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The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistocene

22 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0670023639
ISBN-10: 0670023639
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Editorial Reviews



"Daughter-and-father historians of science pretty fully justify their profession in this brilliant explanation of the most recent geological epoch […] For science mavens of a philosophical bent, this may be the book of the year, a font of knowledge and, what’s more and better, intellectual exercise." — Booklist

“Written in clear, supple prose, this title will interest historians, anthropologists, and anyone fascinated by the Ice Ages, human evolution, and the history of science and culture.”
Library Journal

“Lasting from about 3 million to 10,000 years ago, the Pleistocene is both a geological epoch and an idea, write science historians Stephen Pyne (Voyager: Exploration, Space, and the Third Great Age of Discovery, 2011, etc.) and his daughter Lydia, who proceed to deliver a perceptive account of both."
Kirkus Reviews

“[Pyne] and his daughter dig right into the subject of the tumultuous, fascinating Pleistocene and do […] a lively, bang-up job of it.”
Open Letters Monthly

About the Author

Lydia V. Pyne is a lecturer at Drexel University. She has an MA and PhD in the history and philosophy of science, and an MA degree in anthropology.

Her father, Stephen J. Pyne, is a historian in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He is the award-winning author of Voyager, Year of the Fires, and How the Canyon Became Grand.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Viking (June 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023639
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 2.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,430,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Alan Dale Daniel on May 6, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Review The Last Lost Word: Ice Ages, Human Origins and the Invention of the Pleistocene by Lydia Pyne and Stephen Pyne.

When I buy a book about the Pleistocene I guess I think it should be about the Pleistocene; unfortunately, The Last Lost World isn't about the Pleistocene era. Its about science and the history of science.

There is almost nothing about the climate of the Pleistocene and nothing about the geology. Discussions about human evolution are plentiful, but there isn't anything new. In Chapter 5, Out of Africa, there isn't a thing of substance on the migration of humans 100,000 or so years ago. On the front cover flap it says: "The Pleistocene is the epoch of geologic time closest to our own. The last Lost World is an enthralling tour of the conditions that made it, the themes that define it, and the creature that emerged dominate from it." None of this is true. The conditions of the epoch are not closely discussed and the "themes" that define it are lost in its too bookish prose.

Here is an example from the book page 9 (hardcopy): "When that happened the Pliocene, acting as a kind of historical rift, segued into the Pleistocene. The warm-wet exuberance of the Miocene gave way to the cool-dry violence of the Pleistocene, in which the frost-thaw of glaciation subjected biotas to relentless rhythms of firing and quenching. What the Pliocene had sifted, the Pleistocene then shook, warmed, froze, and set forth into the modern world." How worthless is that? Outside of a lot of shabby analogies what did you learn? The entire book is like this. Overblown with prose and lacking in content.

Why spend time on Piltdown Man ( a hoax), Plato, Popper, Bertrand Russell, or Arthur C. Clarke?
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful By David B. Johnson on August 11, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Last Lost world is a book about the earth's history and how we make that history. It explores the Pleistocene Era (Ice Age) as both an age in geological time and as a cultural idea about the human past. It seeks to focus on broadly `humanist themes' in discussing the Pleistocene to complement a hard science approach.

The book is divided into parts:

Part 1: How the Pleistocene Got Its Ice - is a discussion of the geological basis of the Pleistocene, the development of ideas about the age of the earth, and in turn how human origins were influenced by geography and our own ideas about beginnings.

Part 2: The Great Game - covers the fossil record, discovering the fossil record, thoughts about evolution, and the Great Chain of Being.

Part 3: How the Pleistocene Lost Its Tale - is about where we are now and what discussion about human origins mean for the future.

I recommend this book to readers who have some basic background in the history of science and intellectual history, familiarity with Lyell, Lovejoy, Kuhn, Popper, etc. There are also a few technical terms that a general reader may have to look up like Milankovitch cycles.

While I found this book to be very well written in areas, in other areas the argument seemed to wander. It is a good intellectual tour of human beginnings if you are not current on the subject. However, in the end I just didn't find the underlying thesis of the rift between science and the humanities as exemplified by the study of human origins convincing.

Good end notes and index, no bibliography, a few illustrations.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By L. Urness on January 15, 2013
Format: Hardcover
The Last Lost World ranks among the worst books I have attempted to read in two decades. The author appears to suffer from a pathology typical of unsophisticated writers, that is, a love of words irrespective of whether their assemblage conveys meaning. The book is a hopelessly pretentious heap of gibberish that quite simply makes the reader squirm with embarrassment for having purchased it and for the author for taking the time to produce such mindless fluff.

Prose, such as the following, is prevalent on every page that I read, indeed almost every paragraph.

"The onset of modern science struck scholarship as the onset of ice struck Earth."

"Stories about the past are easy to invent and hard to verify. Paradoxically, the more distant the past, the simpler the task, because the various patterns that one can imagine proliferate; the space-time cone of narrative possibilities expands."

"A narrative, moreover, has its own internal logic. While each observer of the Pleistocene will tell the story according to his own vantage point, disciplinary inclination, and purpose, an appeal to narrative imposes structural demands of its own."

"A reliance on climate unsettles because it depends on the natural sciences, which constantly introduce new findings and theories and thus subvert any particular narrative. Rather than use data to tell stories, scientists tell stories about how they got their data. A reliance on humanity forces us to consider those features of human life that, while critical, are not amenable to sciences altogether. By absorbing a creature that, in the Great Chain of Being, lies between ape and angel, it appeals to a scholarship between, as it were, the sciences and the humanities.
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