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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're all in this together...
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...
Published 17 months ago by Richard Sutton

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good man, Henry Gee, but his editor should be fired
Good on some of the mechanisms of science, good on the necessity of modesty, rather tedious on creationism (I never give that guff a second thought) but the argument proceeds as though some biological essence were the only basis for human exceptionalism, the alternative to which is *not* restricted to something soulful, mystical or non-natural. So I hover between four...
Published 3 months ago by Hieronymous Fabricius


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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're all in this together..., 7 Dec. 2013
This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
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. Here, he uses that skill well, in detailing all the most prevalent arguments used by scientists, educators and even theologians, to assign man to the top step of evolution. He thoroughly debunks each of these systematically, leaving me with a much better understanding of just how far the relation of observer to observed has skewed our thinking regarding evolution and life. He also carefully documents and footnotes his many references for further study, which I appreciated.

Finally, it's his sense of humor throughout, which illustrates best of all, the human desire to perceive complete patterns, to create a story from every situation - whether or not the resulting story is actually whole, or even close to reality. I can recommend The Accidental Species, unreservedly, to anyone, scientist or layman, who has an interest in life. Especially an interest in what makes us human and how we got here. If you can put your preconceptions on the side for a while, you'll come away with a much deeper grasp of our place in the world. Closing this I felt a renewed connection with all my relatives - whether two legs, four legs, wings, fins or no legs at all - we're all in this together.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Evolution Book that is Appealing to All, 10 Nov. 2013
This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Delusional and Arrogant Species, 23 Feb. 2014
By 
M. D. Holley (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
This excellent little book makes the case against human exceptionalism more strongly than any other I have read. In this I think Henry Gee is ahead of his time. Within these pages, perhaps, we get a glimpse of the scientific orthodoxy of the future.

The majority of scientists and religionists alike suffer from an astonishing level of arrogance about our species, to the point of being delusional. When the subject of human superiority comes up, even the best of us seem to suffer a mental block, being unable to 'think outside the box'.

This is brought home in Gee's discussion of the 'mirror self recognition' test, which only humans and a handful of other species pass, but which dogs fail. As Gee points out, a dog's primary sense of awareness comes through smell rather than sight. A 'smell self recognition test' would be probably passed by dogs and cats, but failed by humans. The mirror test tells us little about the level of self awareness of humans compared with dogs, yet it is quoted over and again by the most eminent contemporary scientists.

Several other intriguing areas are discussed, including language, the way we think, theory of mind and tool use. In each case Gee demonstrates there is no real evidence of human supremacy.

The earlier chapters are about the fossil record and the nature of evolution. These are interesting, but no where nearly as ground breaking, disturbing or revealing as the later chapters.

Overall the book is very accessible and easy to read. I would have given it five stars were it not for the fact that I found the style a little irritating, as Gee revels in tearing down; in being destructive and negative. Yes, humans do like to make up tidy stories, but isn't that a rather endearing feature? And couldn't these points have been made in a more up beat, inspiring and positive manner?

Still, in the end I was reminded of quotations from books 100 years ago, where the western orthodoxy was completely confident in European supremacy over all other races. I wonder whether, in another 100 years time, people will find our current delusions of human supremacy equally disturbing?

Highly recommended.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly approachable exploration of evolution and our interpretation of the fossil record, 6 Nov. 2013
By 
Brian Clegg "Brian Clegg" (Wiltshire, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
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. As Gee makes clear, evolution is inevitable, not wrong, it is just when we misunderstand its nature or try to read more into the fossil record than it can tell us that we can misuse evolution.

There is only one aspect of the book that I disagree with. Gee spends the last few chapters picking out characteristics that you might think of as unique to human beings and showing that there are other animals with these characteristics. His aim is to show that humans are not special. His reason for doing this is good. He wants to emphasise how we make a mistake if we think in some sense that humans are the `pinnacle' of evolution or that evolution has been in some way directed to create better and better creatures, ending up with us. As he demonstrates very clearly in the rest of the book, this is a total misunderstanding of the nature of evolution. And there is plenty of fascinating stuff about animal abilities. But I do think he throws the baby out with the bathwater here, as humans very clearly are special.

