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The Last Lost World: Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistocene
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"Daughter-and-father historians of science pretty fully justify their profession in this brilliant explanation of the most recent geological epoch […] For science mavens of a philosophical bent, this may be the book of the year, a font of knowledge and, what’s more and better, intellectual exercise." — Booklist
“Written in clear, supple prose, this title will interest historians, anthropologists, and anyone fascinated by the Ice Ages, human evolution, and the history of science and culture.”
— Library Journal
“Lasting from about 3 million to 10,000 years ago, the Pleistocene is both a geological epoch and an idea, write science historians Stephen Pyne (Voyager: Exploration, Space, and the Third Great Age of Discovery, 2011, etc.) and his daughter Lydia, who proceed to deliver a perceptive account of both."
— Kirkus Reviews
“[Pyne] and his daughter dig right into the subject of the tumultuous, fascinating Pleistocene and do […] a lively, bang-up job of it.”
— Open Letters Monthly
About the Author
Her father, Stephen J. Pyne, is a historian in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University. He is the award-winning author of Voyager, Year of the Fires, and How the Canyon Became Grand.
Top Customer Reviews
When I buy a book about the Pleistocene I guess I think it should be about the Pleistocene; unfortunately, The Last Lost World isn't about the Pleistocene era. Its about science and the history of science.
There is almost nothing about the climate of the Pleistocene and nothing about the geology. Discussions about human evolution are plentiful, but there isn't anything new. In Chapter 5, Out of Africa, there isn't a thing of substance on the migration of humans 100,000 or so years ago. On the front cover flap it says: "The Pleistocene is the epoch of geologic time closest to our own. The last Lost World is an enthralling tour of the conditions that made it, the themes that define it, and the creature that emerged dominate from it." None of this is true. The conditions of the epoch are not closely discussed and the "themes" that define it are lost in its too bookish prose.
Here is an example from the book page 9 (hardcopy): "When that happened the Pliocene, acting as a kind of historical rift, segued into the Pleistocene. The warm-wet exuberance of the Miocene gave way to the cool-dry violence of the Pleistocene, in which the frost-thaw of glaciation subjected biotas to relentless rhythms of firing and quenching. What the Pliocene had sifted, the Pleistocene then shook, warmed, froze, and set forth into the modern world." How worthless is that? Outside of a lot of shabby analogies what did you learn? The entire book is like this. Overblown with prose and lacking in content.
Why spend time on Piltdown Man ( a hoax), Plato, Popper, Bertrand Russell, or Arthur C. Clarke?Read more ›
The real problem with this book is that the professionals who might understand what the author is trying to say would be concerned about the generalized and sweeping statements, untethered to fact. The rest of us spend time with the Internet--not a bad thing--but the book does not cover enough new ground to earn that time.
One reviewer stated that readers should start with Tattersall's books. I would also suggest Chris Stringer's books.
The authors's concluding statements that humanities and the arts "can no longer claim--even pretend to claim--that they can make valid statements about the material world and how it works. ...But philosophy, literature and history can help explain how the sciences work, and they can turn the data excavated by natural science into prisms of meaning." p 262 are head-scratching material and belie the fact that one author "has an MA and Phd in the history and philosophy of science."
Prose, such as the following, is prevalent on every page that I read, indeed almost every paragraph.
"The onset of modern science struck scholarship as the onset of ice struck Earth."
"Stories about the past are easy to invent and hard to verify. Paradoxically, the more distant the past, the simpler the task, because the various patterns that one can imagine proliferate; the space-time cone of narrative possibilities expands."
"A narrative, moreover, has its own internal logic. While each observer of the Pleistocene will tell the story according to his own vantage point, disciplinary inclination, and purpose, an appeal to narrative imposes structural demands of its own."
"A reliance on climate unsettles because it depends on the natural sciences, which constantly introduce new findings and theories and thus subvert any particular narrative. Rather than use data to tell stories, scientists tell stories about how they got their data. A reliance on humanity forces us to consider those features of human life that, while critical, are not amenable to sciences altogether. By absorbing a creature that, in the Great Chain of Being, lies between ape and angel, it appeals to a scholarship between, as it were, the sciences and the humanities.Read more ›
The book is divided into parts:
Part 1: How the Pleistocene Got Its Ice - is a discussion of the geological basis of the Pleistocene, the development of ideas about the age of the earth, and in turn how human origins were influenced by geography and our own ideas about beginnings.
Part 2: The Great Game - covers the fossil record, discovering the fossil record, thoughts about evolution, and the Great Chain of Being.
Part 3: How the Pleistocene Lost Its Tale - is about where we are now and what discussion about human origins mean for the future.
I recommend this book to readers who have some basic background in the history of science and intellectual history, familiarity with Lyell, Lovejoy, Kuhn, Popper, etc. There are also a few technical terms that a general reader may have to look up like Milankovitch cycles.
While I found this book to be very well written in areas, in other areas the argument seemed to wander. It is a good intellectual tour of human beginnings if you are not current on the subject. However, in the end I just didn't find the underlying thesis of the rift between science and the humanities as exemplified by the study of human origins convincing.
Good end notes and index, no bibliography, a few illustrations.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This book is an education on several levels. It is very complex but worth the effort of learning a difficult subject.Published on July 14, 2014 by Raymond D. Spiller
This is a book in love with its own voice. Rambling, nearly incoherent blitherings about academic nonsense, it's difficult to follow. Read morePublished on June 22, 2014 by Amazon Customer
I got this book from the library thinking it would actually be about the Pleistocene. It isn't. It is more about the author droning on about how her view is so much superior to... Read morePublished on April 5, 2014 by sls239
I have read all of Stephen Pyne's books and, although they do tend to drag on, have found them good enough to save for my permanent collections. Read morePublished on March 10, 2014 by Carol Collins
I'm fascinated by this subject matter, but I'm always disappointed when an author is more concerned with appearing brilliant than with just telling an interesting story. Read morePublished on March 3, 2014 by Nancy Cooper
This was a Christmas present for my mother. She is a history buff and is reading this now and likes it. It came in very good condition.Published on February 17, 2014 by daddy's girl
Potential buyers beware. The title and subtitle of Pynes' book provide a fine example of misdirection. To my chagrin, the strategy worked -- I bought the darned thing. Read morePublished on December 12, 2013 by Kraig Derstler
Very poorly written book. Off-topic digressions, run-on sentences, confusing metaphors, and disjointed analogies run rampant through the book. Read morePublished on October 23, 2013 by K. Kincare