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97 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very clear and authoritative survey of human origins
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...
Published on 5 July 2011 by James Honeychuck

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3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
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 promising to tackle the most frequently asked questions about evolution by the public and the media. But with one turn of the page my mood changed from enthusiastic, to quite...
Published 2 months ago by Freya Menzies


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97 of 98 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very clear and authoritative survey of human origins, 5 July 2011
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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:

Neanderthals
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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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chris Stringer - a wise man, 20 Sep 2011
By 
G. Hunt "Scouser Abroad" (Valencia, Spain) - See all my reviews
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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. This is fair enough - there are no superfluous sections in this book, and so discussing these species would have meant a lot more pages and taken the author away from his goal of identifying and describing the origin of our species specifically, rather than the whole Homo genus. But I didn't know this before I bought the book. Also no, because one question, which seems to me to be a central one, was dealt with only briefly over the course of four or five pages: the evolution of language. You might think this is because there's not much to be said - there aren't any fossils of words - but this is a whole area of study, so this was a slight disappointment.

Whether you like this book or not will also depend on what kind of book you usually read. If you have only a passing interest in evolution and science in general, but you find this issue appealing, I think you may find chapters 2 and 3 of this book hard going. These sections mainly focus on how experts in the field can date and extract information from the fossils they find; so, while these issues are relevant to the matter in hand, they concern the scientific method rather than the history and evolution of mankind. It's not overly technical, but there is a lot of information, mixed in with a little of bit of the author's own biography. I found it very interesting, but I did think that the author was brave to place so much of this material so early in the book.

On the other hand, if you're a scientist or you regularly read books on scientific subjects, I confidently predict you will lap this up. It covers a lot of ground authoritatively and, if you're the kind of person who, like me, reads books on issues which human evolution has some bearing on, I think you will often come back to this book for reference. It's well written, there's a bit of humour in there occasionally, and while the author is keen to put across his point of view - that we have a recent African origin - I think he deals with other opinions very fairly.

Highly recommended. If you like that kind of thing.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A complex story, 16 Mar 2012
By 
Hansen (Copenhagen, Denmark) - See all my reviews
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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.
Stringer steers the reader through this mess and tries to maintain a consistent picture of what might have happened. Obviously the past of humanity was in no way simple. We are dealing with a bush of species, sub-species and variants, some advanced-looking ones coming in rather early and some primitive ones staying late. And there is even evidence that the two sometimes mated when they met - not a very surprising thought given the proclivities of man - and just underlining how fuzzy the species concept is, especially over a period of time.
Human development is not just a question of bigger brains and more dexterous hands. Culture has had a tremendous role to play; tools, organisation of work, spiritual beliefs, etc. Archaeologists have unearthed many fascinating items, shedding light on these aspects, but also giving rise to rampant speculation. Stringer presents a number of theories proposed by scientists, ranging from reasonably plausible to the downright silly, with rock-bottom reached on p. 137 with the hypothesis of women going on regular sex-strikes by faking menstruation with red pigments. Not a shred of evidence but Stringer keeps his tongue in cheek.
The book is highly recommendable, but the reader should not expect a clear-cut story on just exactly how we came about. Because nobody knows, yet.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Prehistory brilliantly explored., 28 Sep 2011
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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.

"Decuman"
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stringer Inherits Darwin's Crown on the Origin of the Human Species, 23 Dec 2012
By 
F Henwood "The bookworm that turned" (London) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Origin of Our Species (Paperback)
It was Charles Darwin who speculated that our origins were African, in the Descent of Man, published in 1871. The theory fell out of fashion for a long time. Forty years ago the notion that our species emerged out of Africa was fanciful. Today, Darwin is being vindicated. Our African origins are broadly accepted, but not before acrimonious academic controversy and much blood letting in the academy. Chris Stringer has been in the thick of it, a pioneer of the theory since the 1970s. If he is feeling triumphant that things have been going his way since his student days, then he doesn't show it in this book. That's because it would be premature to assert that the argument for our shared African origins has been won decisively. Stringer shows that it hasn't. But the balance of evidence in support of the theory is compelling and it's growing.

