- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (January 29, 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 080271756X
- ISBN-13: 978-0802717566
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 167 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,206,450 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived 1st Edition
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Images of hirsute, slack-jawed Neanderthals are so ingrained in popular culture that nearly anyone can readily identify this cave dweller as a long-extinct predecessor of modern man. Yet according to science writer Walter, most people are shocked to learn that 25 other species of humans besides Neanderthals and contemporary Homo sapiens evolved on our planet over the last seven million years. In this captivating and informative field trip through man’s paleontological past, Walter stitches together the piecemeal story of our unlucky ancestors and showcases the adaptive characteristics that allowed our kind to—so far—make the evolutionary cut. Some of the more intriguing vanished species profiled here are the diminutive, hobbit-like Homo floresiensis of Indonesia and the recently discovered Red Deer Cave people of China. Among the many survival advantages Walter highlights in comparing today’s humans with these earlier species are their prolific creativity and significantly longer childhoods. An exceptionally well-written overview of man’s evolutionary history as well as an accessible guide to the underappreciated field of paleoanthropology. --Carl Hays
“Chip Walter's Last Ape Standing is provocative, insightful and engaging; a rare trifecta among science books. Nearly every page offers something that will surprise or intrigue you.” ―Ray Kurzweil, inventor, futurist, and author of How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed
“I read Last Ape Standing while sitting, then I jumped up and cheered. It's that good!” ―William Shatner
“The saga of human evolution is far from a straight line from ape to angel, with all but one of many species going extinct. Chip Walter's thoroughly enjoyable new book considers the evolutionary and social forces that crafted us, modern humans, and presents an intriguing scenario of why Homo sapiens is the Last Ape Standing.” ―Donald Johanson, discoverer of Lucy and founding director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University
“This book has a way of making you feel magnificently insignificant and at the same time an essential, vital part of the chain of human evolution. Just when you thought you were fully evolved as a human.....think again. Mind blowing stuff!” ―Michael Keaton
“[An] engrossing, up-to-date account of human evolution.” ―Kirkus
“[A] captivating and informative field trip through man's paleontological past...an exceptionally well-written overview of man's evolutionary history as well as an accessible guide to the underappreciated field of paleoanthropology.” ―Booklist
“Whether reading as a student or simply somone interested in how we came to be who we are today, Last Ape Standing provides a captivating look at science's evidence of evolution.” ―ShelfAwareness
“[An] engaging accounts...shed[s] a fascinating light on our evolutionary success.” ―New Yorker
“Chip Walter has made himself indispensable to audiences craving the latest information about our evolutionary past. No one wrties about early man, evolutionary dead ends or our pre-human rivals better than Chip Walter. If all science books were this witty and well-written, everyone would be a nerd.” ―Pittsburgh Post Gazette
“Walter takes an antic delight in the triumphal adaptations and terrifying near misses of human evolution...Last Ape Standing makes for a lively journey.” ―New York Times Book Review
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The material is organized into broad thematic/chronological units chapter by chapter. Thus, the first chapter is a reflection on the deep time of the "Human Evolution Calendar" and the gradual development of brain size, walking ability and other details of the human anatomy. Walter does provide a nice chart showing his view of what species evolved into what species in this chapter, although I wondered about his loose definition of "human." How three feet tall creatures with the 1/3 our brain capacities are human is not clear. Walter includes the robustus group in his definition of human. There may be a good reason for doing this, but I wasn't clear what the ground was, albeit for purposes of the book and stretching our imagination, it does make a point.
Succeeding chapters discuss the importance of neoteny and childhood. Neoteny involves the preservation of childish features in older individuals. In the human species, the movement to bipedalism and the increase in brain size meant that human species had to have more development of children outside the womb. According to Walter, the extended period of childhood made human species more individual, more flexible, and more able to learn. Walter also ascribes much of the homo sapien form to radical neoteny as compared to other species. Further, Walter makes the interesting argument that the reason for sapiens success over that of the neanderthals was simply that sapiens had longer childhoods, which made for more flexibility and creativity.
Flexibility and individuality meant that even greater brain power was needed to deal with social interactions. Social interactions for developing humans might have been more important than speed or strength, and that set up a feedback loop for brain development. Walter also theorizes that brain power in the form of imagination is a kind of display behavior that shows reproductive fitness, like the Impala's "stotting" behavior.
Walter has some fascinating insights as to interspecies interaction. It seems clear based on lice that humans have that our species met another human species intimately enough to share lice. Likewise, it is clear that we share some genes with Neanderthals and the mysterious Denisovan species. This is all fascinating, and provisional as imaginable since all we have as hard evidence is a couple of molars and a finger tip. That we can do this much analysis with so little is mind-bending.
