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Human Evolution: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0192803603
ISBN-10: 0192803603
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Bernard Wood is Henry R. Luce Professor of Human Origins at George Washington University and the Smithsonian Institution.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 131 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (January 12, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192803603
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192803603
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.6 x 4.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #79,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Michael Valdivielso on February 27, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Human Evolution by Bernard Wood is just the facts and only the facts. At 131 pages this is all the updated information about human related fossils, up to the year 2005, and the debates about what they mean.

The book starts out explaining about the Tree Of Life, what fossils are, how they are found and how they are used as evidence. Everything is clear and crisp, Mr. Wood treats the reader to a lesson in paleoanthropology, without moving too swiftly but without talking down to the reader. Can be finished in a day or two, no problem.

Great for people new to the subject or as a small guide for those on the go.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWER on July 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
This book is everything that the VSI (Very Short Introductions) are supposed to be: it's short, it's to the point and it's up-to-date. It reviews all the major events in the history of thought on human evolution, as well as all the major landmarks of that evolution as we understand them today. When there are several differing interpretations of fossil evidence, Wood impartially points out all the strengths and weaknesses of different positions. Although this is not a book on evolution in general, the early chapters position human evolution within the context of primate evolution, and even more briefly, under the evolution of life. For the review of evolution in general, "Evolution: A Very Short Introduction" would be an excellent choice.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Brian Siegel on April 24, 2006
Format: Paperback
Valdivielso's review has it right. This is a tightly and carefully organized summary, and it requires careful reading. In addition, each chapter ends with a valuable "Points to Watch," which alert readers to on-going debates and uncertainties. Bravo!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By LeeHoFooks on November 14, 2011
Format: Paperback
This book is exactly what the title promises it to be -- a "Very Short Introduction" to our species' family tree. It's not the best book there is on the basics of human evolution. (For that, I would recommend Carl Zimmer's "Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins.") But for a very small, easy to read, inexpensive introduction to the subject of human origins, it's pretty good.

This little book clearly and concisely covers such topics as: the basics of biological evolution, significant hominin fossil finds, and fossil dating methods. I'm studying physical anthropology, and I found it to be a great refresher. In fact, I even learned of a dating method that has yet mentioned in any of my classes so far -- ostrich egg shell dating. Reading "Human Evolution: A Very Short Introduction" won't turn you into today's Louis or Mary Leakey, but it will probably teach you a few things about where (and who) we came from, as well as how we know.
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31 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Kerry Walters VINE VOICE on August 8, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Did you ever have a high school teacher or college professor who had the unhappy knack of making even the most exciting topics deadly boring the moment he or she began lecturing on them? I bet so. I know I did.

I ask this because struggling through Bernard Wood's Human Evolution took me back to those classes. There are few topics more intellectually exciting than the one Professor Wood takes on. There are few treatments of it more deadly. Readers who pick this book up expecting to read lively prose describing the search for hominid fossils in Africa and Asia will be unpleasantly surprised. Instead, what Wood gives us is a (mercifully short) treatise on methodology and taxonomy, with just enough brief accounts of field work to keep the reader plodding through to the end.

What Wood's written, in short, is a brief textbook, not a narrative intended for an educated lay audience. There are pages of charts outlining hominin taxa and comparing human and chimpanzee anatomical features. And there are lots of sentences like this one: "The shape and size of the true pelvis, combined with what can be extrapolated from adult brain sizes about the brain size of a H. ergaster neonate suggests that the head was small enough to be oriented transversely all the way through the birth canal, and thus it did not need to be rotated after negotiating the pelvic inlet" (86). Holy cow.

Look: I don't expect that every science writer will be a Loren Eiseley, Rachel Carson, or Stephen Hawking. But it would be nice if science writers who take a crack at the popular market would actually try to interest their readers. Use Wood's book as a quick and convenient taxonomic guide, to be consulted but not read straight through, and spend your time on more readable narratives such as (for example) Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn, Ann Gibbons' The First Human, or Donald Johanson's books on Lucy.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Dr. H. A. Jones on August 13, 2012
Format: Paperback
Though this is another admirable publication in Oxford's Very Short Introduction series, generally intended for readership by non-specialists, the degree of biological detail here make this more suitable for undergraduate biologists with an interest in paleoanthropology. The author is himself a medically qualified paleoanthropologist, a Professor of Human Origins at the George Washington University in America, so there is much, perhaps necessarily, anatomical detail about the fossil human remains that have been unearthed.

After an introduction that takes us from biblical accounts of our origins, through the work of Vesalius, Lamarck, Darwin, Huxley, Lyell and Mendel, right up to Watson and Crick and the human genome project, we are treated to a discussion of the biological differentiation of humans (hominins) and panins, gorillas and orang-utans - our genetic similarities and anatomical differences.

There are details of oxygen isotope measurement as a guide to past climates; methods of dating fossils and the sediments or rocks in which they are found; and how the age and sex of hominins is determined from the skeletal fragments that anthropologists usually have to be content with. The author points out that while `modern humans have a substantial fossil record . . . the fossil record for chimpanzees [our genetically nearest animal relatives] is virtually non-existent.' So the story is largely one of intelligent piecing together of our ancestry from what remains there are.

It was Darwin who first suggested that, as we are probably related to the apes and they exist largely in Africa, this would be a good place to start looking for human remains. Modern biologists tell us that indeed we did, in the beginning, `come out of Africa'.
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