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The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived Hardcover – October 11, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0199239184 ISBN-10: 0199239185 Edition: 0th

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 278 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (October 11, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199239185
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199239184
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (82 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #452,272 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A cave on Gibraltar 28,000 years ago was one of the final homes of the Neanderthals. Finlayson, director of the Gibraltar Museum, uses his knowledge of that cave and others like it to explore the differences and similarities between modern humans and Neanderthals, and how the differences led to our surviving them. Presenting a host of data, he draws a single conclusion: modern humans weren't brighter, stronger or more capable than Neanderthals. Rather, we were luckier. Scattered around Europe, Neanderthals probably succumbed to various factors, from disease to drastic climate change—changes that led to an environment more friendly to Homo sapiens. Finlayson does a superb job of describing the factors behind the expansion of the genus Homo and its diversification into various species, of which only Homo sapiens survives today. He also offers a powerful critique of those who theorize differently about the expansion of our species with very little data. Finally, he challenges us to rethink early human migration around the globe, arguing that the pattern we see is simply a modest expansion, generation by generation, as environmental conditions permitted. In his hands the links between climate and evolutionary change are strikingly clear. 5 b&w illus. (Nov.)
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Review


"Great things can arrive in small packages. The Humans Who Went Extinct is a case in point. Engaging and well written, this volume will be essential reading for anyone interested in human evolution. It is an essential purchase for college and university libraries."--The Quarterly Review of Biology


"Finlayson does a superb job of describing the factors behind the expansion of the genus Homo and its diversification into various species, of which only Homo sapiens survives today. He also offers a powerful critique of those who theorize differently about the expansion of our species with very little data. In his hands, the links between climate and evolutionary change are stikingly clear."--Publishers Weekly


"A provocative new book." --Newsweek


Listed in Science Book News No. 178, 11/16/09


"Finlayson has written a fascinating new book...electrifying...an apocalyptic vision that puts a chill down one's back. But a book that makes you think remains one of the reasons to get up in the morning. Have a look at this one." --Dan Agin, The Huffington Post


"Here is a provocative work, which will not only teach, but leave readers wanting to learn more." --San Francisco Book Review


"Well written with endnotes from research sources. Recommended."--Choice


"What I like in particular about Finlayson's work is that he contextualises the various stages of the human lineage (although pointing out controversies in the fossil record where they exist) in terms of the climate and immediate environment. I liken this to the approach of a strategist who like an eagle soars high above the visage seeing the overall scheme of things. This is a well-researched book generously referenced, filled with rich biological analogies and an overarching narrative which applies equally to non-human species." --Medpedia.com



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Customer Reviews

Too bad this book didn't get a more efficient editor's eye.
Denise Fleener
Easy to read book with lots of interesting facts about Neanderthals.
Mark Dana Floden
The story the author has to tell is also engaging and interesting.
Stephen Pletko

