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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Human Journey
This is a wonderful book, much more informative than the television series and a useful backup to it. While I was reading it, I ordered another copy for my son-in-law when I heard that he and my daughter were fascinated by the TV series. Clever line illustrations by the author Alice Roberts greatly enhance the book, and there are plenty of maps. I am gripped by the...
Published on 3 July 2009 by Leela Attfield

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been better.
After reading the book cover to cover I thought it was extremely well structured and informed when explaining various theories and aspects of the humans movements across the continents. I also found that the wide range of scientific approaches allow the book to be enjoyable and accessible to a wide range of audiences. For example whereas I found experimental archaeology...
Published 15 months ago by 'Batch'


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39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Human Journey, 3 July 2009
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This is a wonderful book, much more informative than the television series and a useful backup to it. While I was reading it, I ordered another copy for my son-in-law when I heard that he and my daughter were fascinated by the TV series. Clever line illustrations by the author Alice Roberts greatly enhance the book, and there are plenty of maps. I am gripped by the central idea that only about 200 families originally emerged out of Africa and between them populated the whole world.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all Africans under the skin", 2 May 2010
By 
P. Webster "Phil W." (Lancashire) - See all my reviews
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In this excellent book, which is linked to the BBC TV series of the same name (available on DVD), Alice Roberts follows in the footsteps of our ancestors, who left Africa and ended up populating the whole world.

Roberts shows how the evidence from bones, artefacts and genes tells us that Homo sapiens (modern humans) evolved in Africa between 200,000 and 150,000 years ago and that all non-African humans throughout the world today are descended from one group of Homo sapiens who left Africa between 85,000 and 65,000 years ago.

On her journey Roberts meets people who personify and bring to life many of the debates relating to human evolution. For example, at Pinnacle Point in South Africa she meets one of the archaeologists who have been excavating Blombos Cave. It was here that shell beads and pieces of ochre with carved geometric patterns were found dating back 75,000 years. At the same place other pieces of ochre were found dating back to 164,000 years ago, showing that modern humans were painting by that date. This evidence shot down the theory held by some scientists that art (and therefore modern brains and behaviour) did not appear until about 40,000 years ago in Europe. (For more on this, see my review here on Amazon of Stephen Oppenheimer's book, "Out of Eden".)

Roberts meets some people who still refuse to accept the overwhelming evidence that all humans today are descended from African Homo sapiens. Some still cling to the untenable view that different so-called "races" of people evolved separately in different parts of the world from an earlier Homo species. For example, the Chinese government advocates the view that the people of China are special because they evolved separately from the rest of modern humanity, from Homo erectus in China. This has echoes of the time when Western racists claimed that white Europeans were superior and had come into existence separately from other "races".

But Roberts also meets the Chinese geneticist Jin Li, who "started off wanting to prove the patriotic theory that the modern Chinese had a heritage that stretched back, unbroken, to Homo erectus, a million years ago." To his surprise, Li's research actually proved that this was NOT the case. It showed that the "recent Out of Africa hypothesis" was correct. To his great credit, Li accepts the evidence, and Roberts praises his "open-mindedness and objectivity".

Roberts meets surviving hunter-gatherers and sees their egalitarian way of life. She then looks at the origins, only about 12,000 years ago, of settled societies and agriculture. She shows the contradictory nature of this change. The development of agriculture is usually seen as "progress", and it certainly created the conditions for a massive increase in population by producing a food surplus. This in turn provided the basis for the later growth of cities and "civilisation". But Roberts also shows that farming led to a worse quality and variety of diet and to a "general decline in health". (I would add that farming also paved the way for the development of class divisions, gender inequalities and war.)

Roberts shows that some questions still have to be resolved. For example:
- Were modern humans responsible for the extinction of the Neanderthals?
- Did modern humans interbreed at all with Neanderthals?
- Exactly when and by what route did our ancestors first move into the Americas?
- Did hunting by humans cause the extinction of large animals in various parts of the world?
- Was it natural selection in relation to climate or sexual selection which led to the physical and facial differences between humans from different parts of the world?
- Was it farmERS or farmING which spread across Europe from the Middle East?