Two more fascinating insights. First, Walter has a description of the genetic bottleneck seventy thousand years ago in Africa when sapiens were reduced to less than ten thousand individuals. Walter speculates that this was due to the Toba eruption. Other species of humans were not affected because the ash might have blown west from Indonesia, blanketing Africa, but leaving Europe and Asia relatively unaffected. Walter explains:
"Given these apparently enthusiastic migrations, you might think that as a species we were finally off and running, but there was that wintry climate that was setting in. By seventy thousand years ago it was in full, frigid swing and had begun to systematically rub out life everywhere on the planet. (We are living right now in what scientists call a slim “interglacial” period of this ice epoch, a bit of information that is itself chilling.) Genetic studies confirm that during this time Homo sapiens underwent what scientists call a “bottleneck event.” That is to say, we had been worn down to something like ten thousand total adult members, a troop or tribe here or there, scraping out a living, probably along ocean shorelines and receding lake beds. Ice ages rarely result in cold weather in Africa. Instead they parch the land, turn rivers into dry wadis, evaporate lakes, and wipe out the sustenance each provides. During some of these periods, the Nile itself was reduced to swamp and muck. Even today the continent is filled with ancient lake beds scarred by desiccated mud cracks that testify to exactly how arid the landscape had become. Whichever humans survived the first waves of these droughts, they had tools, but little else, and when water disappeared, so did the other animals, nuts, tubers, and fruit that supported them. Being at the top of the food chain did them little good once the chain itself was demolished."
Another interesting bit of speculation is Walter's speculation that human self-identity emerged only within the last 50,000 years:
"To understand why we have come to operate this way, think of social interaction as a kind of rapidly changing ecosystem made up of a mix of personalities that requires constant adaptation to the shifting agendas, relationships, alliances, and power struggles within the group. In the highly social and very bright species that preceded us, part of the battle for individuals would have been to keep motives and relationships straight in their own minds. Those among our ancestors who could successfully track and recall the behaviors of their friends and enemies would have excelled, survived, and passed their genes along.
To manage this, they must have learned to symbolize different personalities. Maybe Goog tended to be aggressive; Targ, helpful and friendly; Moop, well organized and smart. This would have helped them “slot” others into organizational categories so they could deal with them in ways they saw fit, depending on their own personalities. Since these relationships only matter in so far as they are connected to you, along the way it would have been impossible not to eventually apply the same index to you. We became to ourselves another person in our social ecology.
As evolution continually favored smarter and increasingly self–aware creatures from Homo erectus to ergaster to heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens eventually emerged. Both we and Neanderthals developed large brains and complex prefrontal cortices, but we developed in different parts of the world, under entirely different circumstances, split from a common ancestor.g We both may have developed spoken language, but very different kinds. We were both self–aware and capable of symbolizing, but to what extent remains unclear. Neanderthals may never have developed a highly complex and fully symbolic inner world, and Homo sapiens may not have pulled off this level of cerebral legerdemain themselves until fifty thousand years ago, maybe later."
Walter offers some speculation as to what the world might have looked to these individuals:
"Mithen imagines Neanderthals took a different path and evolved a complex combination of iconic gestures (think of the “crazy” gesture we use, an index finger twirling beside our head), songlike sounds to express emotions (more complex versions of the cooing and keening sounds we make), outright song and highly expressive dance movements (à la ballet and Broadway), all in concert to communicate on levels so intricate that they are beyond what we can even imagine.
These weren’t muddled, caveman efforts to ape our Homo sapiens language, according to Mithen. He believes and makes a compelling argument that Neanderthals were musical and gestural virtuosos compared with us and the other human species that came before them. While we specialized in using our brains and vocal gifts as ways to deliver packets of symbols made of sound, Neanderthals evolved hyperrefined senses of sound, movement, and emotion."
Walter ends with some speculation about future human evolution. He speculates that such evolution might involve further augmentation of intelligence and memory via cybernetics. At this point, the book becomes a useful guideline for science fiction writers.
Walter is an excellent writer. He makes his arguments in a lucid and coherent fashion.
What differentiates us from our past - and from our fellow denizens of the planet. How the people we once thought of as ignorant savages, the Neanderthals, left their heritage behind for us to enjoy - through interbreeding. Most of us whose ancestry is of the northern hemisphere still carry their DNA in our cells - from one to four percent.
Why childhood is so much longer for us than for our cousins the primates, and why we are born utterly helpless - as well as upside-down (or at least compared to other animals).
Sadly, the author gets bogged down in the latter part of the book, expounding at great length on the mysteries of the current human brain, and in a disconcertingly repetitive manner entirely out of character. As another reviewer wrote, it is almost as if there was a word count goal and the last part of the book was written to that end rather than to the subject at hand. Psychobabble is still psychobabble, whether in the guise of paleoanthropology or of psychiatry.
Enjoy! But when you get bogged down in the last chapters, don't feel you've missed anything when you close the book in frustration - you'll have read the best part.
