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The Origin of Humankind: Unearthing Our Family Tree (Science Masters)
 
 

The Origin of Humankind: Unearthing Our Family Tree (Science Masters) [Kindle Edition]

Richard E. Leakey
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Product Description

Book Description

A meticulously clear account of how early ape-men of the African savanna developed into fully human beings. Abridged edition.

Product Description

Leakey has always been interested in far more than the mere physical features presented by fossils, and here he is particularly concerned with non-tangible human attributes, such as art, language and consciousness itself. Leakey's personal involvement in many of the key discoveries of hominid fossils, and his friendships and rivalries with his fellow fossil hunters, add more than a dash of spice to his narrative. 'An outstanding account of our current understanding of human evolution' Sunday Times 'An elegant summary of what is currently known about human evolution' Observer

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 2334 KB
  • Print Length: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd ) (3 Oct 1994)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B001NEK73C
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #401,924 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction to the subject 11 Dec 2008
By John Hopper VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
A very readable basic introduction to the key issues and debates in this field, and pointers to more detailed reading. The author has his own opinions, but sets out the terms of the debate in a fair way. The only specific point I would question is the use of the term "human" to describe all bipedal homin(o)ids, even those living before any use of stone technology or language. The book could also usefully have had some more illustrations, especially in the chapter on art.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The cutting edge in 1994 10 Oct 2012
By Mac McAleer TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Published in 1994, this is part of the Science Masters series in which ". . . leading scientists describe the current state of knowledge in their subject, and speculate about future developments."

In this subject Richard Leakey has a distinguished record and a distinguished ancestry being the son of Louis and Mary Leakey, pioneers of human palaeontology in East Africa. Here he gives a survey of the subject from the Australopithecines through Homo Habilis, Homo Erectus, the Neanderthals, archaic Homo Sapiens and then on to ourselves. He discusses the origins of art, of language and the of human mind. He describes what is generally accepted and what is not, and in areas of dispute gives the various competing theories. Surprisingly there is a whole chapter on the Out-of-Africa theory, which he accepts, compared with the Multi-Regional theory of the origins of modern humans. This may be a reflection of the Out-O-Africa theory still not being widely accepted in 1994 or it may be Leakey's consideration of the importance of the topic.

This is a short book of 157 pages plus preface, bibliography and index. It includes black and white illustrations including diagrams, line drawings and printed photographs.