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 95 people found the following review helpful By F. Scott Valeri on December 7, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A terrific and well written analysis of human prehistory with emphasis on a nuanced understanding of our relationship and competition with Neanderthals. Incorporates new knowledge about the rapid cycles of climate change that influenced modern human success and other hominid failure in the last 100,000 years. This slim book gives a great overview of primate and hominid evolution with emphasis on how luck and good fortune in addition to possibly "superior" traits influenced Homo sapiens' ultimate success. Presents more of a focus on facts while withholding some prejudiced judgements that have previously colored our interpretations of prehistory by the final "victors" (us). Very thoughtful and thought provoking, with superb writing that makes technical topics accessible to the lay reader. Evolution is not just about DNA but also must take into account climate change, geography, and habitat stability/transformation in a complex interplay of forces. A smart read that suggests we should be a little more humble about our evolutionary success, and even more concerned about how our impact on climate can affect our future.
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84 of 93 people found the following review helpful By shanarufus on January 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I have been interested in paleo stuff for about 20 years. Read about botany, geography, linguistics, genomics, archeology, evolutionary biology etc etc all in the paleo world. Not being a science-y person (I read literary fiction 70%) it's a lot of information to sift through but after reading maybe 20-25 books I have a sense of the core. Finlayson just debunks and knocks around a lot of the conventional wisdom not really evidence-based and ego-defined debates in the field. My one criticism is that there were not good maps. When he is describing ancient ice ages and interglacials, a few maps with some arrows to show the encroaching glaciers and the receding ones would have ben handy and dandy. I prefer footnotes to end notes but that's a quibble. The fact that my library got this book at all is simply amazing. And trying to get other books that were in the endnotes has proven to be impossible for me. The book is dense and only 220 pages. There is not one wasted word. Finlayson does say in which chapter something is mentioned first when referring to it again which was helpful. This is not really a science book for the layperson and it is hard for me to imagine coming to it without any background at all. Chapter by chapter I never wanted it to end and I stretched out a 2-day read into 4 days. Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs & Steel exhilarated me just as this book has. Aside: I just recently read Finding Our Tongues by Dean Falk which was wonderful, and Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human, which was good. Finlayson gives the origin of language short shrift--just a quick mention of the gene for language acquisition, and he writes a bit more about how eating meat allowed for larger brains. So a little from this one, a little from that one, and over time there is the over-arching story.Read more ›
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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By W. V. Buckley on September 27, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Neanderthals have gotten a bad rap. First they were considered evolution's brutes - a branch on evolution's tree that failed to go anywhere but to a dead end. Then they were classified as being inferior to their Homo sapiens counsins. They were victims of genocide at the hands of early modern man whose gift for innovation outpaced Neanderthals' ability to adapt. Some even postulated that Neanderthals interbred with our ancestors, but even our genes were superior to theirs and wiped out Neanderthal traits.

Now comes Clive Finlayson with the most detailed and complete theory about why our ancestors survived while Neanderthals went extinct, the last of the species dying out in the caves of Gilbralter. In essence, Finlayson's idea of why Homo sapiens prospered can be summed up in a single word: luck. Our ancestors simply moved out of Africa and into the Middle East and Asia at just the right time to take advantage of a changing climate. As the Ice Age locked up ocean water and opened new territories and land bridges for our ancestors, our distant Neanderthal relatives scattered across Central Asia and Europe were being squeezed out by ice shields as well as climate that changed their landscape and ability to hunt. Change a few variables and it could have just as easily been us who disappeared while Neandthals triumphed.

Finlayson's research is superb as he explains how hunting in a forest is different from hunting on a vast, treeless steppe and what these changes meant to the fight for survival. But despite the science that has gone into the book, it's easily accessible to the layman who is interested in paleo-anthropology and evolution.

Let's face it: most of us grew up having to memorize the periodic tables or the chemical process of photosynthesis. No wonder so many of use were turned off by science. It's a shame we didn't have scientists like Finlayson to make science textbooks come alive.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Atheen M. Wilson on June 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I'm not sure I go along with the Multi-regional Theory of human evolution, I do think that Clive Finleyson's book "The Human's Who Went Extinct" touches on some very cogent points that often get overlooked or glossed over by those with their eyes on the Out of Africa Hypothesis. I certainly found them enlightening and have tried to incorporate them into my own way of thinking about the human species.

More than anything, while authors often give lip service to the fact that people are animals too, they often neglect what that actually entails especially for early humans. Many of the patterns of behavior among early people, regardless of their genus and species, were dictated by necessity and what was possible--even by sheer luck. These writers also seem to ignore the fact that most genera have more than one species in it and that those few that don't are usually under some degree of distress. I think this is something we should pay more attention to than we do when we look at our Neanderthal cousins as "failures," since it has ramifications for our own kind. In this context the author points out that this means that, far from one species "succeeding" another and winning the sweepstakes, there may have been many types of humans alive at any one time, each occupying their own little niche, much as other species in other genera do. That our co-genera species are no longer with us may have something important to tell us about our own contract with Mother Nature. One does not usually blame most extinct species for being "too dumb to live," as we are prone to do with our own ancient ancestors and their peers. All species are suited to the environment in which they evolved; it's only when nature changes the game plan that they may find themselves in trouble.
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