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From Lucy To Language Hardcover – November 27, 1996

4.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In recent decades new fossil discoveries have redefined perceptions of human evolution at a remarkable pace, making it nearly impossible for the general reader to find an up-to-date account of the subject. This large-format book by science writer Edgar and paleoanthropologist Johanson--discoverer of the famous partial skeleton of "Lucy," a female hominid who lived 3.2 million years ago--gives as complete a picture as is presently known. Much mystery remains, but the earlier view of human evolution as a linear progression from apes through the hominids to the various homo species has been replaced by a more treelike analogue, one with many branches of upright-walking hominids. Truly a photo album of hominid history, the volume includes more than 200 color pictures of the major fossil discoveries, each with explanatory text.

From Publishers Weekly

No serious student of paleoanthropology can afford to miss this magnificent, encyclopedic survey of human origins. It combines a lucid, meticulous text by noted American paleontologist Johanson (well known for his discovery of Lucy, a 3.2-million-year-old hominid skeleton from Ethiopia) and freelancer Edgar with more than 200 stunning color photographs of fossils, artifacts and prehistoric art by National Geographic chief staff photographer Brill. The book's first half succinctly yet comprehensively explores dozens of issues and controversies, among them our genetic similarity to our closest living relatives, African apes; what early humans looked like; Homo's probable beginnings in Africa and migrations therefrom; and the latest evidence regarding hominid lifestyles, diet, shelter, art, burial practices. The second half contains arguably the fullest systematic survey to date for the nonspecialist of fossil hominids, ranging from the earliest such find, in 1921, to the most recent specimens from Kenya and Ethiopia, unearthed in 1994-95 and dated to more than four million years. Johanson forcefully argues that race is a superficial cultural construct without any solid genetic basis, and he theorizes that language, a survival mechanism that evolved through natural selection, is intimately linked to our brain's evolution.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (November 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684810239
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684810232
  • Product Dimensions: 10.3 x 1.1 x 12.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,225,842 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Howard Clark Jr. on February 7, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It's about time - a book focusing on the PHOTOS of fossilized hominids. Most books on human evolution entertain us with page after page of text. This book features picture after picture of life-sized hominid fossils. It does contain text - very well written and discusses the fossils at length - a wonderful piece of work - it deserves six stars...
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Format: Hardcover
This book is the most complete review of the hominid fossil record I have yet seen.
The first half, "Central Issues of Paleoanthropology", is complete and concise coverage of the science of paleoanthropology, that makes the subject come alive and is generously illustrated.
The jewels, however, are contained in the second part - "Encountering the Evidence". In this section, there is full coverage of the fossil record of every hominid species. The narrative is engaging and always interesting, and the photographs, usually two or three for each type, are simply breathtaking. You won't see a more exciting collection of hominid fossil images anywhere.
My advice: start with this book, then get Johanson's "Lucy" books and Richard Leakey's "Origins" books, to really appreciate the range of debate and the flavor of the competitiveness in human origins research.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you want a solid, detailed book about the search for mankind's origins this is it. The first part of the book deals with the science of paleoanthropology, the nuts and bolts of how it works, from dating fossils, firepits and artifacts to studying past climates. The book also reveals to us the debates within society about where humans came from and what it means to be human. Will the answers change the way we think about ourselves and how what we will do in the future?
The second part shows us the evidence - bones. Skulls, teeth, fingers. In clear photos, many of them actual size so we can see for ourselves what the text is telling us. It ends with a couple of pages on stone tools and their development.
The two authors did their best to make the book complete BUT they also did not talk down to the reader. They don't assume you know everything, but they don't assume you're a fossil hunter either. For pros or beginners alike.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is nearly beyond belief that this book exists. Imagine walking into Simon and Schuster and telling them that you want to make a large format, glossy color coffee table book on paleoanthropology, and that you want to spare no expense in its production! Imagine trying to convince them that the demand exists for a large scale printing, thus reducing the unit price to a mere $60! Imagine telling them that every second or third page was to be a full page studio portrait of a skull, or perhaps a mandible! And every single photo in color! Even as I hold the book in my hands, and examine Bill Kimble's life size photo of Australopithecus afarensis, I shake my head in wonder.

Yet the genuinely marvelous feature of this book is its integration of the academic side of paleoanthropology with the eye-catching photography. Whether you are a novice or an old hand, Donald Johanson's comprehensive step by step discussion will inform and entertain you. I'm a serious student of paleoanthropology, yet found new material in the many sections: sexual dimorphism, gestation, maturation, language, and emerging consciousness. I'd never seen photos of cranial endocasts, and there are four from Australopithecus on one page. And there is a great deal for everyone in the reconstruction of the appearance of early humans. The photo of a lifelike Australopithecus afarensis is positively haunting.

The book presents the paleoanthropological coursework in the first half of the book, and presents bio summaries of specific hominids in the second half, along with their cranial portraits. By the time Johanson refers to Homo ergaster's temporomandibular joint, we hardly need the parenthical definition (connects the lower jaw with the cranium).
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Format: Hardcover
For those of us who are armchair archeologists/anthropologists
this book is a glorious addition to the world of hominid study.
The authors have composed a beautiful photographic album of hundreds
of examples of early hominid fossils. Life size photographs of
skulls, mandibles, femurs (all the bones that give evidence for
upright, bipedal walking) adorn the pages of this glossy, "cocktail
table" type book. Some photographs show the skeletons of the
hominids in situ (still in the ground, half buried).The accompanying
text explains clearly the theories that have been developed based
on the fossilized bones depicted in the book. The controversies
surrounding the fossils and the theories is presented in a
straightforward manner. The difficulties in obtaining specimens
and the diversity of opinon in trying to explain the meanings of
them are set forth in an interesting and easily read style. The
earliest upright hominids date back almost 4.5 million years.
Along the way to Homo sapiens have been many ancestors and more
than a few dead ends. This book looks at them all and makes an
admirable effort to give each one its hour in the sun. This is
the best book on early hominids I've ever seen.
Nina H. Ward, M.D.
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