The inclusion of competing theories may put off some readers who require certainty and its date of publication may deter those who want to be completely up-to-date. The lack of glossy colour reconstructions of our ancestors, with flesh put on the bones, may deter those requiring immediate visualisations as seen on TV. However, this is an enjoyable and stimulating read.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
The Origin of Humankind is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the subject of anthropology. The book covers the author's personal views and opinions and gives a broader introduction to the subject in general. Well-written and easy to read, Leakey really brings his subject to life. His chapters on language and art, and the relationship between the two subjects are vibrant and griping. He speculates about how prehistoric art came to be and its significance in the lives of its creators. Leakey combines solid scientific facts and figures with a more romantic speculation about the lives of our ancestors, resulting in a book that reads like a novel in places and a textbook in others. However, far from being detrimental to the book, this adds to it's appeal, anthropology being a subject which will always result in some blurring of the otherwise sharp lines between science and art. His flight of fancy about the daily routine of our ancestor the hunter gatherers in a river side settlement is either gloriously evocative or ridiculously unlikely, depending on how cynical you are feeling when you are reading it. I found it initially to be the former, and on re-reading to be the later. The book never goes into a great deal of depth, which is unsurprising considering the difficulty of the task Leakey has set himself; compressing millions of years of human evolution into a few hundred pages. It is therefore ideal as a 'beginner's guide to anthropology' but scholars may find that some parts are over-simplified or important issues passed over. All in all I found the book thoroughly enjoyable, intriguing, and exciting. It is interesting to compare this book to 'Adam's Ancestors' written by Richard Leakey's father LSB Leakey; I found the style of writing to be very similar. The Origin of Humankind, however, has the obvious advantage of being the more modern publication, and is therefore more adapted to our television generation, being more dynamic and visual.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Accessible anthropology 8 Nov 2012
By Katey S
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Excellent read. Written in Leakey's usual informative but approachable style. The book explores the development of modern humans by examining different strands of anthropological thought and study but at no point does it overburden the reader with scientific jargon or hypothesis.
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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  19 reviews
28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good, easy to read intro 5 Oct 2002
By Magellan - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book focuses more on how the fossil and cultural (i.e., tool-making) evidence for early human ancestors illuminates various aspects of human nature and what it truly means to be human, rather than on the technical details and comparative anatomy of the different pre-homonid and homonid evolutionary lines. Leakey does spend some time discussing the fossils and anatomy, though, which would be almost impossible to avoid in a book on physical anthropology, of course, but it's not the main emphasis of the book. He's mainly interested in showing how the fossil record illuminates the important physical and cultural changes that occurred during our long evolution, and what that says about how early humans lived.
For example, Leakey discusses how the anatomical changes from early Australopithecus (Lucy) to Homo erectus suggest profound differences in the physiology and life style of our earliest ancestors versus the first and later homonids. During this evolutionary transition, all the following changes occurred: the prolonged, more helpless infancy of humans; our ability to be more active and athletic, more delayed sexual maturity; the ability to make and use finer tools; the ability to hunt and kill larger game, along with a more omnivorous diet; a more complex and sophisticated social structure; and finally, the development of true language. Leakey includes separate chapters on 'The Art of Language," "The Language of Art," and "The Origins of Mind," in which he discusses the evidence for these higher-level and more advanced cognitive processes. Leakey is also careful to discuss investigations ranging from traditional comparative anatomy to high-tech approaches using DNA techniques, microanatomy (such as tooth lines), and CAT scans.
Another important topic he discusses is how the fossil evidence has forced modifications in the conception of our evolutionary tree. Since I was last reading up on the subject, the tree has become much less linear and far more "bushy." Another hallowed and traditional idea that had to be abandoned was Darwin's own theory of primitive man being "special" and highly evolved even from the very beginning. As the fossil record has demonstrated, our evolution was far more gradual, with many intermediate homonids known for both H. sapiens and Neanderthal, such as the Sima de los Huesos and Petrolonas finds, which show that there were primitive, archaic Neanderthals in Europe who eventually evolved into the more modern types such as those found at Steinheim and Arago. For the pre-Homonids we now have Australopithecus afarensis, A. africanus, A. aethiopicus, A. robustus, and Australopithecus boiseii, as well as possibly two or different kinds of H. habilis, and so on. As I mentioned earlier, this has provided powerful support for a "bushier" family tree for human origins.
I only have one complaint, which is that the book, being now almost 10 years old, doesn't include the more recent finds of Ardipithecus ramidus and Sahelanthropus tchadensis, which together push our origins back several million years further even than "Lucy," at 3.6 million years, or Australopithicus afarensis.
Overall, however, a nice little introduction to the subject and the issues relating to our earliest origins, and I would give it four and a half stars if I could. After this book, you should have the background to tackle more technical books on the subject. If you decide to do this, I would recommend reading Richard Klein's book, The Dawn of Human Culture, next. It was published this year (2002), and discusses all the more recent finds in some detail. Klein's book is also probably the most readable and well-written account on the subject I've ever read, despite it's being at a fairly good technical level.
After you've finished with Klein's book, I would read Ian Tattarsal's Extinct Humans next, which is notable for the beautiful, high-gloss, color photographs of all the skulls, which is a great feature for comparing the descriptions of the comparative anatomy in the text to the actual specimens. It's also very well written, like Klein's book. In fact, the entire book is printed on very nice, high-gloss paper. The only downside is that this makes the book somewhat pricey compared to the other books here.
