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The Origin of Our Species

The Origin of Our Species [Kindle Edition]

Chris Stringer
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)

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To follow the dramatic announcements that will be appearing in the media pretty regularly from now on concerning new fossil finds and detailed genetic knowledge on the mutations that distinguish us from Neanderthals, other hominins, and apes, you will need a primer to make sense of the story so far. Here is that book. (Peter Forbes The Guardian )

The Origin of Our Species combines anecdote and speculation with crisp explanation of the latest science in the study of the first humans. (John Hawks New Scientist )

When it comes to human evolution [Chris Stringer] is as close to the horse's mouth as it gets...The Origin of Our Species should be the one-stop source on the subject. Read it now (Henry Gee BBC Focus )

Combining the thrill of a novel with a remarkable depth of perspective, the book offers a panorama of recent developments...Stringer's original ideas will open up avenues for those who deal with genes, fossils or artefacts. (Jean-Jacques Hublin Nature )

The Origin of Our Species [is] the right book by the right author at the right time. It highlights just how many tantalising discoveries and analytical advances have enriched the field in recent years, and folds them into an appropriately comprehensive, generous and nuanced reflection. (Marek Kohn Literary Review )

The Origin of Our Species starts as a clear, perceptive survey. It ends by introducing a new way of defining us and our place in history (Mike Pitts Sunday Times )

Sets out to tackle the big questions about human origins...written in a personal, unpretentious style...a laudable summary of a vital subject (Matt Grove British Archaeology )

The most up to date synthesis available (Steven Mithen London Review of Books )

Stringer's writing style is lucid and all-embracing, pulling information and ideas together from all conceivable sources to support his central narrative ... stimulating, informative and entertaining. It deserves to be widely read (Stephen K. Donovan Geological Journal )

Product Description

In this ground-breaking book Chris Stringer sets out to answer all the big questions in the debate about our origins. How can we define modern humans, and how can we recognise our beginnings in the fossil and archaeological record? How can we accurately date fossils, including ones beyond the range of radiocarbon dating? What do the genetic data really tell us? Were our origins solely in Africa? Are modern humans a distinct species from ancient people such as the Neanderthals? And what contact did our ancestors have with them? How can we recognise modern humans behaviourally, and were traits such as complex language and art unique to modern humans? What forces shaped the origins of modern humans - were they climatic, dietary, social, or even volcanic? What drove the dispersals of modern humans from Africa, and how did our species spread over the globe? How did regional features evolve, and how significant are they? What exactly was the 'Hobbit' of the island of Flores, and how was it related to us? Has human evolution stopped, or are we still evolving? What can we expect from future research on our origins? This book will make every reader think about what it means to be human.

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Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
103 of 104 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Just two chapters into this book I have to pause and tell other Amazon users that this is definitely a 5-star book, for two reasons. First, Dr. Stringer was actually a party to much of the research on early humans conducted since the 1970s, so his first-hand survey is as authoritative as any could possibly be. Second, this lucid work on a complex subject is completely accessible to the general reader. What a pleasure it is not to have to run to the dictionary or the rest of my bookshelf, or to dubious Wikipedia entries, when encountering the jargon of this field. It's explained right there in the text, including the etymology (e.g. "These iconic artefacts characterize the Aterian industry, first recognized at the Algerian site of Bir el-Ater..."). And the train of thought in his explanations reflects the skill of someone who has discussed these topics time and time again. What this book lacks in pretty color photos is more than compensated for in the information conveyed.

Edit: Having finished the book, I want to comment that it provides the most comprehensive information I have seen on the following topics:

Where in the world humans originated
Did Neanderthals interbreed with modern humans?
Early humans in Africa
The mind of early humans, origin of culture, art, spirituality (not actually something I've read much about before)
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex story 16 Mar 2012
By Hansen
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There is probably no one better than Chris Stringer to write a book on our origins. His book is packed with information, scientific discoveries and theories attempting to take our knowledge further.
It is a topic of increasing complexity. 50 years ago it was believed that our ancestry consisted of a number of gradually more advanced species, where species A begat species B, which begat C and culminating with the tall and elegant Cro-Magnons, essentially modern people like ourselves (since then we may have gone slightly downhill). There was a bit of uncertainty regarding the role of the Neanderthals, were they part of the chain or a sidetrack?
30 years ago saw the confrontation between the two more recent theories: "Out of Africa" or "Multi-regionalism". The former claimed that modern man essentially developed in Africa and then moved out and conquered the whole world. The latter proposed that man developed into modernity simultaneously in many regions, and some cross-breeding ensured that we stayed one species.
Stringer starts out his book by describing some of the technology used by science, not the least in dating of fossils. He mentions some examples, and by then we are already in the thick of the action. The picture quickly turns very muddled. "Species" turn out to be very difficult to define and delineate, and the sequence in which they appear is not always as one would expect. More primitive individuals are found to be contemporary or even more recent than more advanced ones, and the geographic distribution only makes matters worse.
Our genes, carried by our DNA in several systems, provide lots of additional information, but unfortunately it does not always make the picture more clear.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prehistory brilliantly explored. 28 Sep 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I have just finished reading every word, underlining key ideas on nearly every page and now setting out to write a synopsis for the students I teach.

