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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Seven Million Years in 250 pages: not at all a bad job!, 13 Oct 2007
This review is from: Seven Million Years (Hardcover)
Douglas Palmer does a good job of marshalling the vast army of theories surrounding our evolutionary origins and of explaining the scientific and palaeoanthropological discoveries supporting them in this sweeping history of human evolution.

I was intrigued by Palmer's sketching the human characteristics of some of the more famous anthropologists. Inevitably one's own character colours how one goes about one's work and his description of Louis Leakey has one wondering at times whether the man was a genius or an idiot! In another chapter, Donald Johanson's introduction as "extremely ambitious" sets one wondering what kind of hatchet job may be in store for the young American. In fact, Johanson escapes with his reputation more or less intact, although the descriptions of the ill-feeling between the French and American archaeologists on the digs that eventually led to the excavation of Lucy are revealing - and, like all of us, Johanson can be made to sound ridiculous when his early claims about what his team had found are examined in the light of thirty-three years' hindsight.

Telling the story of seven million years of human evolution in a little over 250 pages inevitably leaves gaps. There was almost no discussion of the exciting events surrounding the discovery of Peking Man, little depth to the analysis of cave painting, and no mention at all of the work of David Lewis Williams in this field. Likewise, the discoveries of Homo floresiensis and the recently extended timeline for both Homeo erectus and the Neanderthals must have surfaced during Palmer's writing of the book. Homo floresiensis is discussed, but Palmer must have wished he had another year or so to delay publication and consider this important find in a deeper research context.

I most enjoyed the discussion boxes that deal with side issues pertinent to the text. These, for once in a book of this kind, have been thoughtfully placed at natural pauses in the text so that one doesn't get sidetracked reading them and then have to pick up what can be at times a complicated narrative. The discussions themselves are perfectly weighted; assuming that the reader can follow scientific discourse but not necessarily complex analysis involving esoteric terms. Where so many publishers seek to dumb down, I thank Palmer for that. I also appreciated the humour and warmth he brings to a subject that is often presented to the lay reader with neither.

As an overview of our evolution and as a history of our attempts to understand it, this will do very well indeed. Like the subject he is discussing, this book will evolve, and I look forward to reading Palmer's update one day.
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