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Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings Paperback – August 14, 1996
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There is a pleasing irony that a single family--the Leakeys--has been one of the most important and effective forces in the age-old effort to trace the human family to its origins. Virginia Morell's book is a fascinating and authoritative personal and scientific biography of the real family (comprised of Louis, Mary, and Richard Leakey), their scientific progeny, and (again in a fitting touch of irony), the competing bands of modern anthropologists competing over limited paleontological and conceptual resources of publication, prestige, and power, much like ancient hominid bands competing for caves, copulations, and carcasses. Highly Recommended. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Born in Kenya, Louis Leakey (1903- 1972), son of a dynamic missionary, grew up among Kikuyu natives. At Cambridge in 1923, a rugby injury left him with post-traumatic epilepsy, necessitating a prolonged leave that marked the beginning of his fossil-hunting career. In 1933, one month after his first wife, Frida, gave birth to their son Colin, Louis announced that he was leaving her for one of his students, Mary Nicol. Over the next four decades, the husband-and-wife Leakey team made stunning discoveries of hominid fossils that supported Louis's theory that humankind originated in Africa and was millions of years older than most experts had assumed. In a revelatory biography that strips away the aura surrounding a legendary family, Oregon-based science writer Morell maintains that by the late 1950s, the Leakey marriage had deteriorated into a business partnership. Louis had extramarital affairs and fell ardently in love with his young proteges, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and gorilla-watcher Dian Fossey. His son Richard, by this account, had a bitter professional rivalry with his domineering father and, fearing that Louis would try to ease him out, kept from him his 1968 diagnosis of terminal kidney disease, which he overcame with a kidney transplant operation in 1980. Morell balances grand scientific adventure with personal chronicle in an extraordinary group portrait that was written with the family's cooperation yet is not authorized. Photos. Newbridge Book Club alternate.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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While Richard Leakey certainly has earned his detractors, his accomplishments are worthy as is his devotion to his native country of Kenya. There is much good to be said of a man who traveled and gave lectures and used the money earned to pay the way for native Kenyans to advance their educations abroad.
I highly recommend this book.
A popular fiction that many still believe is that comradely, intellectual discourse among scientists in the norm. Anyone who has followed the history of evolution or cosmology know the opposite is true. Scientists are just as competitive (if not more so) than real estate agents, boxers or athletes. Indeed, if one work could describe the world of the Leakeys it would be "drama" - playing for the audience, calculating, scheming, sabotaging, lying, alone with constant affairs, gigantic and bruised egos and publicity-seeking. Ms. Morell, who knew the Leakeys intimately, presents a multi-faceted look at the family and the inclusion of so many warts, ego, pride, envy and sheer hatred only makes their discoveries all the more amazing.
This book can be praised on several levels - academic, scientific (an educated layman can follow the science), biographical (what characters they were!), historical (the emergence of modern Africa) and literary (wonderful writing). The three main characters dominate the story and all are similar - incredibly driven and hard-working, eschewing the easy life, controversial, larger than life. Louis, an international star, triumphed despite constant battles with other explorers, family dramas, numerous affairs, little money and personal pain. Even his detractors were awed at his vision. Mary, the quiet, caustic explorer, slowly came into her own but it was Richard who make the Leakeys an international brand.
The book stops at 1995 and Richard is no longer actively involved in fossil searches. He has since devoted his life to humanistic causes - saving wildlife, making Kenya into a liberal democracy, preserving species and raising money.