What evidence do we have? We have fossil evidence, genetic evidence, anatomical evidence, archaeological evidence and artefactual evidence. For example, genetic diversity is greatest in Africa but the further we get away from Africa, the less genetic diversity there is. Hence aboriginal peoples of Australia, at the farthest spread of human settlement, show the least genetic diversity.

The story is not clear-cut. Stringer acknowledges where the gaps are. Evidence of cultural innovations like cave art is easier to locate in Europe, not Africa. This is not `Eurocentricism' but the way science is done. It's a reflection of the current state of evidence, and the reality that cultural and physical artefacts leave fewer traces, and are more perishable than our chromosomes and DNA (which, in a sense, can live forever, as long as they keep getting passed down). Regardless, the direction of travel is clear: the more evidence that is uncovered, the stronger the foundations for the `out of Africa' theory of our origins become.

We also learn much about what distinguishes us from our now extinct relatives, the Neanderthals and why they failed but (so far) we have not. They were bigger and taller than us but they lived shorter lives (few lived past 40) and were less adaptable than us to sudden climate and ecological shocks. Once human population densities reached a certain threshold, innovation and adaptation by example spread fast. But Neanderthal numbers never reached the necessary numbers and density for cultural and social development to take off. Interestingly, where groups of humans were cut off (as in Tasmania) both cultural and technological innovation ground to a halt.

The book is well written throughout and handles technical issues, like the various technologies available now to date fossil and archaeological evidence (we don't just have to rely on carbon dating nowadays) very well, in a way accessible to non-specialist. It covers a variety of disciplines deftly. The author is a gifted communicator. The story of human origins is still being told and will doubtless be revised as new evidence comes to light. Stringer however works in an intellectually exciting and dynamic field, where our understanding of our origins is making leaps and bounds. To read this book is to share in this excitement and to share in this intellectual adventure (without having to suffer the slings and arrows of academic internecine warfare). I strongly recommend this book. Five stars.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Start here for a clear concise account of human evolution, 21 July 2012
By 
Anthony K. Divey (Hertfordshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Origin of Our Species (Paperback)
I had read strong reviews of Stringer's latest work and the book itself doesn't disappoint. Previously I had enjoyed his 'Homo Britannicus', but this was even better. It delivers a detailed yet concise story of human evolution packing in both the recent findings whilst at the same time telling some of the 'back story' of developing views on evolution.

Stringer himself is closely associated with the 'Recent African Origins' model, but he shifts position slightly in the face of evidence of hybridisation between homo sapiens and both neanderthals and denisovans. The concluding chapters summarising the latest evidence are particularly useful.

As a non-scientist I found that his treatment of the DNA evidence was clear and relatively undaunting. For quite a short book it is also surprisingly wide-ranging, bringing in aspects of the development of certain behavioural traits and spiritual beliefs.

For students and the curious looking for a guide through the maze of human species, archaeological and DNA evidence and theories of evolution, I would strongly recommend this book.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Guidance from an expert, 15 Mar 2014
By 
Isis (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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Chris Stringer, an expert in the field of more than 40 years, and currently attached to the British Natural History Museum guides the reader through the world of palaeoanthropology, and the changes and discoveries in this field over the past four decades. This book is well written, clear, and explains technical terms, so if you’re a newcomer to the subject this book is ideal, as it has been written to be easy and accessible for just such an audience. However, at the same time, it offers a pretty comprehensive discussion of the field and of the debates and exciting questions. Did humans really come out of Africa? To what extent did we interbreed with other human species? Were we as mentally proficient and inventive when we evolved as anatomically modern humans, or did our brain continue evolving and did we undergo a later revolution of thought, as some palaeoanthropologists argue? How is use of genetics changing our understanding of palaeoanthropology? Anything you ever wanted to ask about human evolution and stone age humans, it’s here. Of course, over time no doubt this book will itself become out of date, but I’m impressed with just how up to date it is, including discussions of the recently discovered Denisovans, Homo floresiensis, and the revelations in recent years that our species did indeed interbreed with both Neanderthals and Denisovans. I suppose my one criticism is that although I found the writing style easy and flowing, it was not deeply engrossing for me, and I would have enjoyed more photos to illustrate the points being made in the text.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent account of the latest research, 5 Aug 2013
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This review is from: The Origin of Our Species (Paperback)
The discovery of the exact path of human evolution seems to be very much a work in progress. In this book Chris Stringer sets out in an easily readable style, all the latest evidence. He also gives his own interpretation of that evidence as well that of others who may have differing opinions. My only wish is that this hadn't been the first book that I have read on human evolution, since there is a huge amount of information to take in and so much is still open to speculation. Had I read a slightly more basic book on the subject previously I'm sure I would have come away with a much greater understanding. In conclusion, highly recommended particularly if you already have some previous knowledge of the subject. If you're not familiar with the basics (as I wasn't) you might want to start with a simpler read before this one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A CSI adventure, the ultimate forensic investigation., 2 May 2013
By 
J. markey "johnleto" (dublin ireland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Origin of Our Species (Paperback)
Just finished this and I can safely say this is a five star book. Its inherently fascinating, it is the ultimate forensic investigation in the search for where ""WE came from and how we got here in our evolution. Some of the techniques described in arriving at some of the conclusions are mind boggling. It gives you a sense of the human achievement of the development of the sciences required to examine an ancient ancestral fossil, which are so rare and precious they can only be very minutely interfered with, if at all, out of fear of damaging them and destroying evidence for future generations in the continued search of "the Origin of our specie". A specie that evolved to devellop the means to examines its own origin and ancient past,which in a way is a beautiful irony.

