Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors Paperback – 8 Mar 2007
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'Superb science writing' -- New Scientist
'This is science with a down-to-earth face, and very refreshing it is, too' -- Good Book Guide
`Nicholas Wade is an eloquent guide to this disturbing and
fascinating new world of ideas' -- Matt Ridley, author of Genome
About the Author
Nicholas Wade is a reporter at the New York Times. He previously worked for the leading science journals Nature and Science, and has written five previous books.
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Top Customer Reviews
Most of the books about human origins tend to focus on paleoanthropology and related disciplines. "Before the Dawn" does a great job of synthesizing the discoveries of paleoanthropolgists with the findings of geneticists--in some cases, examination of human DNA has confirmed what paleoanthropolgists have long believed, in others it has raised new and sometimes disturbing questions.
Without becoming overly technical, Wade explains how scientists use the study of DNA to determine when signficant events occurred in human evolution--for example, when humans began to use fully modern language (about 50,000 years ago), the size of the ancestral population of modern humans (as small as 150 people), or when the ancestral population left the African continent (also around 50,000 years ago).
Some of Wade's observations may surprise and trouble many people. Creationists will not be pleased with the book's basic view that Darwin's theory of natural selection is absolutely correct and that it applies to people as well as animals.Read more ›
Writing to his defined audience, Wade's use of Biblical metaphor touches a nerve. It's a useful technique as he opens with 'Genetics & Genesis'. There's no doubt in the reader's mind that 'genetics' will be the guiding theme as this book progresses. Genetics and DNA analysis have 'enriched our view of the past', he notes. He assures us, as well, that the processes they depict are still working to guide us into the future. He lists some of the insights these tools have given us. The clear continuity between 'the ape world of 5 million years ago and the human world that emerged from it' opens the inventory, which includes cultural input and various social factors, why our global dispersal was so rapid, and how language impinged on our development as a species.
Among the more captivating aspects of our evolutionary track is the number alternative paths we might have followed. Wade explains how ape diversity has made discernment of our lineage an onerous task. An indication of what's to follow emerges in a section on why we became 'naked'. The loss of fur meant that exposed skin required protection from the African sun. All humanity's skin cells contain melanin, with variations determined by geographic location. The human diaspora out of Africa led to many variations in our make-up.Read more ›
Wade writes extremely well and does a good job of summarizing the latest (circa 2005) research, much of which has come from analyses of the descent of the Y chromosome (from men) and mitochondrial DNA handed down through the female line. The question of our relationship with the Neanderthal--long a thorny question--is more or less resolved with DNA extracted from Neanderthal fossil bones that has been compared to the sequences of human DNA. The conclusion is that H. neanderthalensis came from H. ergaster through H. heidelbergensis as H. sapiens did, and then broke off on its own. Furthermore there is no genetic evidence that human and Neanderthal produced viable offspring. The earlier idea than the Neanderthal was a modification of the very successful H. erectus has been discredited.
As to the question of our origins, northeast sub-Saharan Africa is further confirmed as the site. Wade has humans becoming behavioral human around 50,000 years ago after becoming anatomically human as early as perhaps 200,000 years ago. The great leap forward occurring 50,000 years ago is attributed to the acquisition of symbolic, syntactic language. This was also the time when humans made the exodus out of Africa and began to colonize the world. They went east across the Red Sea at the Gate of Grief during a glacial period when the sea level was two hundred feet lower than it is today. They followed the coast line of the present Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea to India and eventually to Australia.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
As someone who finds the origins and deep history of our species fascinating, and has read a number of books on the subject I have to say that I found this one the most enjoyable. Read morePublished 24 months ago by Ross
Good introduction and overview to current trends and findings about Early hominids. This book makes new and prominent archaeology easy for everyone, even the non specialist, to... Read morePublished on 7 May 2013 by Kim Briscoe
I find human origins fascinating, and this book covers a very broad and complex subject in understandable language. Recommended for any reader not just the specialist.Published on 24 April 2013 by drone
I was wary when I started this book, suspecting that it would elevate genetics to an extreme in an attempt to explain everything with superficial reductionism. Read morePublished on 19 Sept. 2011 by rob crawford
History can be a very fascinating subject, and one can easily spend a whole lifetime exploring different historical periods and events. Read morePublished on 2 July 2011 by Dr. Bojan Tunguz
As someone with little knowledge of genetics, archeology, anthropology or human origins - only a deep fascination in all of the above - I found this book a brilliant, interesting... Read morePublished on 19 Jan. 2011 by ruth87
Finally at 82 yrs old I have an more than an inkling about where we humans come from, Amazing how man and his culture, language and habits evolved . Read morePublished on 11 Mar. 2010 by Walter H. Ziegler
This is an excellent book and I agree with all of the positive comments offered by other reviewers. My review here is confined to the Audio versions (AudioBook rendition on CD and... Read morePublished on 15 July 2009 by P. R. Rustage