- Series: MacSci
- Hardcover: 288 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1st Edition edition (March 27, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 023010875X
- ISBN-13: 978-0230108752
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 243.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 110 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #544,592 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins (MacSci) 1st Edition Edition
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“Quietly magnificent” ―The Atlantic, runner-up for the best book of 2012
“Fantastically interesting...Tattersall has been involved in many of the past half-century's advances in understanding human evolution...Essential.” ―Choice, a 2013 outstanding title
“An authoritative snapshot of the ongoing struggle to understand our evolutionary past.” ―Financial Times
“A guide for the perplexed student of human origins ... Tattersall weaves a history of palaeoanthropology into the text, showing that though fossils may provide the bulk of the evidence for human origins, few of the details are set in stone.” ―New Scientist
“Tattersall is no slouch in the storytelling department, but his narrative emphasizes the necessarily fragmentary nature of the fossil record and the provisional nature of what we can safely conclude from it ...[His] account highlights the major advances in paleoanthropology that have been made in the last decade or two.” ―Natural History magazine
“An efficient survey of 7 million years of evolutionary development and two centuries of evolutionary thought ... In deft combinations of authority and caution, expertise and wit, Tattersall invites the lay reader to the party. Throughout, he remains grounded in the salient details culled from archaeology, anatomy, genetics, primatology, nutrition and social science.” ―The Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Asuperb overview of how our species developed (a long process) and how we grew smart enough to dominate the planet ... Keeping a critical eye on the evidence and a skeptical one on theories, Tattersall confirms his status among world anthropologists by delivering a superior popular explanation of human origins.” ―Kirkus Reviews starred review
“A concise history of how humans became humans ... Tattersall moves through the complex fossil records effortlessly and with a welcome sense of wonder. He also consistently conveys a deep knowledge of his subject ... Tattersall's combination of erudition and a conversational style make this is an excellent primer on human evolution.” ―Publishers Weekly
“This is a book I will be recommending to anyone who wants a good overview of evolution. This book puts the new discoveries in their proper sequence and perspective. It is an excellent work.” ―Jean Auel, author of The Clan of the Cave Bear, and the rest of Earth's Children books
“We all think we know the story: first we evolved to walk upright, then use tools, then agriculture, language, and us - - an inexorable linear progression from ape to human. But Ian Tattersall introduces us to several different human-like precursors, all alive at the same time, as recently as 50,000 years ago - just barely before the period we humans chauvinistically refer to as 'history'. So it's no longer straightforward: beasts like us emerged several times within the past hundred thousand years, some of them distinct species. Some were the first to think like we do: in symbols and abstractions; those were our forebears. But while they were alive, these multiple different humanoids may have known about each other; interacted; fought; lived together or apart; possibly even bred. It turns out that our lineage is anything but linear; Tattersall demolishes the versions we were once taught, and lays out the remarkable new history of our diverse origins for the first time.” ―Richard Granger, author of Big Brain
“Are you ready for a 3.5 billion year stroll down the path of life's origins to the present. Ian Tattersall takes you by the hand and covers the highlights like few are capable of doing. The continuities and discontinuities reveal insights on why we humans are the masters of the planet. A must read.” ―Mike Gazzaniga, author of Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique
“This [book] is excellent ... Among other things, and very importantly, it is a very good read.” ―Colin Tudge, author of The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor
“For almost 40 years, Ian Tattersall has been one of our leaders in the field of human evolution. Mastersof the Planet is a stunning culmination of a career in science: a brilliant and engaging account that illuminates and inspires. Read Tattersall and you will not see yourself, let alone our entire species, in the same way again.” ―Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish
“This is a book full of wisdom: the distillation of a lifetime's experience combined with finely honed critical faculties. Tattersall is a captivating and surefooted guide through the ranks of hominids, over several million years, in search of the origins of our uniquely symbolic mind. He ranges widely across evidence from DNA sequences and molecular forensics to skeletal morphology and ancient artifacts, never shirking the telling detail, never lacking a finely judged opinion, yet always making the science beautifully clear. The best guide to human origins that I have read.” ―Nick Lane, author of Life Ascending and Oxygen
About the Author
Ian Tattersall, PhD is a curator in the Division of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he co-curates the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. He is the acknowledged leader of the human fossil record, and has won several awards, including the Institute of Human Origins Lifetime Achievement Award. Tattersall has appeared on Charlie Roseand NPR's Science Friday and has written for Scientific American and Archaeology. He's been widely cited by the media, including The New York Times, BBC, MSNBC, and National Geographic. Tattersall is the author of Becoming Human, among others. He lives in New York City.