The book fills you with a sense of wonder and unity of our specie and a realisation we are all the remnants and surviving specie from a chain of evolution. The book can be complex, but that is not a criticism, I am a layman of moderate to stupid intelligence and I understood it all, the author is a talented explainer and you always come away with the intended conclusion. It's so well written it could easily be a holiday read.

If I had my way I would put this book on the school science curriculum, I highly recommend it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and intensely gripping, this book explores human evolution from its very foundation., 1 Nov 2012
This review is from: The Origin of Our Species (Paperback)
This absolutely fascinating book had me glued to the page for hours, as the author draws on his wealth of extensive knowledge to tackle those big questions on the beginning of human life on earth. Questions that are explored include; do all humans originate from Africa? How did we spread across the globe, forming different countries with their own unique culture and language? Are we separate from Neanderthals or do some of us actually have their genes? Over the years humans have modernized with significant, great changes in art, technology, language, rituals and beliefs occurring that separate us further from are past ancestors as we evolve in an ever changing world that surrounds us. The question that now begins to form on are lips is whether evolution has actually stopped, because it is hard to see if we are continuing to evolve when the human species has physically stayed the same for such a long time now. Using all kinds of evidence from fossils and archaeology to Charles Darwin's theories and the mysteries of ancient DNA, Chris Stringer reveals the definitive story of where we came from, how we lived, how we got here and who we are.

This book is truly original and unique as it professes a new way of defining us and our place within history, starting from the very beginning. This has to be one of the most illuminating, insightful and comprehensive books I have ever read on the subject of human evolution and one which is just such a remarkable and astonishing read, capturing your thoughts from the very first page right through to the end. The author is one of the most expert writers on this subject being a pioneer for history, who writes in such a way as to bring the subject to life in a way that is just spectacular and colorful. It combines both anecdotes and speculation with crisp, deeply research explanations of the latest science in the study of humans, thus one gets to see all angles and viewpoints on the subject and theories.
It is the simplicity of this book and also the in-depth analysis of man's origins that make it such a masterpiece. Any medical terminology is always adequately explained thus enabling the reader to follow the arguments easily and the alternating perspectives. Not all of the pre-homo sapiens species are discussed as the author tries to focus more on Homo erectus, heidelbergiensis, neanderthalensis and ourselves. Complete with detailed illustrations and spreadsheets, Chris Stringer tries to bring to life our extremely detailed and astounding history that to this day is still debated over with many theories and contradictory theories still floating around. Pushing past all those differing and conflicting opinions (such as dismissing Stephen Oppenheimer's out of Eden ideals), he focuses more on our development and evolution that follows its own narrow pre-arranged path. It explicates to the reader simply so as to understand the changes and adaptations we have had to undergo over the years and those extraordinary discoveries, in more recent times that are most relevant and useful to newcomers of the subject.

I highly recommend reading this book, which I give a 4 star rating to.
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The Origin of Our Species
The Origin of Our Species by Chris Stringer (Paperback - 31 May 2012)
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