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The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on December 15, 2000
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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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2002
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2005
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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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 1998
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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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on May 5, 2005
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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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 1996
Although I'm not a specialist in this field and it is not written in my mother tongue
the book took all my interest.
It is absolutly faczinating.
Nevertheless more technical information and less "old time"
stories would be appreciated by me.
I want to have more of these kind of books.
Sorry for my poor English.
Congrats
Dr. G. Staengl
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on December 31, 2013
Even though it's 18 years since this classic account was published, it's still very relevant. Back in the 1980s the 'Nariokotome boy' was the most complete erectus skeleton discovered, and Alan Walker and his co-workers used the opportunities it gave for in-depth study quite brilliantly, and with some surprising results. This book was the outcome.
One of the great things about it is that Walker gives full credit to all those who collaborated, starting with Kamoya Kimeu and his 'gang' who made the first discoveries, Richard Leakey who did much of the early work with him, B Holly Smith who determined how old the boy was at death, and many others. The clear insights into how they thought and worked are fascinating, a credit to Pat Shipman's writing of Walker's story.
The only reason I hesitated about giving the work its 5-star rating was the 'sag' in pace about 1/3 the way in, where it gives too detailed an account of earlier discoveries of erectus fossils and their fate.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on October 17, 2007
I had to read this book for an introduction to archaeology anthropology class in college this semester (fall 2007). I really enjoyed reading it. Compared to the professor's textbook, it was an easy read for a paleoanthropologic study, almost like a novel. I learned so much about the history of the field of paleoanthropology, archaeology and humans such as anatomy and why and how we are able to do what we do. I thought this was the best book we had to read for the semester. I'm very glad the professor assigned it. I feel like I've added not only an enormous amount of knowledge but valuable knowledge. Many subjects in the book applied to so many different parts of my life, my relationships and my future. I am really amazed at how this book has applied to me. I highly recommend it to people who aren't studying anthropology and to those who are.
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on November 7, 2013
This terrific book focuses on the Nariokatome Boy, a 1.6M yr old Homo Erectus’ skeleton. World-class excavator and discoverer Kamoya Kimeu found the first pieces, Richard Leakey's team spent 5 years patiently digging and sifting a volume of earth the size of a house to find the rest. Alan Walker and Meave Leakey re-assembled the skeleton. (Both are temperamentally suited to the work- as children, they flipped their jigsaw puzzles over and built them picture-side-down, cardboard-side-up, because the pictures made it too easy!)

Once the skeleton is in hand, in Kenya's anthropological museum, Walker describes the history of discovery and understanding of Homo Erectus, including the previously discovered fossils found in Java, China, South Africa and East Africa. The scientific descriptions were published by Walker, based on his own work as an anatomist, and collaborators around the world who could add skills and understanding he didn't have.. The Boy is most complete Homo Erectus skeleton so far. Like us. But not us. Pat Shipman, Walker’s wife, is gifted writer. The story is his, the voice hers.

This book is so interesting and well written that I read it out-loud to a 10 year old at settling down and going sleep time. I've re-read it many times and given at least half a dozen copies away.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2000
It took me several chapters to get into this book, but once the authors began extrapolating on the reasons for various features of the Nariokotome boy, I was hooked. It contains some fascinating facts and speculations on our species' origins which stick with you to contemplate long after you finish the book.
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