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Human Evolution: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews
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: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #190,782 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The "Very Short Introduction" series from Oxford University Press has gained a good reputation for putting across information in a way that is concise, but readable, and this entry in the series by Bernard Wood keeps up the good work. Although he's not shy to use (after explanation) technical terms like clade and hominin that sit oddly on the non-specialist eye, Wood does a good job of introducing each element along the way. He gives a quick historical background of the development of our ideas on human evolution before plunging into the detail of what we now know from the fossil record (with admirable thoroughness, he explains what fossils are and how they are formed, and spends a moment on the way dendrochronology has transformed carbon dating.)

The book is modern enough to include Homo Floresiensis -- the so-called hobbit (though not in any great detail), and gives a balanced view on issues that still remain contentious, like the exact mode (be it "out of Africa" or multi-regional) of humanity's spread across the planet.

Perhaps the only real negative in the writing is a certain dryness, though it is never less than readable. Of course there are limitations from the format. The book's convenient size makes it less than ideal for actually reading, and the print size might prove challenging to those who haven't quite admitted to needing reading glasses yet. And the compact form doesn't make for the ideal popular science book, because there isn't really room to talk around the subject and add the fascinating context that makes for a great popular science read. These are the main reasons for my three-star rating.
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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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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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