Finally, Roberts shows throughout the book how the climate and climate change have had an effect on both the biology and culture of our ancestors. And she ends by warning that global solutions are needed now if we are to avert the dangers that climate change is facing us with today.

Phil Webster.
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59 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what a lovely book, 22 May 2009
By 
Scoob (Bristol UK) - See all my reviews
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Beautifully written and illustrated, this book goes into a lot more scientific detail than the BBC series but never overwhelms the reader. If you like science writing and travel books then you will love this.
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I believe it! It's amazing but not incredible!, 27 May 2009
This fills in a lot of the gaps in the programmes, and is not quite so sensational (except for the parts of Alice's journey where things almost went wrong!). While not incredible to anyone with a bit of scientific knowledge, it is very interesting, especially as the bits of the DNA history in the human genome start to bear out many of the theories of migration which were developed since Darwin.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Part travelogue part popular history, but enjoyable, engaging and interesting, 5 Feb. 2012
By 
Iset (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey (Paperback)
I have to confess, I thoroughly enjoyed the television programme of the same name produced by the BBC and presented by Alice Roberts. It was all fairly basic stuff, but it was also chock full of little titbits here and there, the filmography was gorgeous, and all in all it was a really enjoyable, interesting and engaging programme. So, naturally, I had my eye on this book for a while before I finally got my hands on it over Christmas.

Some scenes from the programme don't appear in the book, but we get many more that didn't make it into the programme. The book is told in episodic format, a series of anecdotes from Alice Roberts that reveal behind-the-scenes moments, illustrate the points that were being made in the series, and a few juicy little stories about encounters with experts in the field that we never got to see on television. There's some science-y stuff, which Alice does her best to make as clear and simplified as possible, but the book is also part travelogue as well, and the use of Alice's own illustrations throughout the text really do give it a diary feel. This might sound wishy-washy, and there's no denying that this is "popular history" rather than a scholarly, academic work, but I found that the episodes neatly illustrated the points Alice was making, and that and the conversational writing style and use of pictures made this a very easy read and rather fun and engaging. In terms of actual information and educational content soaked up, the book barely scratches the surface of the issues at hand, but it provides a taster and whets the appetite for more - after finishing this book, I plunged straight into Stephen Oppenheimer's Out of Eden, which The Incredible Human Journey mentions as an authoritative work on several occasions and whose author Alice meets in the course of her journey.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could have been better., 12 Dec. 2013
This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey (Paperback)
After reading the book cover to cover I thought it was extremely well structured and informed when explaining various theories and aspects of the humans movements across the continents. I also found that the wide range of scientific approaches allow the book to be enjoyable and accessible to a wide range of audiences. For example whereas I found experimental archaeology segments particularly entertaining others I know enjoyed the genetics.
Despite this I found that the 1st person account of the authors personal experience did take away the enjoyment to some degree. These segments were often too long too frequent and broke the flow of the book.
Overall a good buy if you like travel writing but maybe not so much if all you ant is the facts and theories.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Charming and engaging .. .. .., 11 Oct. 2012
By 
Mr Fipple (Cheshire, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey (Paperback)
If Dr Alice Roberts was born in 1973 and The Incredible Human Journey was published in hardback in 2009 then it and DR Roberts has to be revered for the measure of accomplishment. Alice is a charming and engaging presenter and there is no doubt that the TV series that this book complements would have delivered new answers and new questions to a newly initiated audience. Then if that audience was fired with enough interest to read this book then that could be no bad thing. For someone not yet turned forty years of age she has registered some enviable achievements and this book numbers among them.

Despite that Dr Roberts describes herself as an academic medical doctor with a primary interest in human anatomy, whose experience of clinical practice is extremely limited, Alice herself is not a hard-edged academic, and certainly not a cutting edge academic of human evolution and migration. But the diversity of interests she has, allied to her charm and ability to engage an audience are her strong points. One gets the impression Alice has the capacity to take up with a new curiosity and develop an essential appreciation for her own benefit and interest, then she seems highly capable of taking her new-found interest forwards and repackaging it for the interest and benefit of others. What she delivers is a 'spirit', a 'distillation', and 'essence' of contemporary thinking and leading academic advance, and she does this in a way that can attract the attention of an entirely new and largely popular audience. She is a 'go-btween', and a 'conduit', promoting interest amongst a new audience.

