained by our spending some time in the water after the split from the apes. This may even have caused the split.
Why is it better than her other books (The Descent of Woman, The Aquatic Ape, Scars of Evolution, The Descent of the Child)? It is more up-to-date and well-referenced.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Elaine Morgan presents in a highly readable form, a convincing collection of evidence showing that human beings went through a semi-aquatic phase in the course of our evolution and that this is what made us so different to other primates. For some reason I am unable to understand, the scientific establishment still rejects this hypothesis. The original idea, which I first heard about in 1972 at university, when studying biology, was that of Alistair Hardy, but he never attempted to publicise it, possibly for fear of damaging his reputation. Ms Morgan clearly has no such fears not being a professional scientist, and I trust her all the more for that. The evidence she presents - such as our relative hairlessness, our subcutaneous fat distribution and our 'diving reflex' - are simple observable facts for which no other explanation has yet been offered. I should be delighted to enter into correspondence with anyone who can explain to me what is so 'unscientific' about the aquatic ape hypothesis, or indeed with the author or any of her fans. I believe that this theory provides a poetic key to increasing our sense of connection to this poor battered planet, especially with the oceans which we treat so carelessly still. READ THIS BOOK!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Elaine Morgan has written the definitive presentation of a revolutionary theory of human evolution which accounts for dozens of human oddities that most theories barely mention or refuse to touch, e.g. naked skin, love of water, bipedality, subcutaneous fat, chubby babies, apocrine vs eccrine glands. Methodically, Morgan supports the theory with evidence from many scientific disciplines. Once ridiculed, the odd-sounding "aquatic ape theory" has increasingly gained acceptance among comparative biologists, geneticists, zoologists, physiologists, and brain specialists. A Discovery Channel special (Spring 99) entitled "The Aquatic Ape" is sure to increase interest in the fascinating proposal that humanity's direct ancestors were once far more aquatic than humans are now. The last holdouts seem to be paleoanthropologists themselves, who can't be happy that "outsider" Morgan trumped them in their own field.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging and informative, highly readable 29 May 2000
By A Customer
Elaine Morgan presents her arguements on the aquatic ape hypothesis (AAH), viz the idea that human anscestors went through a semiaquatic phase during their evolution, and that this explains many features that are unique to humans amongst primates.

A very easy to read book, which presents a copious quanity of evidence and arguements to support her case. It seems to me, having read this book, that the AAH gives a more coherent explanation of human physiological features than the alternative theories. The author does however spoil her case somewhat by trying to fit every single detail of the human anatomy into the straightjacket of her theory e.g. are we really expected to believe that humans can curl their upper lip (uniquely amongst primates) as this allows us to cover our nostrils when swimming?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Radical and thought provoking
So radical and thought provoking. With human evolution a constant interest for me, this very readable little book caused me to pause after years of believing in the savannah theory... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Dolomede
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting read
An interesting read on a controversial subject. The scientific is hell bent on dismissing this theory, while certain aspect of it seem like a bit of a stretch some other very much... Read more
Published 9 months ago by Michel Bartz
5.0 out of 5 stars Great writing, great theory, good read.
An evolutionary theory of exceptional brilliance, first proposed by Max Westenhofer in 1942, further developed by Alister Hardy in 1960 and then in 1997 by the wonderful Elaine... Read more
Published 11 months ago by David E. Rosser
5.0 out of 5 stars She knows her physiology!
This is the best book to date, and I have read most of the others. I am a doctor, and her arguments totally convince me. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Elen
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling
Well written and compelling argument by a clearly very intelligent and articulate author. Many of her hypotheses make a lot of sense.
Published 14 months ago by Ranjan Guha
5.0 out of 5 stars Eventually
This excellent and paradigm-breaking work resolves many apparent paradoxes regarding the strange evolution of a savanna carnivore called people. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Rebound
5.0 out of 5 stars The Aquatic Ape
How come there are still those who cannot see thr obvious, that we as biological beings spent a long time of our lives and thus evolution in the sea. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Ami Hjorth
5.0 out of 5 stars The Scientific exposition of this theory in some detail and where to...
Now I know why we feel so at home near the sea, why babies can swim so young if given the chance, why my youngest, now 42, believed he could breathe under water and so was able to... Read more
Published 22 months ago by Ms Joy Kay
5.0 out of 5 stars The truth behind human evolution
The only thing that is amazing to me is how mainstream scientists continue to reject the evidence for our evolution that Elaine Morgan presents so well in this book. Read more
Published on 16 Feb 2010 by F. Mansfield
4.0 out of 5 stars The shellfish gene?
When I first read it, I found it an interesting and thought-provoking book, but one with a singular flaw of omission, discussed below. Read more
Published on 12 Jun 2009 by Paul R. Syms
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