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Extinct Humans Hardcover – June 15, 2000

23 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0813334820 ISBN-10: 0813334829 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

It's time for a hominid family reunion, and anthropologists Ian Tattersall and Jeffrey Schwartz have brought the scrapbook. Extinct Humans is both an album of knowledge of our ancestors and closely related species and a theoretical reconsideration of the fossil evidence. Tattersall and Schwartz suggest that many more human species existed than we previously thought, and that many of them existed contemporaneously until about 25,000 years ago. Profusely illustrated, the book makes its case well, showing and discussing the evidence and proposing a family history that pulls all the fossils and theories together into a testable whole. The authors have personally investigated every available hominid specimen, and the depth of their knowledge is staggering at times--but their obsession is enlightening and entertaining.

The introductory history of human taxonomy sets us up for the discussions to follow and reminds us of our tendency to read more into human history than can reasonably be inferred from the evidence. The racist sentiments of 19th-century anthropologists found firm footing in their theories, and we can only wonder what mistakes we're making today. Doing their best to eliminate extraneous details, Tattersall and Schwartz provide a lean, parsimonious theory to guide anthropology into the 21st century, as we try to learn why we're the only ones left. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

Stone tools and fossilized jawbones meet complex, reticulated theories from the history of anthropology and evolution in this attractively produced introduction to the vexed world of early hominids. Tattersall and Schwartz (who took many of the book's b&w photos) describe their popularly intended work as the by-product of a continuing paleontological goal: the authors want to describe "the huge variety of human fossils according to a single consistent protocol." The first chapter covers the history of speculation about human origins, from Aristotle's to Goethe's concepts to discovery of the 1856 Feldhofer Grotto Neanderthal fossil, to today's debates about the branching trees of Homo and Australopithecus. Then we're off to the fossils themselves and to the vigorous debates about themAdebates until recently carried on with too little data and too little reference to norms of nonanthropoid paleontology. Was Robert Broom's Kromdraai hominid (1938) a new genus of proto-humans, Paranthropus? His reasons for saying so wouldn't have held water had he been classifying, say, sea urchins. Skull contours, pelvis shapes, tooth types, climate change and fossil footprints enter into the debates Tattersall (The Fossil Trail; The Last Neanderthal) and Schwartz (Skeleton Keys; Sudden Origins) record. Previous paleoanthropologists, the authors explain, tried too hard to imagine a single line culminating in Homo sapiens. Hominid history ought to look less like a queue than like a treeAlater chapters explore that tree and its fruits. The authors clearly describe recent discoveries in China; map hypothesized early-human migrations; cover the decline of the Neanderthals; and consider Western Europe's trove of cave paintings and bone flutesAevidence of practices that characterize, not Neanderthals, but just us. (July)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (June 15, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0813334829
  • ISBN-13: 978-0813334820
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 8 x 10 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #120,365 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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41 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Magellan HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 7, 2002
Format: Paperback
It's been 20 years since I read up much on the paleoanthropology, so I thought I'd get up to date and read some of the recent books on the subject. One thing I noticed right away, compared to when I was last studying the subject in college, was how our evolutionary tree was now much "bushier," compared to what we knew back then. Now it's thought that there were at least 3 or 4 different species of Australopithecines, and the same goes for Homo habilis, and H. erectus.
Besides this book, so far I've read Paul Jordan's Neanderthal, Richard Leakey's The Origins of Humankind, and Richard Klein's The Dawn of Human Culture. They're all excellent books, but Klein's and Tattersall's were both published in the last year, so they're the most recent, and include important information on the most recent finds, such as Ardipithecus ramidus, although the Sahelanthropus tchadensis discovery by the M. Brunet expedition was so recent it unfortunately doesn't appear in either book.
