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The Origin Of Humankind (Science Masters Series) Paperback – October 7, 1994

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Leakey here distills the thinking he has elaborated upon in more richly illustrated formats, especially Origins and Origins Reconsidered, both coauthored with Roger Lewin. For the neophyte, something is perhaps gained by a sparer text. and fewer illustrations. The time lines and fossil skeleton views included here are sufficient to keep the wonder and mystery of anthropology pumping while Leakey meticulously teases out the disputes that make the discipline so obsessive. There is necessarily much that is familiar in these pages, but those who are not conversant with anthropology's near-ritual arguments on bipedalism, language and brain evolution, the origins of consciousness etc., will find this survey a reliable course.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

What makes this volume by the distinguished Kenyan paleoanthropologist and coauthor of Origins (1977) and Origins Reconsidered (LJ 9/1/92) particularly engaging is the lucid presentation and interpretation of recent findings and current issues in human evolution, all of which are woven into the story of human origins. Leakey attempts to explain what he holds to be the four big evolutionary events, all foci of scientific disputation: the evolution of bipedal locomotion in apelike primates, proliferation of species of the human family (the hominids), expansion of the brain with the evolution of the genus Homo, and evolution of modern humans. Leakey argues that complex social behavior-and not the use of tools and weapons-acted as the principal driving force in human evolution. Although the sections on the origins of the hominids and Homo seem the most cogent, discussions of the evolution of art, language, and consciousness are both informative and thought-provoking. Strongly recommended for general science collections.
James D. Haug, East Carolina Univ. Lib., Greenville, N.C.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Science Masters Series
  • Paperback: 171 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (October 7, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465031358
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465031351
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 9.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,819,392 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By magellan HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on October 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
This book focuses more on how the fossil and cultural (i.e., tool-making) evidence for early human ancestors illuminates various aspects of human nature and what it truly means to be human, rather than on the technical details and comparative anatomy of the different pre-homonid and homonid evolutionary lines. Leakey does spend some time discussing the fossils and anatomy, though, which would be almost impossible to avoid in a book on physical anthropology, of course, but it's not the main emphasis of the book. He's mainly interested in showing how the fossil record illuminates the important physical and cultural changes that occurred during our long evolution, and what that says about how early humans lived.
For example, Leakey discusses how the anatomical changes from early Australopithecus (Lucy) to Homo erectus suggest profound differences in the physiology and life style of our earliest ancestors versus the first and later homonids. During this evolutionary transition, all the following changes occurred: the prolonged, more helpless infancy of humans; our ability to be more active and athletic, more delayed sexual maturity; the ability to make and use finer tools; the ability to hunt and kill larger game, along with a more omnivorous diet; a more complex and sophisticated social structure; and finally, the development of true language. Leakey includes separate chapters on 'The Art of Language," "The Language of Art," and "The Origins of Mind," in which he discusses the evidence for these higher-level and more advanced cognitive processes. Leakey is also careful to discuss investigations ranging from traditional comparative anatomy to high-tech approaches using DNA techniques, microanatomy (such as tooth lines), and CAT scans.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
If I were an expert on anthropology and human evolution I probably wouldn't be reading a book on it from the Science Masters Series. This is really something of a primer on human evolution for people like me (I'm a Sociology graduate student) that are interested in the topic but really have very little background in biology or anthropology. Admittedly, I did find some of his topics overly interesting because of their apparent relationship to topics addressed by Sociology. One of these was the notion of consciousness. He attributes the idea of the Inner Eye/Inner 'I' to Humphrey, 1986. Perhaps Humphrey pulled a fast one on anthropologists because his interpretation is a rehash of George Herbert Mead's Symbolic Interactionism and his conceptions of consciousness and the 'I' and the 'Me'.
Aside from that criticism, I found the book to be a very enjoyable read. I have something of a background in biology (no expert by any stretch), but with what little background I do have the concepts discussed were not over my head. For individuals that have a good high school and perhaps college education, this book shouldn't be too difficult to digest and should be rather informative. I think I was most intrigued by the discussion of the human mind and consciousness, but the entire book was interesting (in a positive way) to me and I would highly recommend it.
There was one quote from Richard Dawkins in the book that I found particularly insightful (whether true or not, I don't claim to know), "Perhaps consciousness arises when the brain's simulation of the world becomes so complete that it must include a model of itself." (p. 142).
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
There are other books on the subject (including Leakey's own, Origins Reconsidered) that survey the subject with more completeness, fuller explanation, and greater literary color. This is a very slim volume. Besides the restricted length (and thus restricted discussion), the two primary weaknesses with this book are its author's occasionally unrigorous opinions and flights of fancy (see the part about cave art and shamans). With respect to his dismissive opinions, Leakey is not alone among paleoanthropologists; but read the argument against Owen Lovejoy's theory of bipedalism and see if you think it holds up. (Mind you, it is difficult to see clearly the flaws in Leakey's arguments precisely because there is so little space to go into detail.) Second, there is nothing wrong with imagination in the sciences, provided scientists know what to do with it; but scientists sometimes impose their wishes and daydreams on the facts--and the two get muddled in the public's mind, because the "information" is coming from scientists (the true "priests" of our age). Leakey is better able than some to rein in this fancifulness, but it's still there---and, especially in a book this size, there just isn't room for it.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Michael Kumpf on July 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is a good introduction to our distant past and ancestors for beginners in the subject. Leakey writes very well and explains things quite concisely. He gives an overview of the major theories, but due to the shortness of the book (only 171 pages including index) he only fleshes out his own theories. I am not an expert in anthropology so I don't know if he is grasping at straws or not. He gives a pretty good bibliography in the back for further reading. There are some problems with the book. First, it is very short, so the author does not have time to really delve into the different theories as much as you may wish he would. Second, this book was written almost ten years ago. There has been more discoveries since then, including the 6 million year old hominid fossils in Chad, which I wish he addressed in an epilogue or an updated version of the book. I would recommend this if you have no background in anthropology and then do some extra research on the web to get up to date with new findings.
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