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The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins Paperback – September 2, 1997

4.5 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Traveling to the desolate rock-strewn deserts of northen Kenya, where the temperature can hit a brutal and dry 130 degrees, would be enough of a trip, but scientist Alan Walker also takes us on a trip in time, far back in time, where we meet a boy who will help to re-write the story of our human ancestors. The mysterious boy, whose skeleton is the best specimen of Homo Erectus, the species long considered the proverbial missing link between apes and humans, lived more than a million years ago. But in the hands of scientists whose skill is only matched by their curiosity, his bones talk to us today. A highly readable account which shows how paleoanthropologists, in work both painstaking and exciting, reach conclusions about the day-to-day life of the ancestors of modern man. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In 1984, paleoanthropologist Walker, together with Richard Leakey and Kamoya Kimeu, discovered the 1.5-million-year-old skeleton of a teenage male Homo erectus in Kenya. Dubbed the Nariokotome Boy after a nearby sand river, this hominid fossil reveals a tall, strong toolmaker, a cooperative, intensely social hunter who, though adapted to the tropics, was not fully human because, according to the authors, he did not possess language or think as we do. In an exciting first-person narrative coauthored with his paleoanthropologist wife, Walker uses the Nariokotome Boy and other finds to buttress his conjecture that our Homo erectus ancestors migrated out of Africa via the Middle East into Eurasia. In his analysis, Homo erectus, a "missing link" between apes and humans, experienced the prolongation of childhood typical of humans and mastered the human evolutionary trick of bearing big-brained babies whose brains continued to grow rapidly during the first year of life. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Vintage Books ed. edition (September 2, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679747834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679747833
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,056,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is an example of excellent science writing. The picture of Homo Erectus ' everyday life immerges through the fascinating story of hard work done by a group of paleoanthropologists and other scientists. The book begins with the author's observation of how much different he is from a Turkana woman that he casually observes. The author then reflects back on the past investigations of the creature (Eugene Dubois, "Peking Man", etc.). The most interesting part of the book includes the description of the investigative processes that dig into the life of a creature that lived around 1.5 million years ago. I really liked the author's reasoning for the hypothesis that Homo Erectus possessed such human attributed quality as caring for the old and infirm. At the end of the book Mr. Walker returns to his original observation from another angle. This time he makes a reader feel that no matter how different other cultures in the world may be, we are still the same species, whereas Homo Erectus was a creature from a different world. It was a transitory creature of the process that made man from man-ape. This book really leaves the impression of a well thought up and very readable science writing, which will appeal to any reader interested in the origins of our species.
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Format: Paperback
Aside from being a fantastic professor and wonderful conversationalist Alan Walkier is a great writer. He and his wife Pat Shipman have taken many literary ventures together; this one being their best.
The challenge in popular scientific books is to make potentially dense material easy to read so that the reader doesn't feel burdened by the material he or she reads. Walker and Shipman do this very well in "Wisdom of the Bones". Walker successfully integrates two stories here- one of his trip to Kenya leading up to his team's revolutionary discovery of Turkana Boy (Homo erectus/ ergaster), and the other of Turkana Boy and his bretherin.
The book doubles as a pleasurable novel and a factually saturated work-- I've found this book an invaluable resource in many classes, but i've also enjoyed the plot line. Walker keeps one engaged throughout the book-- not an easy feat in the scientific world.
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Format: Paperback
Although this is obviously a book grounded in science, it's important to note that this isn't chemistry or quantum physics, where if you don't have specialized knowledge it will be a waste of your time. The authors here do a great job of presenting their findings and then explaining how and why they made the assumptions they did based on those findings. Anybody can follow their logic and come to their own conclusions based on the evidence. It is also very well written and even the story of the researchers travelling to Africa is quite interesting.

I saw another reviewer bashing the authors for making wild conclusions based on minimal evidence. But that is the creative genius of these people. They're not making wild conclusions, but rather the most logical findings they can working with tiny pieces of bone millions of years old. For instance, at one point the authors discuss finding evidence of a specific type of disease in a pre homo-sapiens fossil. We know that the person (or hominid!) would have been partially crippled for some extended period of time, and certainly unable to gather food and defend against predators. Much like reading tree rings, the next layers of bone show that the infection or disease healed, and the being likely recovered and went on with life. The fact of the recovery leads to the author's conclusion that at this point in pre-history, the (person) had someone else as a caregiver, helping gather water and food and offering shelter, etc. This is important and offers glimpses into the mental and emotional development at that point in time. It seems a rather simple idea, but it's just one of numbers of brilliant ideas the authors proffer that don't seem like wild conclusions at all.

The entire book is fascinating and quite honestly makes me wish I could go back in time and change professions.
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Format: Paperback
Alan Walker's and Pat Shipman's entertaining The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins, admirably accomplishes the writers' two objectives. First, Walker and Shipman describe Walker's own 1984 finding in Kenya of "Nariokotome boy", a nearly complete Homo erectus skeleton, and how that skeleton fit into the history of human paleontology from the 19th century through the "Piltdown Man" hoax and to the present. Second, this book explains how scientists are able to tease out from the slimmest of evidence great detail about their finds. For example, determining the boy's age, diet, and other particulars. This book should appeal both to the general reader and those interested in both the discoveries and marvels of science.
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Format: Paperback
Pat Shipman and Alan Walker are not only brilliant scientists, but also superb authors. Once I started reading this book, I could not put it down. Excellent for aspiring anthropologists, like myself, and ANYONE interested in human origins. Fantastic writing, excellent research. In fact, every book this husband and wife team has written is fantastic. TAKING WING by Pat Shipman, about Archaeopterix and the origin of flight is another highly addictive book!
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