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36 Reviews
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34 of 36 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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Acceptable, but Oppenheimer is better
Not having seen the BBC documentary, I was eager to read the book. Having previously read some other books on the subject of human development and expansion, however, I was slightly disappointed with this one.

Let it immediatelay be said though that, as far as I can understand, the facts are immaculate and "correct" considering present scientific knowledge and...
Published on 18 July 2010 by A Reviewer


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5.0 out of 5 stars Readable ancient history, 29 Aug 2011
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As an anatomist, the author has the background to understand and summarize the increasingly detailed knowledge of early humans across the world. In the course of making a series of BBC TV programmes which were shown in 2009, she visited a variety of sites where she could speak with experts and see or handle specimens. The book is a fluent and interesting account of current paleoarchaeological findings and beliefs, and is well referenced. I found this an enjoyable read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read and informative., 10 May 2011
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Having missed the TV series I decided to just read the book and largely it is well presented. Yes at times it seems like a travelog for Alice Roberts but this did not detract from the story being written in an accessible fashion. It could however do with a Glossary to save having to trawl back to find a definition.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Love it, 5 Jan 2010
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If you liked the series, you will like this. Its more detailed so you feel you're getting more bang for your buck.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 6 Aug 2011
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Dr Alice Roberts is as good at putting history in writing as she is in presenting.
A larger font would have made reading the book a lot easier
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6 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible Human Journey, 13 Jun 2009
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I have found this book very interesting, I can recommend it to all historians and geneticists.
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6 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Incredible or Incredulous?, 10 Dec 2009
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Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This is a disappointing book which sets out to "track the presence of our ancestors through the traces of their behaviour". Roberts concludes that we all have one maternal grandmother. Theoretically, it could be the case. Indeed, we could all be related to one another (and going far enough back the logic just about stands up) but, bearing in mind the uncertainties and controversies surrounding the field of palaeoanthropology, Roberts' conclusion is as convincing as whistling in the dark.

In practice, she hoists her colours to the "recent African origin" theory far too hastily and with insufficient acknowledgement of alternative theories. In addition, instead of questioning why Darwin believed homo sapiens originated in Africa, she assumes it is proved by the fossil evidence. Palaeoanthropology calls on evidence from a number of sources including fossils, geology, genetics and linguistics. Much of this is shrouded in mystery although it does not prevent Roberts from speculating on how contemporary populations arose.

This is buttressed by tracing maternal lineages from mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome rather than relying on population genetics. This is used as a means of supporting the notion that human genetic diversity is small and may be the result of adaptation and random genetic drift. For a scientific subject there appears to be a lot of political correctness based on Darwin's ideas of a single common ancestor. The impression is that Roberts spent a year looking for evidence to support what she already believed rather than questioning what she believed and seeing what the evidence suggested.

The underlying thesis, associated with Stephen Oppenheimer, is that early migrations from East Africa travelled to the West and South of the continent. Later migration saw the populating of Asia from India to Australia with subsequent migrations to Europe and the Americas as climate change permitted. It's a fascinating story but reminiscent of the tale of the two goats one of which ate a reel of film. When asked what it was like the first goat replied, "Not as good as the book." The reverse is true here. Many of the details Roberts lovingly recalls page after page will have formed a fleeting part of the BBC TV series but weigh down the narrative when presented in written form. It's surprising Roberts did not spend more time reflecting on how humankind, whose young require protection far longer than other species, were able to make such migrations and reproduce within the allotted time scale.

In fairness, I don't share Roberts' enthusiasm for her chosen subject and it would probably have been better to have read the book alongside the television series. What became clear is that palaeoanthropology is a subject which thrives on very little evidence and involves a great deal of speculation. This situation is unlikely to change and Roberts' book - and others like it - will be considered authoritative until more definitive evidence becomes available.

I thought long and hard before awarding it four stars. I wouldn't recommend it because I didn't enjoy it and I wouldn't buy a copy because I have no difficulty sleeping already. However, others will have a different perspective and most reviewers clearly enjoyed it more than I did. The only sensible way is to judge for yourself.
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