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4.4 out of 5 stars20
4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 30 January 2009
It is not often that you find a book that combines abundant illustrations with a highly informative and comprehensive text coverage of the subject.
This book by Mr. Stringer & Mr. Andrews is one of those rare treats. Each page is visually a work of art, balanced and ever varying. The illustrations, drawings or photos, are consistently of very high quality and all of them provide information to supplement the text.
The text itself is rich, the reader really finds a tremendous amount of facts regarding our nearest and more distant ancestors - and their relatives.
Starting with the common ancestors of monkeys and apes, the book gradually works its way forward in time. Obviously, our past was not just a straight line of one species taking over from another, there were many species, some co-existing during the same epoch, and it is very difficult exactly to pinpoint which ones lead to the modern apes, including ourselves.
Along the way the book sheds ample light on the difficulties in this branch of palaeontology. The tree-living monkeys and apes are not prone to leave many fossils behind, and many species are only known from puny fragments, photographs of which are shown in the book. When you see the reconstruction drawings of an extinct species you often do not realise on how little evidence it is founded, but this is a fact that the book repeatedly drives home.
The book also covers a number of related topics; the early history of tool making and evolution of behaviour, just to mention some examples.
This book is a must for anyone seriously interested in our species' past.
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Among science's "throwaway" lines, few have achieved the status of Charles Darwin's. When "The Origin of Species" was published, he dropped a teasing line about human ancestry at the very end: "Light will be thrown on the origins of man . . ." For over a generation after his death, the most significant human fossil proved a forgery. Stringer and Andrews have updated the record. In doing so, they've given us a finely crafted and superbly produced account of our ancestry. The term "world" is significant, as they display fossils, artefacts and the digs where these items were found from the southern tip of Africa to the edge of South America.
Breaking the study into three segments, the authors relate the history of archaeology, illustrating the evolutionary picture and the tools that detail it. They explain what the fossil evidence demonstrates about our ancestors, primate through hominid to human. Finally, they trace the path of our ancestors' expansion out of Africa into Asia, Australia, Europe and the Western Hemisphere. The running theme of the book is that we belong to the ape family. The primates have a long, diverse history, which firmly set our roots. From African origins, the apes sent emigrants into Asia and Europe. The hominin apes followed those paths and further. Human evolution didn't cease merely because our species inhabited most of the planet. The authors note the complexity of evolutionary forces and caution those who feel there is some "directionality" in our rise. Species survival must reflect knowledge of our roots.
As an enhancement to explaining how data about our evolution has been found and assessed, the authors have selected several sites of major importance. These digs range from the famous Olduvai Gorge excavations of the Leakey family to the Boxgrove site on the south coast of Britain. Each site is historically described and depicted with location and detailed maps. The teams have a say and the techniques involved in revealing the evidence of our past are explained. Analytical methods are related, particularly as they involve the sites. Of major interest is the placing of the site's past environmental in its palaeontological context. There are copious photographs of the site area, the fossils and other artefacts gleaned. It's impossible to see the workers on the digs without wondering how many of them will go on to make significant finds of their own in some new location.
The authors are meticulous in presenting the maximum amount of information possible in a limited space. There are morphological comparisons - skulls, legs and feet, hands and, of course, teeth - of various primates. The illustrations indicate how the passage of time modified structures and what the changes represent. Teeth and jaws, the dietary indicators, are given close, but not overmuch, attention. Among the many examples, a skull from Turkey, "Ankarapithecus meteai" is one of the science's "head scratchers". Although clearly an ape from an ancient time, the skull bears many anomalous characteristics. It may be an ancestor of today's orang utan. Among other mysteries related to this find is that its teeth appear to be closer to the human, than to the ape line.
Although at first glance, this book may appear almost "coffee-table" in its format and its rich illustrative material, it is a compilation of many serious studies. Although topics that have aroused debate are discussed, the sometimes acrimonious exchanges have been mercifully omitted. There is little in the way of speculation here, and the evidence is handled with respect for the work underlying it. The "Further Reading" section is adequate, relying more on books than research papers or field studies, but is fully up to date to the time of publication. The book is a fine addition to any collection of human evolutionary accounts. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 20 July 2011
This excellent book from curarors of the Natural History Museum covers the whole spread of human evolution from Proconsul (20 million years ago) to the present-Homo sapiens.
The book is divided into 3 parts 1)in search of our ancestors deals with finding sites,excavation and dating 2)details the origins of primates and humans and 3)interpretating the evidence explains the development of human behaviour.
The illustrations,paintings,maps and photographs are excellent while the text is easily read and has been well researched.
To say the book is outstanding means nothing as this is what is expected from the Natural History Museum.
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on 15 June 2011
Have just done a short course on this topic and found this book invaluable. It combines clear text with some great graphics and illustrations. The writers do have their own theories of course, and although they mention competing ideas these are rather dismissed and perhaps readers need to be aware of this "bias" - apart from that would really recommend.
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on 16 October 2012
I bought one copy in the bookshop of Font de Gaume cave in the Dordogne, and was so impressed with the book that I ordered a second copy on Amazon for my grandchildren. It is packed with clear, concise information and photos.
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on 1 April 2012
An excellent introduction to human evolution, but I felt was a little too brief in some of the topics towards the end of the book (eg. behaviour). It's perfect for those wanting to know a more about human evolution, and provides further reading for those wanting to be challenged. Lots of illustrations help to explain concepts.
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on 9 August 2013
Ah, now this is a nicely ordered text, although the lack of full colour still displeases me; given the worthiness of the content and the pitch, I'd have thought it would deserve the full colour spread. Content seems like good, general-level, informative stuff to me.
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on 4 February 2016
Written in an engaging popular style with excellent illustrations, it is a book that brings Stringer's life-long study of human origins to the general public. This book should encourage readers to visit the Natural History Museum in South Kensington where Chris Stringer is curator of the Human Origins department and where there are magnificent displays that will enhance one's reading of his book.
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on 14 June 2014
A classic text on human evolution.

In essence a text book for university courses, but with its clear style and numerous illustrations, it should appeal to a general reader.
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on 21 November 2013
There were no worries. The item was as described and arrived in good time. The book provides an excellent review of recent work. Another good one from Chris Stringer. Many Thanks.
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