This book is the most beauifully illustrated of the four books I've read so far. The full-color plates of the different skulls really allow you to connect the comparative anatomy as discussed in the text with the actual features. The book has very nice, glossy paper, so the photos look great, but that also means its the most expensive book of the four. Tattersall's writing is excellent and never gets dry or technical, and the Klein book is also extremely well written. Klein's book also has very clear explanations of high-tech dating methods such as radioisotope dating, thermoluminscence, ESR or electron spin resonance dating, and so on, and he also discusses their strengths and weaknesses, and the technical problems and limitations involved in using them, which I liked.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Bruce Trinque VINE VOICE on August 13, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"Extinct Humans" is a fascinating account of human evolution, extraordinarily illustrated with crisp, powerful photographs of fossils which drive home the point that these are the remains of actual beings who have inhabited this world before us, whether they were our direct ancestors or instead "cousins" to our own line of descent.
Tattersall and Schwartz have studied not just the literature on the subject, but virtually all the fossils themselves, giving them a perhaps unmatched command of the variations in the homanid fossil record. They argue persuasively in a clear, well-organized text that modern Homo sapiens is the sole survivor of the many distinct homanid species which have existed over the past two million years, that most of the fossils which have been found represent not ancestors of our own specific line, but relatives which split off in different directions before ultimately coming to a literal dead end. Their discussion of the interaction between Neaderthals and modern humans in Europe (and possibly between Homo erectus and modern humans in southeast Asia) is especially absorbing, delving into questions of technological change, the emergence of symbolic thought, and the creation of language.
The study of human evolution has, well, evolved enormously in the 35 years I have been interested in the topic. "Extinct Humans" is, to my way of thinking, today's best summary and analysis of current knowledge.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on February 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
Tracing the course of human evolution is fraught with pitfalls. Each newly discovered fossil is scrupulously assessed for its place on the human family tree. Locating it properly is fundamental in understanding how evolution achieved Homo sapiens. Tattersall and Schwarz conduct us on a tour of the history of evolutionary thinking and detail the analysis procedures. The expedition is thoughtfully conceived, offering superb vistas and rewarding discoveries.
Over half a century ago, E. Mayr and T. Dobzhansky developed a "grand synthesis" of human evolution. According to the authors, the earlier workers postulated a "linear" path of hominid evolution. This analysis forged much of evolutionary thinking for decades. Dissenters, however, were always present. Nearly every book on human evolution spends some time describing the conflict between the "lumpers" and the "splitters". Viewing the many of the hominid fossils as but individual variations of general types, the lumpers find abhorrent the complexity resulting from too many species. To them, the family tree is a linear trunk with but a few branches. In contrast, the splitters see fossil variations reflecting a host of unearthed new hominid species. They feel that turning the human family tree into a frizzy bush gives the emergence of Homo sapiens an even more unique place in Nature than it already enjoys.
Tattersall and Schwarz produce a remarkable case for additional splitting. Morphology, the classifying of characteristics of anatomical features, is their operating system. In this book we are offered one of the most complete morphological analyses of human fossils in print. Dismissing the idea of the human family tree portraying a linear sequence of events, they examine in minute detail the bones unearthed to date.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By vlad on March 23, 2001
Format: Hardcover
According to Reuters of December 5, 2000, French and Kenyan scientists unearthed fossilized remains of mankind's earliest known ancestor that is at least 6 million years old, and the find is not only much older than any else previously known but is also in a more advanced stage of evolution. More news from Reuters on March 21, 2001, and we find out that Meave and Louise Leakey are ready to shake the world with their discovery of not only a new species of early human but a new genus as well.
These new findings, as well as many others, support the emerging theory that rather than being linear, the human family tree had many branches, and that present-day humans shared ancestors with other human beings who eventually became extinct.
Long-existed dogmas of paleoanthropology supporting the linear model of evolution are about to fall down, and considering this, the importance of the book by Tattersall and Schwartz can hardly be overestimated.
First of all, of course, the authors provide a surprisingly thorough insight into the existing knowledge of known fossils, and the job done by them is very impressive: Tattersall and Schwartz have obviously studied not only the literature and photos, they have got into a much deeper investigation, discussing a very little detail of an original fossil, and at the same time, with a help of perfect pictures and drawings, giving readers a nice chance to look at the reason of the reconsideration of the existing fossil evidence. The details of morphology brought by the authors into the light are striking and strongly supportive to their point of view.
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