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Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors Paperback – September 7, 1993


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Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors + The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence + The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; Reprint edition (September 7, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0345384725
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345384720
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (96 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #62,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In a leisurely, lyrical meditation on the roughly four-[billion]-year span since life dawned on Earth, Sagan and Druyan ( Comet ) argue that territoriality, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, occasional outbreeding and a preference for small, semi-isolated groups are elements in a survival strategy common to many species, including Homo sapiens. Yet society's problems, they assert, increasingly demand global solutions and require a dramatic, strategic shift which the authors optimistically believe humankind is capable of achieving. This engaging, humane odyssey offers a stunning refutation of the behavioristic worldview with its mechanistic notion that animals (except for humans) lack conscious awareness. Writing with awe and a command of their material, the husband-wife team cover well-trod terrain while they discuss the evolution of Earth's atmosphere and life forms, the genetic code, the advantages of sexual reproduction. The last third of the book, dealing with chimpanzees, baboons and apes, is the most interesting. Sagan and Druyan find chimps' social life "hauntingly familiar" with its hierarchy, combat, suppression of females and chimps' remarkable ability to communicate through symbols. First serial to Parade.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Astronomer Sagan is probably the biggest name in popular science writing, a fact that should assure that his latest book--written with his wife, Druyan--will find a wide audience. Sagan's goal is to explain how luck and natural selection combined to produce human beings after three and a half billion years of life on earth. Human behavior, he stresses, results more from similarities with our animal ancestors than from any unique qualities we may possess. Sagan flounders a bit early on in his effort to explain molecular evolution, but he picks up speed later when the focus shifts to primate behavior. Despite a preference for the overly dramatic phrase at the expense of scientific clarity, the argument is coherent throughout. While this is hardly one of the best books on human evolution, it will likely be very popular, especially in public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/92.
- Eric Hinsdale, Trinity Univ. Lib., San Antonio
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Easy read, insightful and very interesting.
Frank
Carl Sagan's writings range from excellent to outstanding, and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors ranks at the zenith of his efforts.
Stephen A. Haines
Animals are very complex and intelligent, a sentiment that is for some a deplorable idea with atheist and Darwinian connotations.
"darwinpoodle"

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

67 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Bradley P. Rich on December 18, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Let's begin with this: Carl Sagan was a master of popular science writing. Nobody wrote more compelling about science for the non-scientific reader. This book is a brief history of the universe as it relates to the development of mankind. It covers a lot of territory and the history of the universe is necessarily cursory. His introduction to genetics is basic, but very readable for the non-scientist. This book really begins to "cook" when Sagan begins to discuss the behavioral and societal charactistic of our close relatives, the primates. Read it and draw your own conclusions, but I was astounded by the parallels between human society and the behavior of the other primate species. So much of our behavior, good and bad, is exhibited in primate socialization. I notice another reviewer somehow saw this as evidence of God's creation but I think that this strains the evidence that Sagan has carefully assembled.
This is a book that will cause you to reassess what you believe being human means.
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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on September 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Who will ever replace him? Carl Sagan's writings range from excellent to outstanding, and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors ranks at the zenith of his efforts. Taking us along the history of life, he vividly explains how close we are to the other animals inhabiting this planet. The theme rests on the continuity of life, from the simplest cells through the complex creatures. Since zoology for so long focused on the 'special place' of humanity in nature, Sagan builds an exceptional case for returning us to our true origins. With the prejudices we've inherited from our various cultures, the task is daunting, but he manages it with irrefutable logic. His prose brings our associates in the animal kingdom into distinct focus, overcoming human penchants for uniqueness with clarity and wit. Copernicus removed us from the centre of the universe. Darwin showed life as an evolutionary process. Sagan removes the final veil of our self aggrandizement.
After a description of DNA's development over the ages, he brings us to our nearest genetic neighbours, the primates. His section titled 'Some Sketches from Life' points up numerous behaviour patterns shared among us all. Communication, grief, vulnerability to illnesses, raising young - the list seems almost endless. The result is the replacement of our 'special status' by a clearer identity as a community of primates. Tell your friends that only 0.4% of our working genes and that of chimpanzees are different. If they dispute you, buy them a copy of this book and sit them down to read it. From the first page they will encounter mind opening ideas.
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51 of 54 people found the following review helpful By "darwinpoodle" on February 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
From DNA, Darwin, and Huxley to dominance, submission, and primates this book has it all. Carl Sagan was simply a shaman of words and wisdom, while being a prophet of science and rational thought. Shadow's of forgotten ancestors is Sagan's finest hour with unwavering skepticism and a passion unparalleled in the scientific community. I have read this book cover to cover twice, and still feel as though it will have more insight to offer as I begin to read it a third time. The book reveals the egocentric nature of man and his attitudes toward animals as lesser organisms based on ancient fears of his own past . Animals are very complex and intelligent, a sentiment that is for some a deplorable idea with atheist and Darwinian connotations. Sagan simply diffuses the idea to his readers that animals have the ability to feel complex emotions and acquire learned behaviors from parents, just as humans. It is not the author's intention to drag humans through the mud of the animal world, but, rather, lift the animals up to the level of humans by showing our similarities which include: reproductive strategies, behavior patterns, altruism, love, and the perpetuation of the species. Sagan offers an alternative view of the world, a world in which man shares the Earth with other organisms and accepts their differences rather than condemning them. Such an optimistic belief in a world that breeds hate, bias, and indifference. Anyone who reads this book and still believes man is superior to animals and holds a special place in the world, missed the entire point and needs their compassion spoon fed to them.
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19 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Sean K. on December 5, 2004
Format: Paperback
Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan state that this book began as "a study of the political and emotional roots of the nuclear arms race." While tracing back those aspects of human nature that nearly brought civilization to the brink of destruction, they found themselves delving deep into the origins of man and into the evolutionary heritage of life itself. Apparently the book's scope grew in the telling, yet the authors still manage to address the primary issue and support their case with an abundance of examples, analogies, and anecdotes.

The book has the following basic structure:

First the authors attempt to demonstrate the intrinsic relationship of all life forms. They explain the basic mechanisms of evolution and genetics, along with the pros and cons of sexual reproduction. The authors also spend a decent amount of time on the idea of group (kin) selection, especially in relation to altruism and overcrowding.

After the basics, Sagan and Druyan spend a number of chapters examining the social behaviors of our closest relatives: the non-human primates. They focus primarily on the sexual oppression, dominance hierarchies, xenophobia, and incest taboos which are found in many non-human primates; however, the authors also include a few examples that most people would find commendable.

Finally, the authors consider what it means to be human and attempt to support the claim that humans differ from other animals more in the degree of our particular aptitudes, rather than by possessing a truly unique set of abilities. In the process they refute a wide variety of objections held by critics of this notion.
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