Top customer reviews
Tattersall is a widely respected expert. His 50 professional years of familiarity, fascination and insight in the field are apparent as are his critical and clear headed thinking. As Curator Emeritus at Anthropology Division of the American Museum of Natural History he understands how to make this science accessible and interesting to the public.
If you've already looked into human origins, you will find the content interesting. If not, you might get more out of it if you read an introduction book first.(Robin McKie's Dawn of Man: THE STORY OF HUMAN EVOLUTION is a good such book, and with a more balanced viewpoint). This is a summary book, covering most of the field and mostly up to date, concisely condensing the field's important aspects. The book provides a great overview to interpret future developments in the field. Someone who with a very advanced background may find it simplified - but Ian is an important person in this field and this book is full of his opinions and speculations that are worth reading if you haven't read him before. And his occasional controversial viewpoints and strong opinions should be food for thought.
The majority of the book reviews the interpretation of hominids fossils and their relationship over time. But the book also delves almost equally into a variety of related fields: genetics, biology, life style and features of living apes, skeletal morphology, prehistoric artifacts and chemical analysis. It also includes areas not usually discussed in other books: molecular forensics, language, developmental biology, brain development, psychology and more. Ian masterly interprets and weaves these disparate sources to help bridge information that is missing in the fossil record and create a fabric outlining human origins.
The book is information dense, not light summer reading. Several reviewers wrote they read the book twice and got more from it on the second read. True for me as well.
Some readers state that Ian writing is easy to read while others find it "foggy" or difficult. Both viewpoints may be true. The book's value is its content and not its literary style.
Its content is presented in a light entertaining way, not in academia writing. Ian presents scientific information, which can be dry and cocooned in jargon, in natural language and an relaxed manner. He is not afraid of speculating about subjects that are not directly accessible from the fossil evidence on subjects that the lay reader will be more interested in. He is a natural story teller, adding surprise and color. So in this sense he is very readable.
But Ian's is not good at basic English exposition: paragraphs are run-ons with two or more topics. He over-qualifies, sometimes qualifies his qualifications - even digressing into equivocation. His desire to be objective (a rare trait among anthropologists) sometimes means he over vacillates. He can be disorderly, jumping around too much. Ian's earlier book was worst, his skills have improved a good deal, but there is still room to improve.
Tattersall delves into what it means to be human, and how scientists have variously defined over time the criteria that indicate a species is considered to have a direct lineage to mankind. His summary is one of the best write ups I have seen on this.
His main focus is on at what really makes us different to other species - and especially the discontinuities in evolution that made us human. He is also interested in teasing out the critical qualities of our ancestors that made us the in the end the sole Hominid species and "The Masters of the Planet".
I dislike spoiler reviews, giving up too much so I will mostly just mention categories of information. Besides concise reviews of the major fossils: role of genetics in understanding human evolution, non-linear human evolution, biological change is related to environmental change while technological change does not track species, symbolic reasoning, brain architecture, unique nature of our intelligence and reason for its development, language, changing definition of "Human" and the unique status of humans.
However, there are three areas I feel I should say more:
Classification/Systematics: A big problem in Paleoanthropology is a failure to agree on about this field's basics. The vacillations between categorization ("splitters" and "lumpers") and dizzying assignment of fossils to various names greatly adds to the confusion in the field for the interested lay public and amateurs. Ian provides an excellent review of the history of species classification and naming conventions and assignments, on page 94, that helps make sense of the mess that has been made. He hints at some of the remaining problems - but I would have preferred he had more explicit and given us his own opinion on those.
