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Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings Paperback – August 14, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone; New edition edition (August 14, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684824701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684824703
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,062,678 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

There is a pleasing irony that a single family--the Leakeys--has been one of the most important and effective forces in the age-old effort to trace the human family to its origins. Virginia Morell's book is a fascinating and authoritative personal and scientific biography of the real family (comprised of Louis, Mary, and Richard Leakey), their scientific progeny, and (again in a fitting touch of irony), the competing bands of modern anthropologists competing over limited paleontological and conceptual resources of publication, prestige, and power, much like ancient hominid bands competing for caves, copulations, and carcasses. Highly Recommended. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Born in Kenya, Louis Leakey (1903- 1972), son of a dynamic missionary, grew up among Kikuyu natives. At Cambridge in 1923, a rugby injury left him with post-traumatic epilepsy, necessitating a prolonged leave that marked the beginning of his fossil-hunting career. In 1933, one month after his first wife, Frida, gave birth to their son Colin, Louis announced that he was leaving her for one of his students, Mary Nicol. Over the next four decades, the husband-and-wife Leakey team made stunning discoveries of hominid fossils that supported Louis's theory that humankind originated in Africa and was millions of years older than most experts had assumed. In a revelatory biography that strips away the aura surrounding a legendary family, Oregon-based science writer Morell maintains that by the late 1950s, the Leakey marriage had deteriorated into a business partnership. Louis had extramarital affairs and fell ardently in love with his young proteges, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and gorilla-watcher Dian Fossey. His son Richard, by this account, had a bitter professional rivalry with his domineering father and, fearing that Louis would try to ease him out, kept from him his 1968 diagnosis of terminal kidney disease, which he overcame with a kidney transplant operation in 1980. Morell balances grand scientific adventure with personal chronicle in an extraordinary group portrait that was written with the family's cooperation yet is not authorized. Photos. Newbridge Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on September 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Morell's astounding level of research reveals the Leakeys individually, as a family, and as dogged searchers for the truth about man's origins--and as living, breathing humans. Through letters, diaries, journals, personal interviews, and family archives, they speak to the reader with unprecedented candor about their personal travails, but more importantly, about their early struggles for funding, their fossil discoveries in remote desert locations, their constant surprise by the historical record, and their uncertainty, to this day, about modern man's exact lineage.

Some Leakey peccadilloes, never secret, are fully documented here: Louis's constant womanizing and his "adoption" of young female researchers, such as Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas; Mary's scotch-drinking, her cigar-smoking, and her intolerance of those on her Stinker List, some of them other researchers; and Richard's boyish brashness and arrogance, along with his health problems and dislike of Donald Johanson. Less appreciated, however, is the fact that before Louis's work and significant discoveries, people still believed that early man was from China or Europe, not Africa. Mary Leakey was the first person ever to excavate a Paleolithic site, and her meticulous care about documenting the tools and animals found in the same stratae as her hominid fossils, told here in detail, revolutionized the way fossils were recovered and catalogued. Richard found as many hominid fossils in two years (1971 and 1972) as Mary and Louis found in 36 years, and his level of dedication to research since finding his first hominid fossil at age 6, his mentoring of young researchers, and his creation of museums and foundations in Nairobi have perhaps received less attention than they deserve.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 6, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is a long, engrossing, detailed book about the Leakey family and their impact on paleoanthropology in Africa. It's a real pot-boiler of a book--hard to put down and a totally fascinating study of the family. You get a real sense of their human failings as well as their triumphs. The family comes across as stubborn, intense, egomaniacal and prickly, as well as totally dedicated to their pursuit of man's ancestry in Africa. Although the author has a higher opinion of the Leakeys than some of their rivals (Donald Johanson), she by no means glosses over the more unsavory aspects of their characters. I would highly recommend this book, regardless of your level of familiarity with paleoanthropology.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 1, 1997
Format: Hardcover
Amidst the splendor and corruption of Africa, this family battle the weather, the government, the prejudices, the lack of funds, and even each other. Their intelligence and love for the country is evident as they search for prehistoric evidence of earliest humans. The more I read about them, the more I admired their contribution to East Africa and to the world.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 1997
Format: Hardcover
This is an engrossing story of archealogy's first family. The title hints at their adventures, loves, intrigues, battles, all most passionate. I could not put the book down. The landscape of archealogy will forever be, for me, after this book, a color filled map with the land of our ancestors fully pictured in my mind. No longer will archealolgists seem to be dull digging tan people,but exciting real people, made of the passion of us all. A superb read
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More About the Author

I am an author of science and natural history books, and a prolific contributor to Science, National Geographic, Smithsonian, and other publications. I love writing about the natural world, and how scientists are exploring it. In my newest book, ANIMAL WISE, I explore the once-forbidden land of animal minds with scientists courageous enough to tackle the questions: What and how do animals think? In my book, you'll read about my trips to meet researchers who've discovered that ants teach, parrots converse, rats laugh, and cheetahs can die from heartbreak. I live in Ashland, Oregon, with my husband and fellow-writer, Michael McRae, our American Working Farm Collie, Buckaroo, and sweet, but camera-shy Calico kitty, Nini.

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