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Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors [Kindle Edition]

Nicholas Wade
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (192 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.00
Kindle Price: $11.84
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Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

Nicholas Wade’s articles are a major reason why the science section has become the most popular, nationwide, in the New York Times. In his groundbreaking Before the Dawn, Wade reveals humanity’s origins as never before—a journey made possible only recently by genetic science, whose incredible findings have answered such questions as: What was the first human language like? How large were the first societies, and how warlike were they? When did our ancestors first leave Africa, and by what route did they leave? By eloquently solving these and numerous other mysteries, Wade offers nothing less than a uniquely complete retelling of a story that began 500 centuries ago.




Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Scientists are using DNA analysis to understand our prehistory: the evolution of humans; their relation to the Neanderthals, who populated Europe and the Near East; and Homo erectus, who roamed the steppes of Asia. Most importantly, geneticists can trace the movements of a little band of human ancestors, numbering perhaps no more than 150, who crossed the Red Sea from east Africa about 50,000 years ago. Within a few thousand years, their descendents, Homo sapiens, became masters of all they surveyed, the other humanoid species having become extinct. According to New York Times science reporter Wade, this DNA analysis shows that evolution isn't restricted to the distant past: Iceland has been settled for only 1,000 years, but the inhabitants have already developed distinctive genetic traits. Wade expands his survey to cover the development of language and the domestication of man's best friend. And while "race" is often a dirty word in science, one of the book's best chapters shows how racial differences can be marked genetically and why this is important, not least for the treatment of diseases. This is highly recommended for readers interested in how DNA analysis is rewriting the history of mankind. Maps. (Apr. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Genetics has been intruding on human origins research, long the domain of archaeology and paleoanthropology. Veteran science journalist Wade applies the insights of genetics to every intriguing question about the appearance and global dispersal of our species. The result is Wade's recounting of "a new narrative," which also has elements of a turf war between geneticists and their established colleagues. He efficiently explains how an evolutionary event (e.g., hairlessness) is recorded in DNA, and how rates of mutation can set boundary dates for it. For the story, Wade opens with a geneticist's estimate that modern (distinct from "archaic") Homo sapiens arose in northeast Africa 59,000 years ago, with a tiny population of only a few thousand, and was homogenous in appearance and language. Tracking the ensuing expansion and evolutionary pressures on humans, Wade covers the genetic evidence bearing on Neanderthals, race, language, social behaviors such as male-female pair bonding, and cultural practices such as religion. Wade presents the science skillfully, with detail and complexity and without compromising clarity. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1536 KB
  • Print Length: 332 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1594200793
  • Publisher: Penguin Books (March 27, 2007)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000PDYVRA
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,971 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
447 of 461 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
"Before the Dawn" is a very well written survey of what genetics can teach us about the origin and evolution of the human species. Starting with the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees 5 million years ago, Wade explores the latest theories about the development of the "hominid" line and explains why homo sapiens evolved differently from our cousins, the chimpanzees and the bonobos.

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.
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223 of 242 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars fascinating, meticulous and wide in scope April 20, 2006
Format:Hardcover
I liked this book a lot. The material is complicated, but familiar at the same time. When I thought about it, I found that I had a number of ingrained notions about ancient human life. I had a picture in my mind of a relatively peaceful caveman, the same one from grade school textbooks and the natural history museum- I had never really thought about ancient human history, or what humanity's predecessors might have been like. This book examines those points in depth- how our ancestors might have walked, made tools, begun to speak, and spread across the world. A main point of this book is that scientists' growing understanding of the information encoded in DNA, along with integrating information from other disciplines, can provide a window into human history we have never had before.

The breadth of disciplines that apply to this topic are amazing, encompassing history, biology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, paleontology, sociology, behavioral science, and many others- it was enjoyable to learn about different fields of normally esoteric knowledge from someone who can explain it all clearly and interestingly. And delicately- for example, the chapter on race is an artful discussion of the new questions we can ask about race and evolution with DNA, describing with precision what sort of meaningful things can and cannot be said about race from a biological standpoint, versus a sociological one.

This book is reminiscent in some respects to Guns, Germs, and Steel, another book looking at humans from a more biology-focused perspective (in fact, Mr. Wade addresses a couple of claims made in it), and people who liked that book would almost certainly enjoy this one. This book is similarly broad in scope, yet surprisingly concise, which I suppose might be expected from a journalist. Anyway, it is a well-written, fun and interesting book, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in science in general and human history and biology in particular-
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58 of 61 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The science of DNA analysis has progressed with amazing rapidity over the last decade, confirming, correcting and filling in the details outlined by pioneers in human migration such as Stanford's Luigi Cavalli-Sforza. The most powerful tools at the moment are analysis of the Y-chromosome, which is heritable only from the father, and mitochondrial DNA, heritable from the mother. Both are subject to small mutations from generation to generation. The time at which populations quit interbreeding can be fairly accurately determined by which mutations they share and which they don't. Scientist Spenser Wells' "The Journey of Man" does an excellent job of describing the science. Wade does so with fewer words and less depth, and brings Wells' work up to date. Wells thought Europeans and East Asians parted company in the heart of the Russian steppes; Wade has Europe being populated by a more southerly route.

