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Dawn of Man: THE STORY OF HUMAN EVOLUTION 1st American ed Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0789462626
ISBN-10: 0789462621
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Dawn of Man, which accompanies a BBC television series, tells the story of human evolution, warts and all, over the last 4 million years or so. From a shared ancestor with the higher apes, an upright, walking ape-human in Africa, McKie takes our story through the Ice Age to domination by modern humans.

One of the few unique attributes of humans, which sets us apart from our nearest living relatives, the chimps, is a concern with our own history. Although anthropologists and archaeologists have conducted serious scientific investigation of our ancestry for well over 150 years, it is still a bit surprising how little we know.

The quest to discover our story is a bit like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without a picture to tell us what the finished puzzle should look like. To further the metaphor, we also have no idea how many pieces there are altogether, and the few pieces we do have are mostly incomplete. Practically any new bit of evidence can change our idea of the overall picture, so the story of human evolution is constantly changing. As science editor for Britain's Observer newspaper, McKie is able to provide a very readable and up-to-date account of our remarkable story.

One of the most compelling questions explored by McKie concerns our relationship with the Neanderthal people, who died out 30,000 years ago. Comparison of Neanderthal DNA with that of living humans suggests that our ancestors did not interbreed with the Neanderthals. Recently, however, skeletons have been found that seem to show a complete mixture of Neanderthal and modern human (Cro-Magnon) characters. In Dawn of Man, McKie quotes extensively from interviews with the scientists who work on human prehistory, so we get as close as possible to the bare bones of the story. The excellent text, art work, photos, and graphics in Dawn of Man make it a capable stand-alone, very attractive for the general reader. --Douglas Palmer

From Publishers Weekly

Plentifully adorned with photos and drawings, McKie's very accessible work follows two interwoven, compelling stories. The first is the story of all of usAfrom the first "bipedal apemen, probably Australopithecus afarensis," to the Neanderthals who competed with modern humans' ancestors during the last Ice Age. The second story is the story of how the first got told: it's all about paleoanthropologists (especially Kenya's Leakey family and their co-workers) and the fossils they hunt and interpret. McKie (African Exodus), the science editor for Britain's Observer, has fashioned his book as a tie-in for the six-hour BBC-TV series of the same name, scheduled for American broadcast on the Learning Channel in early August. He begins with bipedalism, evidenced in a famous pair of footprints. Then there are skulls, like Australian anatomist Raymond Dart's much-debated Taung child, which established our African descent. Ongoing debates about early language bring in the Nariokotome boy, a well-preserved Homo erectus: do his spine and rib cage entitle us to conclude that his species couldn't speak? "La Sima de los Huesos" (the Pit of Bones) in northern Spain yields lots of bones and our earliest knowledge about people in Europe (it turns out they ate one another). Other topics include intercontinental migration, diet, the history of the stone axe, hunting strategies, Ice Ages, fire, and the beginnings of culture and art. Readers who know zilch about protohumansAwhether or not they also catch the TV showAwill find McKie's volume a wonderful place to start: amateurs of paleoanthropology will find that McKie's details, sidebars, notes and examples cater to their interest and capture the current state of the field. (Aug.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: DK ADULT; 1st American ed edition (June 21, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0789462621
  • ISBN-13: 978-0789462626
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 0.9 x 11.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,836,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Keith Thomas on April 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
In this book a skilled science journalist surveys the palaeontological and anthropological state of play through to late 1999.
In the course of surveying the last 5m years of human evolution, McKie brings out some fascinating evidence relevant to important contemporary debates. I look at these in this review.
(The page references are to McKie's book.)
In terms of diet, our pre-Homo ancestors were herbivorous (vegetarian) and our digestive system is basically unchanged since that time. However, there were immense evolutionary advantages in our ancestors also consuming meat - indeed, without consuming meat we might still be the Australopithecene genus which preceded Homo through to 2m years ago.
Climate change gave the Australopithecenes the stark alternative: adapt or perish. Some of our ancestors adapted, becoming tool makers and omnivores (and Homo) rather than herbivores. They also survived - as meat eaters with a herbivorous gut.
McKie quotes Richard Potts: "About 2.5m years ago, hominids encountered great fluctuations in the climate. At the same time we see the appearance of stone tools. That is no coincidence. They indicate that at least one hominid species was responding to these changes by becoming even more adaptable, rather than becoming specialized in the way that robustus and bosei did. By making tools, dietary choices became greater. Not only could people skin the large dead and doubtless smelly carcasses they occasionally found, they could crack open their bones for marrow. In addition tools would have helped pound and break down vegetables and nuts that could otherwise only have been eaten by animals with specialized dentures, and also helped dig up tubers rich in protein and calories.
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Format: Hardcover
This is a very interesting book on the always polemical subject of human evolution. It is light reading with nice explanatory double page boxes. The book can be read by junior high kids with good reading skills and it can also bring the latest developments for the ones who have been following the ongoing discussion.
The book starts at around 6.5 million years ago when our lineage and the chimpanzees' lineage split. At around 4.2 million years ago we were already bipeds as it can be proved by the position of the foragen magnun, the entry point for the spinal cord on the skul, found in ancient fossils. From that point till around 30,000 years ago a bush of different hominid species occupied the planet. The fate of the last non Homo sapiens human species, the Neanderthals is controversial but since their disappearance or assimilation we rule this planet.
By developing bipedalism, mastering the construction of tools and evolving big brains our ancestors survived harsh climate conditions through Ice Ages, settled in virtually every part of the globe and now we prepare ourselfs to leave this planet. It's a wonderful saga wonderfully described in this book.
The book not only covers all the major scientific findings that help us understand our family history but also honors the people behind the findings. Archeologists and paleontologists working under scorching sun, eagle-eyed Kenyans, and technicians in cool, high-tech genetic labs; they all help us to reconstruct our heritage.
This is a very interesting introductory book on a subject that usually brings heated discussion. The book is very didactical and filled with nice pictures, diagrams and maps. It presents scientific discoveries as recent as 1999 what is very desirable since molecular biology is revolutionizing the field. The book is a good complement for the excellent BBC/TLC four hours TV program.
Leonardo Alves - January 2001
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Format: Hardcover
Any book written for/from a TV production is certain to have shortcomings. The usual flaws are oversimplification, errors of omission or outdated information. This book exhibits few of these problems, with the possible exception of the last. The rapid progress being attained in paleoanthropology these dates edges the "most recent finds" boundary almost monthly. We can't fault Robin McKie for falling behind as his frequent columns in The Guardian allow for prompt updating of the material. In this presentation, McKie has made a valiant effort to summarise the most recent information gathered on the nature of our ancestors. His fine prose is supported by some excellent, some good and some almost pitiful graphics. Fortunately, McKie's narrative more than transcends any shortcomings in the visuals.
Human evolution remains the most important scientific topic. Its significance is reflected in the many controversies associated with paleoanthropology. McKie doesn't shy away from these disputes. In fact, he nearly makes them the underlying theme of the book. He follows the revelations about our forebears offered by Raymond Dart, the Leakey family [which has proven a true dynasty in its own right], Don Johanson, Alan Walker and numerous others. Each made contributions, sometimes hotly contested by fellow researchers looking at the same data from different perspectives. McKie is good at examining the views and the evidence supporting them. He follows debates and resolutions closely, leaving the reader well informed and generally convinced by the resolution he selects.
McKie has a fine sense of the issues surrounding excavations and the analysis of revealed data. He explains the dating methods used in properly placing our ancestors on the evolutionary timeline.
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