The knowledge base around the whole 'Origins' issue -- the origins of the Universe, the evolution and dynamic state of our Earth and Solar system, and the 'origins of us' is hugely dynamic and subject to constant advance and revision. This was recently brought home to me when I chanced upon an old edition of Encyclopedia Britannica (EB) and a prefatory essay written by Henry Smith Williams (HSWi) (1863 - 1943). The essay appears in the tenth (1902) edition of EB (Vol. 27) and makes a reappearance in part as a contribution to the entry on CHRONOLOGY in the 11th edition whose first publication was in 1911. Here's an extract:

"When Queen Victoria came to the English throne, 4004 B.C. was still accepted, in all sobriety, as the date of the creation of the world [.. ..][and] it was nothing less than a rank heresy to question the historical accuracy and finality of chronologies which had no other source of foundation."

Like Dr Roberts HSWi was a graduate of medicine. Unlike her he had experience of clinical practice. Very much like her he had wide ranging interests including a fascination for ancient history, archaeology, and 'origins'. He was evidently clear in his mind that evolution is a key to understanding and that human understanding itself undergoes a process of 'evolution'. In his essay which is quite lengthy HSWi is championing his cause and challenging the 'stick in the muds' to be more open-minded. Even in 1911 persons were still dogmatic about the age of the Earth, its creatures, and civilisation, when dogma was being challenged by more authentic indications stemming from the emerging disciplines of geology and archaeology. HSWi advised we contemplate the age of the Earth to be the order of millions of years and not thousands. We now date the age of the Earth as 4½ billion years old. Stumbling upon HSWi and his essay made me realise just how dynamic our evolving appreciation of 'origins' is!

That's just the point; there is so much conjecture surrounding human evolution, human migration, and human colonisation of all quarters of our Earth. There is so little 'hard evidence' to go on. But the tools used to examine the evidence are improving all the time. It is no wonder cognition of the subject matter is so dynamic. It is no wonder one assessment of the 'facts' can be so quickly revised to another. The book isn't intended to be cutting edge and fully up to date. Dr Roberts is infected with interest in a topic that others study in hard-edged academia. She taps into her especial capacity to charm and engage to infect others with her infectious interest(s). Dr Roberts is a go-between and a darned good one. But I have one criticism.

When I chanced upon that antique edition of EB and HSWi's intriguing essay I was intent on looking up 'CHOLESTEROL'. There wasn't an entry. Entries made the leap from CHOLERA to CHORLEY. I didn't expect to learn much new about cholesterol but I did wonder how attitudes can change. You see, one of my major interests is cholesterol. After studying cholesterol quite intently I wonder how the majority of the medical profession can persist with believing that cholesterol is causally involved in heart disease. Like the dating of the Earth to 4004BC pinning causality for heart disease is pure dogma, and it crops up in The Incredible Human Journey (p173 in the hardback edition). Dr Roberts visits the Evenki people of Siberia and recounts her experience. She invents a paradox to equate to the 'French paradox.'

The Evenks are an ethnic group of people who inhabit northern Siberia - and also equally cold and remote regions of China. They survive as hunter-gatherers and rely on hunting reindeer. Their lifestyle is largely nomadic and traditional, and tradition has it they maintain a fallback strategy of herding some barely domesticated reindeer herds too. If a hunt does not result in the kill of wild reindeer then numbers from the herded stock can be culled for the pot.

The Evenki waste nothing. They drink the blood, relish the hot liver, regard the eyes as a delicacy, and consider raw brains to be both very tasty and very healthy. Chopped fat is eaten, sometimes cubes of frozen reindeer milk, and the flesh is boiled in water resulting in meat swimming in a sort of fatty broth.

"A diet like the Evenki's should set the heart disease alarm bells ringing, but, [..] the Evenki appear to have paradoxically low levels of 'bad cholesterol' in their blood. [..] Studies of other northern indigenous people have also shown strangely low rates of heart disease; [..] very sadly there have been recent reports of rising rates of heart disease in Siberian and Alaskan natives as they move away from traditional lifestyles. The modern lifestyle diseases of heart disease and diabetes are spreading into the far north. *" (Writes Dr Roberts)
* Ebbesson et al. Lipoprotein profiles in Alaskan Siberian Ukip Eskimos. Artic Medical Research 55: 165-73 (1996).

