Masters Of The Planet: The Search For Our Human Origins
- Palgrave Macmillan
- Publication Date:
- 26 April 2012
- Popular Science
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This sometimes surprising, always fascinating book on the history of human species examines the fossil record to explain what we know about the developmental path from the earliest ape-like hominids to the prehistory of our own Homo sapiens ancestors. For most of human existence several species co-existed, sometimes side-by-side. Why is there only us today? A lot goes into trying to answer that question, including what trait or traits characterize humanness, how early climate changes and population densities affected the speed of evolutionary adaptations, why technological advances sometimes come significantly after the structural changes that make them possible, and how early, less helpful theories of pioneering paleontologists are proving hard to shake. Central to the book is the determination of when and how humans became capable of symbolic reasoning, an adaptation author Ian Tattersall thinks may answer the question of why we are today the only humans on the planet. Did Neanderthals have that ability? It’s still a contentious issue, but based on the evidence author Ian Tattersall thinks not. The title Masters of the Planet is, I think, at least somewhat tongue in cheek. While it’s true that we Homo sapiens are the only humans left and that we are having an increasing impact on the planet, our tendency to be shortsighted is doing us no favors. Still, throughout human history we have proved to be masterful innovators, Tattersall documents this trait in us and our ancestors again and again, and that ability gives Tattersall hope for our future.This book was provided to me by the publisher with no review obligation, and the viewpoints are all mine.
I thoroughly enjoyed "Masters of the Planet" but cannot match some of the other reviews with respect to the science. I was nevertheless inspired and spent a lot of time thinking about each chapter. I was at the same time reading and enjoying Sebastian Faulks' brilliant novel "Human Traces" and at one point in the sweeping historical saga one of the characters visits the then "German East Africa' on a scientific expediton. They visit the famous footprints in the lava (actually discovered by Mary Leakey at Laetoli in 1978) but it is a thrilling story. After finishing the novel, I read the author's notes and acknowledgements and found that he thanked Professor Ian Tattersall at the Amercian Museum of Natural History and two other professors for assistance in this area. Reading the 2 books together was an unexpected pleasure. I am grateful to have received this book from librarything and it was an enjoyable update on new research in the area.
This was a lovely overview of the state of our knowledge of human origins. Dr. Tattersall has summarized many intriguing findings spanning the range from the radiological evidence of the diet of our Australopithecine predecessors to the advent of symbolic thinking in our immediate forbearers. Personally, I would have been happy with greater technical focus, but this was an immensely readable telling. I recommend it without hesitation for the reader seeking a broad but intriguing account of our coming to be who we are as a species. The writing was quite up to the task. Bravo!
This book works like an executive summary for the discoveries in human evolution to present. It includes locations, dates, mistake corrections, scientific community concurrences and disagreements, and continued mysteries. The author's expertise and knowledge in the field of human evolutionary studies is evident in this story's simplified readability. The reader is not bogged down with extreme details to every discovery, but is given plenty of resources to continue interested research. This is a great complementary book for anyone interested in human evolution.
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