From Publishers Weekly
Johanson (Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind
), the paleoanthropologist who in 1974 discovered the famed 3.2-million-year-old hominid named Lucy, and Scientific American
editor Wong delve deeply into the significance of Lucy, her probable ancestors and her probable successors, including modern humans. The authors capture the curiosity, passion and excitement that Johanson and his colleagues bring to their research, as well as the mundane, backbreaking aspects of fieldwork. Wong and Johanson are also expert at framing the science that informs judgments about what defines a hominid species, such as brain size, the ability to walk upright and facial structure. They probe the equally important question of what drove human evolution, examining three major approaches: a social model, a dietary model and an environmental model. Johanson is adept at framing the debates within his famously contentious discipline, ranging from fundamental questions about the fossil record to theories of early human migration, the fate of the Neanderthals and the controversy over the highly publicized recent discovery of fossil "hobbits" on the Indonesian archipelago. The writing is accessible, especially considering the challenging nature of the science that shapes our understanding of human evolution. (Mar.)
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*Starred Review* Johanson’s fourth book trading on the Beatles-derived name he gave the famous fossil he found in 1974 well complements the second edition of From Lucy to Language (2006), in particular. That book was 50 percent different from its 10-years-older original state because of the further revolutionary changes wrought in hominid paleontology by several very recent discoveries that Johanson devotes most of the latter two-thirds of this book to explaining. The first third recounts his return to Ethiopia’s Hadar region in 1980 after a hiatus necessitated by political turmoil in the East African nation. Very engaging, thanks perhaps to popular scientific journalist Wong, it communicates the poignancy of Johanson’s occasionally nerve-racking return to the birthplace of his career with something of the verve and suspense of an Indiana Jones movie. Hooked by that adventurous beginning, and introduced to many of the figures whose work preoccupies what follows, many will continue with the book’s real meat, which implicatively but not literally argues that far from there being no missing link between apes and humans, there are several, complicatedly related, with more being found and likely to be found in the foreseeable future. --Ray Olson