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6 of 6 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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