- Paperback: 320 pages
- Publisher: Penguin (March 27, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 014303832X
- ISBN-13: 978-0143038320
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars See all reviews (256 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors 0th Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Scientists are using DNA analysis to understand our prehistory: the evolution of humans; their relation to the Neanderthals, who populated Europe and the Near East; and Homo erectus, who roamed the steppes of Asia. Most importantly, geneticists can trace the movements of a little band of human ancestors, numbering perhaps no more than 150, who crossed the Red Sea from east Africa about 50,000 years ago. Within a few thousand years, their descendents, Homo sapiens, became masters of all they surveyed, the other humanoid species having become extinct. According to New York Times science reporter Wade, this DNA analysis shows that evolution isn't restricted to the distant past: Iceland has been settled for only 1,000 years, but the inhabitants have already developed distinctive genetic traits. Wade expands his survey to cover the development of language and the domestication of man's best friend. And while "race" is often a dirty word in science, one of the book's best chapters shows how racial differences can be marked genetically and why this is important, not least for the treatment of diseases. This is highly recommended for readers interested in how DNA analysis is rewriting the history of mankind. Maps. (Apr. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
Genetics has been intruding on human origins research, long the domain of archaeology and paleoanthropology. Veteran science journalist Wade applies the insights of genetics to every intriguing question about the appearance and global dispersal of our species. The result is Wade's recounting of "a new narrative," which also has elements of a turf war between geneticists and their established colleagues. He efficiently explains how an evolutionary event (e.g., hairlessness) is recorded in DNA, and how rates of mutation can set boundary dates for it. For the story, Wade opens with a geneticist's estimate that modern (distinct from "archaic") Homo sapiens arose in northeast Africa 59,000 years ago, with a tiny population of only a few thousand, and was homogenous in appearance and language. Tracking the ensuing expansion and evolutionary pressures on humans, Wade covers the genetic evidence bearing on Neanderthals, race, language, social behaviors such as male-female pair bonding, and cultural practices such as religion. Wade presents the science skillfully, with detail and complexity and without compromising clarity. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Most of the books about human origins tend to focus on paleoanthropology and related disciplines. "Before the Dawn" does a great job of synthesizing the discoveries of paleoanthropolgists with the findings of geneticists--in some cases, examination of human DNA has confirmed what paleoanthropolgists have long believed, in others it has raised new and sometimes disturbing questions.
Without becoming overly technical, Wade explains how scientists use the study of DNA to determine when signficant events occurred in human evolution--for example, when humans began to use fully modern language (about 50,000 years ago), the size of the ancestral population of modern humans (as small as 150 people), or when the ancestral population left the African continent (also around 50,000 years ago).
Some of Wade's observations may surprise and trouble many people. Creationists will not be pleased with the book's basic view that Darwin's theory of natural selection is absolutely correct and that it applies to people as well as animals. Others will be troubled by the ideas that our DNA contains evidence that our ancestors practiced cannibalism; that homo sapiens wiped out the Neanderthal and Homo ergaster populations in genocidal warfare that spanned millenia; that hunting and gathering societies are much more warlike than modern, settled ones; that our DNA suggests that humans became more sociable and less violent roughly 15,000 years ago, finally enabling human societies to settle down and begin farming; that human evolution did not stop 10,000 or 50,000 years ago as some have argued, but that it continues down to the present day and will continue into the future (either naturally or artificially); that in rare cases, unusual selection pressures have produced populations that, on average, are either more intelligent or more physcially capable in certain respects than others. Wade handles each of these delicate propositions with care, but some will be disturbed by the implications of what he is saying. (Perhaps that's why E.O. Wilson, in the blurb on the back of the book, praised Wade's "courage and balance.")
"Before the Dawn" is a superb survey of what scientists know (or think they know) about human origins in 2006. But this is a report from the cutting edge of genetics and paleoanthropology, so stay tuned for further developments. In the meantime, Wade's book is an excellent introduction to a new dawn of knowledge.
The breadth of disciplines that apply to this topic are amazing, encompassing history, biology, primatology, archaeology, linguistics, paleontology, sociology, behavioral science, and many others- it was enjoyable to learn about different fields of normally esoteric knowledge from someone who can explain it all clearly and interestingly. And delicately- for example, the chapter on race is an artful discussion of the new questions we can ask about race and evolution with DNA, describing with precision what sort of meaningful things can and cannot be said about race from a biological standpoint, versus a sociological one.
This book is reminiscent in some respects to Guns, Germs, and Steel, another book looking at humans from a more biology-focused perspective (in fact, Mr. Wade addresses a couple of claims made in it), and people who liked that book would almost certainly enjoy this one. This book is similarly broad in scope, yet surprisingly concise, which I suppose might be expected from a journalist. Anyway, it is a well-written, fun and interesting book, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in science in general and human history and biology in particular-