Top positive review
4 people found this helpful
Great book, minor flaws
on 20 May 2006
As the other reviewers have explained, this book tells the story of humanity, starting 65 million years in the past and moving on into a distant future. We see the change through several vignettes, most following a predecessor of modern humans, providing a snapshot of a chaotic world and the slow transformation from small shrew-like creatures into...well, you and me. Some chapters also show the dead ends that mankind could have fallen into--one chapter posits that a species of dinosaur began to grope their way towards civilisation in the Jurassic, but lost their chance through nothing more than bad luck. Another follows the slow and painful extinctions of creatures trapped on Antarctica as the world cools. Yet another shows proto-humans who never had any incentive to invest in brainpower, and were lost with their habitat. The adventures of the 'protagonists' can get repetitive, but the real star in the early stories is the world in which they live.
A problem with the book, ironically, is the modern human characters, who came off to me as being either talking heads or weak stereotypes. I found that the narration was better when the exposition on what is going on was in the third person. Also, the pivotal part of the book, the total collapse of modern civilisation seemed less than convincing--all of humanity reverts to a feral state within a thousand years, somehow abandoning even basic concepts such as fire, the wheel, agriculture and language. Such a radical change really needed a chapter to itself to make it convincing.
That aside, this book has some parts that honestly qualify as mind-blowing. The presentation of the comet impact that (supposedly) wiped out the dinosaurs is presented in a way worthy of any disaster movie, conveying perfectly the global nature of the catacylsm, to a day in the life of the last human ever to exist, half a billion years from now.
It's not a comforting book--it ends with the extinction of humanity, though the humans do leave successors after a fashion. It steers clear of nihilism, though, and if it has a 'moral', it is that our actions now can influence the world more than any other time before.
Overall, a great read with some minor flaws, that works as a scholarly introduction to how humankind got here, an entertaining read that makes you want to see what happens next, and a philosophical examination of the meaning of life in a world that so often snuffs it out. Worth a look.