"Last Ape Standing" is a journey into human evolution. Science writer, producer of award-winning science documentaries and professor at Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science and Entertainment Technology Center, Chip Walter provides readers an interesting story of how we came to be. The book focuses on paleoanthropology and an engaging narrative that speculates to the best of our current knowledge how out of the twenty-seven human species, Homo sapiens came to be. This interesting 240-page book is composed of the following eight chapters: 1. The Battle for Survival, 2. The Invention of Childhood) Or Why It Hurts to Have a Baby), 3. Learning Machines, 4. Tangled Webs - the Moral Primate, 5. The Everywhere Ape, 6. Cousin Creatures, 7. Beauties in the Beast, and 8. The Voice Inside Your Head.
1. Engaging and accessible prose.
2. The fascinating topic of human evolution.
3. Good use of charts and diagrams.
4. The author makes clear what we do know versus what we don't know and to what degree; which only highlights the need for even more science. "Yet the best genetic evidence is currently so foggy that it places the time we and chimpanzees shared a common ancestor somewhere between four and seven million years ago, rather a loose estimate. So neither the fossil record nor genetic science can provide anything very detailed about the precise time of our emergence."
5. The author does a good job of making the material accessible by using effective analogies. The use of the Human Evolutionary Calendar really helps the reader to keep timelines in perspective.
6. Interesting studies and findings, "Studies reveal that knuckle-walking chimpanzees burn up to 35 percent more energy than we humans do as we stroll blithely down the street."
7. The impact of neoteny. "The dictionary defines neoteny as `the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal'."
8. A focus on paleoanthropology. "Even if a scientist has nothing more than a single, ancient molar or bicuspid to work with--which, in paleoanthropology, is often the case--it's remarkable how illuminating a tooth can be."
9. The importance of the acquisition of language.
10. The brain. "The purpose of brains generally is to organize the waves of sensory phenomena that nature's cerebrally gifted creatures experience." Good stuff.
11. How the epigenome changes your brain. Interesting section.
12. The evolution of the moral ape.
13. Recent discoveries that have rocked the scientific world, "The remarkable thing about heidelbergensis, so named because the first specimen was found near Heidelberg, Germany, is that it is the species from which both we and Neanderthals descended. That news has utterly rearranged the human family tree."
14. The importance of genetics. "Each of these species lived when we Homo sapiens did, and DNA evidence indicates that at least one also mated with us, and with Neanderthals. Human species embraced one another; it seems, in more than a metaphorical way when they had the chance."
15. Hobbits! "The current consensus is that the last hobbit departed about seventeen thousand years ago, but some have speculated they may have lived on."
16. Neanderthals! "Both we and Neanderthals carry the FOXP2 gene in our chromosomes, a snippet of DNA key to the development of speech (but not the language genes as some have characterized it; there is no language gene)." Many interesting theories on the demise of the Neanderthals.
17. Human sexuality. "Several studies have revealed that men of nearly every culture are attracted to women whose waists are about 70 percent of the size of their hips."
18. Creativity. "There is no getting around the conclusion that creativity, though it may once have been evolutionary filigree, has become the force that defines our species, and the behavior that separates us from all other living things."
19. Self awareness. "As evolution continually favored smarter and increasingly self-aware creatures from Homo erectus to ergaster to heidelbergensis, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Homo sapiens eventually emerged."
20. Fascinating insight into autism and schizophrenia and how they relate. "Like schizophrenia, autism runs along a spectrum from mild to severe, and some of the underlying symptoms for it are similar: difficulty socializing with others, a tendency to become obsessed with specific behaviors, sometimes self-injury or the need for repetitive rituals that might involve entertainment, food, or dress."
21. Links to notes and a formal bibliography.
22. Excellent appendices.
1. Great charts and diagrams but they didn't translate as well on the Kindle. You may be better served getting the book instead of the digital version.
2. The chapter on morality though interesting is covered much better in other books.
3. More citations would have been helpful.
4. A bit repetitive.
5. Light on genetics.
6. I liked the book quite a bit but I didn't love it. I can't put my fingers on it but the parts seem greater than the whole.
7. A section/appendix on how to determine the age of bones would have been value added.
In summary, this is a good book. Human evolution is a fascinating topic and new research adds fuel to the interest. Walter does a really good job of making the material accessible to the masses. He covers the most important species and focuses on the brain and paleoanthropology. I'm a big Kindle fan but the graphs and diagrams are not as effective digitally. The book is light on genetics and the chapter on morality could have been much better. That being said, I enjoyed the book and recommend it.
Further suggestions: "Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters" by Donald R. Prothero, "The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution" by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" by Nicholas Wade, "The Age of Everything: How Science Explores the Past" by Mathew Hedman, "Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design" by Michael Shermer, "Deep Ancestry: The Landmark DNA Quest to Decipher Our Distant Past" by Spencer Wells, "Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature" by Brian Switek, "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne, "The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution" by Sean B. Carroll, "Your Inner Fish" by Neil Shubin, "Relics of Eden" by Daniel J. Fairbanks, "Guns, Germs, and Steel" by Jared Diamond, "Only a Theory" by Kenneth R. Miller, and "Life Ascending: The Ten Great Inventions of Evolution" by Nick Lane.