Here's my assessment offered only in good faith; everyone must engage with the facts and make up their own mind. Via reading the work of several cholesterol authors I feel I have engaged with the facts and made up my own mind. Neither saturated fat nor cholesterol has any direct causal involvement in the advance of heart disease.

If "modern lifestyle diseases of heart disease and diabetes are spreading into the far north" observed in populations of "Siberian and Alaskan natives as they move away from traditional lifestyles" then there can be no 'paradox'. Dr Roberts has had a meeting with a pure instance of 'cause and effect' and missed the significance entirely because in certain medical circles directing criticism the way of the cholesterol hypothesis and 'cholesterol con' constitutes rank heresy even now. Well on with the book and nearing the end that's my only criticism.

Of course it is inevitable there may be weakness creeping in to Dr Roberts reporting of the 'facts', of course she draws heavily upon the work of other academics more deeply involved in this field of work, and of course her contribution may date quickly, but the great strength of this work is that it is an entry point for a new-starter to get quite well acquainted with many constructive and conjectural issues in a highly readable account. I like her part travelogue, I like her personable touch, for these are culturally and anthropologically constructive and engaging where description of the people she meets are concerned.

If you fancy a bit of fun visit the Gutenberg project on-line, navigate to the 11th edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, then find the volume containing CHRONOLOGY, and scroll down to the second half of the entry to read HSWi's contribution.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A journey well worth undertaking, 7 Aug. 2014
By 
Frank P. Ryan "Frank Ryan - author" (Sheffield, South Yorks United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Incredible Human Journey (Paperback)
This book, by anatomist and television personality, Alice Roberts tells the story of our human journey from our evolutionary origins in east Africa, roughly 200,000 years ago, to our global diversity today. Roberts is unsparing on herself, travelling to a huge variety of actual locations where the various chapters of exploration take place, from the African and Australian bush, to the freezing reindeer territory of Siberia, living with the people she describes, sharing their food and habitation. Her bubbly sense of humour is here on the printed page, much as we find it in her television series. I was particularly impressed with her ability to cover quite complex ideas, ranging from genetics, palaeontology, anthropology, and medicine, all with effortless simplicity and ease. I was also impressed with her ability to bring the story alive, diving into interesting diversions of anecdote, or curious ways of making a living, all the while weaving a fascinating and informative narrative.

The illustrations are beautiful, including maps, colour photographs and - a delightful discovery - pencil drawings by Roberts herself of interesting little observational vignettes. She's quite a decent artist.

I would recommend this book without reservations for any reader who is interested in our human story.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Incredible Human Journey, 18 July 2009
By 
Mr. K. (Cheshire, UK) - See all my reviews
Great book, unsurprisingly goes into a lot more detail than the BBC2 series but it's an easy read although a little bit of a scientific background does help in the understanding. Hard to comprehend that as a species we've gone from near extinction to dominate the planet in the blink of an eye in evolutionary timescales - amazing!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating read, 24 Nov. 2009
By 
H Ingram (Bristol, UK) - See all my reviews
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With this book, Alice Roberts has succeeded in providing the general reader with a clear and accessible introduction to our ancient human ancestry. She visits some of the key sites in the field and examines the evidence first-hand. Current theories are expounded with great lucidity and woven into an entertaining account of her travels. Several journeys are undertaken which require considerable stamina, such as the trek to the Omo findspot in sweltering heat; the long voyage by raft in the Indonesian islands; and the cold and lengthy sleigh-ride in Siberia. But Alice is equally bold in her approach to garnering evidence: she is not afraid to challenge the views held by experts and frequently offers possible alternative explanations.

The book is nicely illustrated with sketches, maps and photos, whilst the text manages to combine erudition with 'the personal touch'. So for anyone wanting to find out more about our human origins, 'The Incredible Human Journey' would make a great starting-point.
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The Incredible Human Journey
The Incredible Human Journey by Alice Roberts (Paperback - 5 April 2010)
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