Sudden Change: This book is in some ways a second version of his earlier book - "Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness", where a great deal is said about 'Punctuated Evolution' This is not mentioned in this book probably because Punctuated Evolution, as a catch phrase, has passed out of fashion among most evolutionary scientists. But the concept is still here in a section he called "Sudden Change" and mentioned briefly elsewhere, because it is obviously part of Human Evolution. Being downgraded is ironic because a recent partial explanation has been offered by mutations in regulatory genes - which Ian does go into.
Bipedality is the first "human" trait to show up in the Hominid fossils. He briefly gives the most common conjectures made for its occurrence as most Anthropology books. He also covers the most likely explanation - the expatiations of a pre-existing upright posture of certain larger tree dwelling Miocene and Pleistocene apes. This makes great sense and is an important explanation. So the real mystery is not verticality, but the progressive expatiation of this verticalness to take it to the ground and modification of the foot from a grasping one, to a more human-like one. Ian's low key writing style, it's possible to miss this point which is why I mentioned it. Other books give a stronger presentation and more detail. And I was disappointed that more is not made about the critical role increasingly committed bipedality played in guiding hominid evolution and other human traits.
Ian rightly puts expatiation rather than direct functional adaptations as the fundamental evolutionary processes in his books. Evolution involves expiating and then selectively exploiting existing mutations for new uses/advantages. And he explains that a species is a package deal - with a cluster of advantages and disadvantage in certain circumstances. The book is worth reading for these points alone.
Recommendations to the Reader
Buy the book. I say buy it instead of just read it, because it's one that you are likely going to want to underline and make notes in the margins and read several times. An improved index would increase its value as a reference book. Speaking of reference books, I would read concurrently "The First Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans, which goes into greater detail about fossils and their status and provides reconstructions lacking in this book. But this book provides the interpretation and context lacking in The First Human. The books nicely complement each other. Another complementary book is Ian's earlier book: Becoming Human: etc. But read this book first and that book as an addendum for additional information about processes, not species. That book is also more out of date and by reading this book first you will recognize those areas.
Problems and Suggestions to the Author.
Improving the expository quality is my strongest suggestion. It's the reason I rated the book a four instead of the five your content deserves. I am hope in later editions you find a better rewrite editor or a graduate English student to help that time around. This book, as with most books, has some errors- read danielx's review for some of them. I applaud for you discussing speculations and conjectures - it adds richness to the book but I recommend you make it more apparent when you are doing so. Your focus on what makes humans different and unique can verge on chauvinistic - although less so here than your earlier book.
The book could use many more illustrations; maps of sites and illustration or photos of fossils for every species to just mention a few areas. Since you are a curator, I know you understand the role of visual aids in understanding and learning. Treat this book as you do the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. The index could be expanded and you might consider a glossary for the less advanced reader.
You might consider going electronic to build upon the book. It deserves a blog by you and a discussion board (which might provide you better feedback - and this is one book that should generate a lot of discussion). If you go electronic, you can add supporting information, your own commentary and notes on the book and more information about additional readings. And you could put the needed glossary and additional illustrations there, as a way to contain publishing costs. Maybe some of the illustrations could come from the Spitzer Hall as a way to promote it. And the website allows updates in the rapidly changing field. It could even become a major website on Human Origins.
Finally, despite the problems and suggestions section you deserve accolades for what you have accomplished. This is a very difficult subject area to delve into deeply and to present in a condensed format and you have produced a `masterly" piece of work.
Tattersall also highlights the problem of classification of fossil hominids, since each new find does not match exactly any other find. The question of what is a species is particularly pertinent, since the test of reproductive isolation cannot be applied.
The last few chapters became rather speculative and lacked substance. Tattersall's argument that only modern humans possessed language is a departure from other authorities, who have argued that earlier species were able to talk.