I have one more recommendation, which is that you could follow Klein's book with Neanderthal, by Paul Jordan. It's the only book I've seen covering the one genus, although Jordan includes chapters discussing the earlier and later homonids, too, but the emphasis is definitely on all the Neanderthal finds and their significance. It makes for more technical and somewhat dry reading, but does cover the subject in a more detailed way than any of the other books I've seen.
After reading these four books, you'll have covered the best current writing out there on the subject, along with all the major fossil finds. As I said, the only one missing from these books is the M. Brunet expedition's discovery of Sahelanthropus tchadensis, and you could just look up some online articles about it to get the scoop on that. Also, Time magazine had a major article on it in the July 22, 2002 issue, so you could try looking up that, too, at which point, you'd have covered everything.
Hope my little comparson review of these books helps. Good luck and happy reading!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good introduction into Human Evolution 14 Jan 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
If I were an expert on anthropology and human evolution I probably wouldn't be reading a book on it from the Science Masters Series. This is really something of a primer on human evolution for people like me (I'm a Sociology graduate student) that are interested in the topic but really have very little background in biology or anthropology. Admittedly, I did find some of his topics overly interesting because of their apparent relationship to topics addressed by Sociology. One of these was the notion of consciousness. He attributes the idea of the Inner Eye/Inner 'I' to Humphrey, 1986. Perhaps Humphrey pulled a fast one on anthropologists because his interpretation is a rehash of George Herbert Mead's Symbolic Interactionism and his conceptions of consciousness and the 'I' and the 'Me'.
Aside from that criticism, I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. I have something of a background in biology (no expert by any stretch), but with what little background I do have the concepts discussed were not over my head. For individuals that have a good high school and perhaps college education, this book shouldn't be too difficult to digest and should be rather informative. I think I was most intrigued by the discussion of the human mind and consciousness, but the entire book was interesting (in a positive way) to me and I would highly recommend it.
There was one quote from Richard Dawkins in the book that I found particularly insightful (whether true or not, I don't claim to know), "Perhaps consciousness arises when the brain's simulation of the world becomes so complete that it must include a model of itself." (p. 142).
And another quote which isn't so much the quote but the content, "Skilled players of the game-those equipped with a more acute mental model, a sharper consciousness-would have enjoyed greater social and reproductive success. This is grist for natural selection, which would have raised consciousness to higher and higher levels. This gradually unfolding consciousness changed us into a new kind of animal. It transformed us into an animal who sets arbitrary standards of behavior based on what is considered to be right and wrong." (p. 154).
Overall, there are undoubtedly other books out there with more up-to-date information. The presentation of the material in this book also reveals that with every passing year the information in the book will become more and more outdated - so it is with science. But for an introduction to human evolution, I very much enjoyed it.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Best to look elsewhere 29 July 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
There are other books on the subject (including Leakey's own, Origins Reconsidered) that survey the subject with more completeness, fuller explanation, and greater literary color. This is a very slim volume. Besides the restricted length (and thus restricted discussion), the two primary weaknesses with this book are its author's occasionally unrigorous opinions and flights of fancy (see the part about cave art and shamans). With respect to his dismissive opinions, Leakey is not alone among paleoanthropologists; but read the argument against Owen Lovejoy's theory of bipedalism and see if you think it holds up. (Mind you, it is difficult to see clearly the flaws in Leakey's arguments precisely because there is so little space to go into detail.) Second, there is nothing wrong with imagination in the sciences, provided scientists know what to do with it; but scientists sometimes impose their wishes and daydreams on the facts--and the two get muddled in the public's mind, because the "information" is coming from scientists (the true "priests" of our age). Leakey is better able than some to rein in this fancifulness, but it's still there---and, especially in a book this size, there just isn't room for it.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Introduction to Human Evolution 12 July 2002
By Michael Kumpf - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a good introduction to our distant past and ancestors for beginners in the subject. Leakey writes very well and explains things quite concisely. He gives an overview of the major theories, but due to the shortness of the book (only 171 pages including index) he only fleshes out his own theories. I am not an expert in anthropology so I don't know if he is grasping at straws or not. He gives a pretty good bibliography in the back for further reading. There are some problems with the book. First, it is very short, so the author does not have time to really delve into the different theories as much as you may wish he would. Second, this book was written almost ten years ago. There has been more discoveries since then, including the 6 million year old hominid fossils in Chad, which I wish he addressed in an epilogue or an updated version of the book. I would recommend this if you have no background in anthropology and then do some extra research on the web to get up to date with new findings.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 28 Aug 2006
By Jarrod D. Knudson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Very interesting synopsis of many aspects of human evolution. Discussion of the evolution of bipedal locomotion is particularly interesting. Also, of note, Leakey explains the hypothesized explanations for slow growth and development of human children compared to their primate counterparts. I guess more than explanations for the mechanisms of evolution of human growth and development patterns, he does a good job of illustrating how such slow growth and development of human children provide survival and innovation superiority over other species. Very interesting book; however, much of what Leakey elaborates on does not rest on hard evidence (in my OPINION). Many explanations provided are based on logical conjecture. This in no way detracts from the thought provoking nature of the book. Great book for the interested non-anthropologist. As a scientist in a different discipline, I found the book to be very easy to read and assimilate, as Leakey writes to a lay audience.
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