I think there are two ways the book gets this wrong. One is to assume that `special' means `unique' - which it doesn't. So, for instance, he argues that our technology doesn't make us special as some animals and birds make use of tools, for instance using a stick to poke into a hole to get to insects. But this is a very limited way of looking at things. I can run, but that doesn't stop Usain Bolt being special. I can pick out a tune on a keyboard with one finger, but that doesn't stop a great concert pianist from being special. In almost every comparison made, human beings are orders of magnitude different from every comparator, and as such certainly are special.

I would also say there are clear examples where humans have done things that goes beyond their built-in biological capabilities that no other organism can do. What other species can build technology that requires an understanding of quantum theory to design it? Or see something happening on the other side of the world, or billions of light years out in space? Or enjoy stories written by someone they've never met and make use of the thoughts of a member of their species who died hundreds of years ago? Or decide to take a trip to the Moon and make it happen? Humans are both unique and special. Not the pinnacle. Not the last word, or a target - but special nonetheless.

I don't find this disagreement a problem, because this is the sort of book that provokes thought and that should inspire discussion and debate. And even without those last few chapters this is an excellent piece of popular science writing. You may think there was nothing more to say about evolution, but The Accidental Species proves that there is - and wonderful stuff it is.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but laborious, 27 May 2014
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This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
The book claims that there is a serious misinterpretation of evolution and natural selection that needs redressing. Some misinterpretations are intentional (Creationists), while others are apparently due to a general cultural wishful thinking that Humans are special and that any new fossil discovery presents evidence to support this.

The book argues for a more realistic appraisal of the theory of natural selection and to what extent the fossil record presents evidence for our evolution as being special. The conclusion, as is evident from the title, is that there is neither a mechanism nor evidence to support the case. We, like so many other species, are here as a consequence of fortuitous luck.

The weakness of the book is that the author commits the same kind of unintelligible observations that he is argues we ourselves should discard. For example, "if evolution has a point ...., it is that a creature should do all it can to improve the chances of its own offspring living long enough to reproduce." This is absurd, surely such a behavior, if observed, would be the result of natural selection and not an objective. The book is riddled with such arguments which a stronger editor would have discarded.

The point being made is an important one, however the book could have made a stronger contribution by being more succinct and consistent.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic book on evolution as well as how science works in general, 25 Nov. 2013
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This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
This is an excellent book, I recommend it to anyone who has any questions about bogus theories of evolution. Similar to SJ Gould who wrote so clearly about science and evolution, this book is not only clear it is funny and engaging. It wears its scholarship lightly so that it is accessible to all. I highly recommend - and by the book itself, you will want to re-read this for years to come!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good man, Henry Gee, but his editor should be fired, 24 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
Good on some of the mechanisms of science, good on the necessity of modesty, rather tedious on creationism (I never give that guff a second thought) but the argument proceeds as though some biological essence were the only basis for human exceptionalism, the alternative to which is *not* restricted to something soulful, mystical or non-natural. So I hover between four stars for the content and only three once the unnecessary styling is factored in. As a previous review has pointed out, this book needed some strict editing - there is much loose talk, too much alleged chummy `humour', and the `looking at the stars, treading in dog-s***' sentence is just adolescent. Chris Stringer's book on similar material is a more extended, more serious (though no more laborious) read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellence., 6 Feb. 2014
This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read, 10 Dec. 2013
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Great read, the book is very well structured and offers a great overview of the whole evolution debate, and why it is a good idea to keep an open mind when it comes to that subject.
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5.0 out of 5 stars If you're tempted to read it then do! Very interesting points!, 6 Feb. 2015
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This review is from: The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution (Hardcover)
Great book, although the guy can be a little preachy and you have to remember not to just accept everything he says but that said, he is encouraging us to think differently so I suppsoe that's the point.
I would say that the author achieves exactly what he sets out to, he raises many points that I've found myself referencing in the weeks since finishing the book. Very thought provoking and not too dull.
Great point about the rarity of fossils and that the more we learn the more we don't know.
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The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution
The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution by Henry Gee (Hardcover - 18 Oct. 2013)
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