Wade's human timeline has us becoming "anatomically modern" 100,000 years ago, acquiring language sometime thereafter, with a pioneer group of 150 or so individuals emigrating out of Africa to displace Neanderthals and other archaic humans around 50,000 years ago. These timelines are later than other writers have posited. It raises the question, what is language? Wade sees it as the essential tool for communicating culture: the acquired knowledge, toolmaking skills, religion and social skills that made it possible for humankind to transcend the hunter-gatherer style of life.

His discussion of linguistic paleontology, and its ties with paleoanthropology, the ways in which people and languages moved and morphed, shows the benefit of coming at a problem from several angles. Languages evolve rapidly.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars really revealing narrative as to why we act like we do
really revealing narrative as to why we act like we do. this is not a PC excuse for human nature by any means, this is based on recent genetic research and confronts some PC... Read more
Published 1 day ago by Alma Jeanne Carman
5.0 out of 5 stars Really good general book concerning the past 50
Really good general book concerning the past 50,000 years of human evolution. Using DNA sequence and other factual evidence, Wade addresses profound questions, e.g. Read more
Published 1 day ago by D. Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating!
Wade summarizes research within the relevant scientific disciplines that seek to create a timeline for and an elucidation of human evolution--in very readable form. Read more
Published 4 days ago by Sunrise Susie
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It was very interesting and I learned a lot from it.
Published 10 days ago by Sandra K Marsters
5.0 out of 5 stars This is one outstanding book and a must read for ...
This is one outstanding book and a must read for anyone interested in human evolution and our current global situation.
Published 11 days ago by John D. Mead
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Engaging
It turns out the first humans to walk the earth was not that long ago. It wasn't millions of years ago as once thought, or even hundreds-of-thousands of years ago. Read more
Published 16 days ago by Ricardo Mio
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant!! Manages to combine genetics
Brilliant !! Manages to combine genetics, anthropology, sociology, and other sciences in a fun and exciting way which is hard to put down.
Absolutely recomended!
Published 24 days ago by Carlos
5.0 out of 5 stars I've read this book at least 5 times, it's ...
I've read this book at least 5 times, it's stuffed full of information and thought-provoking material that I find myself going back time and time again.
Published 26 days ago by Nichola Winney
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
its our history, to deny it is to travel blindly through your life
Published 27 days ago by Bobby Palmer
5.0 out of 5 stars fantastic
What a story! The origins of behavior that separate modern humans from their simian brothers. We turn out to all be Africans. Read more
Published 29 days ago by Raymond Flood
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More About the Author


Nicholas Wade is the author of three books about recent human evolution. They are addressed to the general reader interested in knowing what the evolutionary past tells us about human nature and society today.
One, Before the Dawn, published in 2006, traces how people have evolved during the last 50,000 years.
The second book, The Faith Instinct (2009), argues that because of the survival advantage of religion, an instinct for religious behavior was favored by natural selection among early human societies and became universal in all their descendants.
A Troublesome Inheritance (2014), the third of the trilogy, looks at how human races evolved.
Wade was born in Aylesbury, England, and educated at Eton and at King's College, Cambridge, where he studied natural sciences. He became a journalist writing about scientific issues, and has worked at Nature and Science, two weekly scientific magazines, and on the New York Times.








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Before the Dawn
It's been six years. I demand an update to this wonderful book!Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors Read More
Mar 15, 2013 by Jane Tucker |  See all 2 posts
An unfounded assumption
The analogy here is chimpanzees (clearly hunter/gathers) who do go out in small raiding parties to attack neighboring groups.
Jun 2, 2007 by gypsy lee rose |  See all 5 posts
Who Was Adam?
How many times can you rewrite the Bible to fit new scientific findings? At some point you're going to have to concede that it has just been stretched too far to be infallible.
Dec 21, 2007 by Amazon Customer |  See all 5 posts
natural selection
The professor does not understand evolution because he has never made the effort. Not only has research supported evolution, but the principles of evolution been used in computers to design new devices. Recently, for example, NASA used an evolutionary program to design a new antenna for use in... Read More
Oct 18, 2006 by R Young |  See all 3 posts
racism or just science?
The existence of genetic variations between different groups of Homo Sapiens is obvious to anyone with eyes. It's no more racist to notice this than it is to notice that a St Bernard and a German Shepard are different breeds of
canine. But don't take the baiting, ignorance and hysteria too... Read More
May 31, 2008 by Raymond Davis |  See all 10 posts
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