It is such a fascinating read that you too will probably work through every chapter and come to the same conclusion as me: This is an important book which deepens our understanding of what it is to be human: The stuggles of Neanderthals and Homo Sapiens to survive after the Ice Ages, the development of the mind, the structure of family and society and even awareness of a spiritual; all these lead us to reflect on life now and in the future: The book ends with this thought provoking sentence: "Sometimes the the difference between failure and and success in evolution is a narrow one and we are certainly on a knife-edge now as we confront an over-populated planet and the prospect of global climate change on a scale that humans have never faced before - let's hope our species is up to the challenge." These two contemporary questions are not considered in the book, of course, but I would trust the author's intelligent perspective on them rather than the rhetoric of any politician.

Professor Stringer has written an authoritative and academic work. His life has been, and still is, extraordinary. His meticulous research and the discoveries and theories of other scientists who study paleoanthropology are sytematically considered. The result is a book which had to be academically rigorous and thorough. For those who are not graduate scientists or medical experts the prospect of trying to read and understand passages which detail human anatomy and genetics may sound too much to cope with. Don't panic. The book is very readable and difficult words and concepts are explained very clearly. The photographs and the cover are not brilliant; the text, however, most certainly is.

This is the most interesting and thought-provoking book I have read in years. Recommended without any reservation.

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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Stringer - a wise man 20 Sep 2011
By G. Hunt
I came to this book looking for a definitive account of human evolution, I didn't quite get what I was looking for, but I'm more than satisfied.

I've been looking for a book such as this because I've found that, at times, the usage of names differs so much author to author (Erectus, Ergaster, etc.) that it can get very confusing. This book seemed just the ticket as the author is the leading expert on human origins at the Natural History Museum in London and it shows: he has a dizzying command of his subject area.

The blurb on the inside cover says that he will answer all of the big questions in the debate on our origins. So, does he? As you might expect the answer is yes and no.

Yes, because many, or most, of the issues that you would want a book like this to deal with are discussed in detail: what kind of relationship existed between modern humans and the Neanderthals, where & when the first modern humans appeared, what the genetic evidence says about us, whether the Neanderthals and other hominins are actually cousins or ancestors of ours, and so on.

No, because some issues are not dealt with: the book does not really discuss species previous to Homo Erectus, so there's little or nothing about our common ancestor with chimpanzees, or the australopithecines, Homo habilis, etc. Instead, the focus is on the later hominins: Erectus, Heidelbergensis, the Neanderthals and us, especially the last two. So, roughly, the book covers the last two million years, but most especially the last few hundred thousand.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Engaging
For a non-expert reader, I find the book thoroughly engaging with clearly presented arguments to grapple with.
Published 5 days ago by Roy A. Perry
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Very good read.
Published 10 days ago by Bradley Roberts
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Really accessible introduction to the subject.
Published 28 days ago by Mr Mathew D Ware
4.0 out of 5 stars When reading this I felt that I was in the ...
When reading this I felt that I was in the hands of a true expert. The style is very accessible, without a loss of academic rigour. Read more
Published 1 month ago by V SOWTER
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Learnt a lot from this book!
Published 2 months ago by Patrick
5.0 out of 5 stars pleased with purchase
A previous student's copy of this book, which means the pages are marked and annotated (saving me a little work, I suspect). Read more
Published 3 months ago by AlysJB
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
Speaking as a non-expert, but also as somebody who is genuinely interested in how Homo Sapiens Sapiens got to be so big for his boots, I would rate this as the current best survey... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Julian
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This book is how this review is titled. This is a book where you just don't want to stop reading.
Published 5 months ago by Leighton Evans
3.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, yes. Comprehensible, not realy.
Upon reading the introduction of The Origin of Our Species, I was genuinely excited to begin reading a book which is described as “comprehensive –but comprehensible”, a book... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Freya Menzies
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating summary
Written for the intelligent but non-specialist reader, this is a good read. Though full of is and buts, the general story (and I use that word advisedly - I'm sure some critics... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Gary J. Walker
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