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Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived

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  • Posted February 18, 2013

    I just finished reading Last Ape Standing by William "Chip&

    I just finished reading Last Ape Standing by William "Chip" Walter and found it to be a fascinating, if tentative, story of the rise of Homo Sapiens to the top a field of some twenty-seven contenders for the crown of "most intelligent primate on Earth". As the author freely admits, the number twenty-seven was more or less picked at random, as there is no telling what new fossil evidence will emerge in the near to distant future. Nevertheless, as the author points out, this has been a fascinating time for paleo-anthropologists, who now have have at their disposal an investigative tool with which to make sense of what laymen might consider merely random bone fragments.

    Now that DNA forensics are available, along with a knowledge of primate and human genomes, the developments of the last seven million years or so--the point when humans parted genetic ways with chimpanzees, our closest living relatives--was not simply a matter of a linear path from a common ancestor to modern humans, but was, rather a bevy of contending species of many kinds of post-ape but pre-human species, given the fecund nature of evolutionary development. The problem becomes not simply a question of how the bones fit into human evolution, but whether they are in our ancestral line at all, although we would be cousins of one degree or another of their hapless owners because we homonins all descended from a common ancestor. [BTW: the term 'homonin' versus the more commonly used term 'homonid' is explained in the book.]

    The fascinating question is how did the evolutionary line that lead to Homo Sapiens survive this 7-million year period, while all of the other evolutionary experiments of walking-apes-with-(relatively) big-brains failed to reach the present. Not only was it possible that many of our evolutionary cousins had contact with one another and with our distant ancestors (although it is impossible to characterize the nature of this contact for lack of evidence) such contacts must have been fairly uncommon, as the entire "quasi-human" population was relatively small, although different primate species had covered nearly every livable spot on Earth, on foot, from its place of origin, the savannahs of Africa.

    The story becomes more clear at about 100,000 years ago, when most of the variant hominins had fallen by the evolutionary wayside, with the conspicuous exception of the Neanderthals, who had successfully survived the glaciers of Europe, and in turn whose physiology was shaped by the cold climate. Although Neanderthals and the precursors of Homo Sapiens who arrived later co-existed for tens of thousands of years, and possibly interbred, the Neanderthals gradually died out, the last possibly at Gibraltar only 20,000 years ago for reasons that are ill-understood.

    Although Last Ape Standing is only a snapshot of our recent knowledge of the workings of evolution in the 7 million years that have separated the great apes and humans such as ourselves, it is highly readable and poses a lot of "what ifs", because the outcomes, and the reasons for those outcome are often very unintuitive and surprising. This makes for good reading and Last Ape Standing is a well-written summary of the present state of knowledge about human origins.

    11 out of 12 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 27, 2013

    Chip walter did a wonderful job of translating science into Engl

    Chip walter did a wonderful job of translating science into English as a first language. I was particularly intrigued by the number of concurrent human species, as opposed to the linear view of evoluation; the rhythm
    and imagry of Neanderthal language; and the extraordinary, and essential contributions of extended childhood and play.

    A great read for any audience.
    Jim Denova, Ph.D.

    9 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 18, 2013

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newb

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, February 25, 2013.

    It is a deep part of human nature to want to understand our origins. Indeed, creation stories are ubiquitous among the world's cultures. Somewhat fittingly, the vast majority of these creation stories have the human race emerging quickly, if not instantaneously--a revolutionary moment befitting a revolutionary species. When it comes to the story from science, on the other hand, while it may be no less spectacular, it is far less abrupt, for it has our species emerging much slower. Indeed, the latest findings indicate that we began branching away from the species to which we are most closely related--the chimpanzee--some 7 million years ago, and that only a series of small modifications spread out over this time has led us to our current state.

    However long the process may have taken, though, in the end it was nevertheless revolutionary, for it has changed us from head to toe. Or rather, from toe to head, for the evidence indicates the process began with a modification in our big toe (which made upright walking easier) and ended with self-awareness (which ultimately made us interested in the story of our origin). While the rough edges of this story have been known for decades, recent fossil finds and new techniques in DNA analysis in the past 5 years have allowed the story to come into much clearer focus. Armed with these new discoveries, science writer Chip Walter takes on the story of human origins and evolution in his new book 'Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived'.

    Walter's book reads very well and his explanations are very easy to follow. Although the outline of the story that Walter tells is by now familiar, the author does a very good job of covering the latest findings and theories that are emerging that are allowing us to gain a fuller picture of just what happened (especially when it comes to hominid sub-species evolution, and the role of neotony in our evolution).

    I felt there were just two main weaknesses in the work. First, Walter does not address the change in mating and childcare patterns (towards more monogamy and paternal involvement) that made delayed development possible. And second, Walter's discussion of the future of human evolution (both natural, and man-made) is scant and somewhat wanting. Other than that, though, the book is a valuable addition to the evolving story of our evolution as a species. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, February 25; A podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.

    8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 27, 2014

    A very thorough overview and a fun read.

    Walter's writing style is very accessible to the non-anthropologists among us. His overview of the rise of the hominids and some very particular attributes (speech, self-awareness, etc.) is very insightful and engaging. How we came to be the "Last Ape Standing" is an amazing story.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2014

    Fascinating book about human history

    This is not a quick read. I would read a chapter (or less) and then stop to think about it or talk about it to whoever was nearby. Now, nearly three week later, I still find myself thinking about some sections of the book. The book covers all of the human species that came before us (or parallel with us) that did not survive and why they may be gone. Then it talks about what makes us different and how that helps us to survive even today. Parents of small children will find marvelous ideas that may prompt them in encouraging young minds. The only reason I didn't give this a 5 was the last chapter. He speculates why we may not survive in the future or how we may evolve to meet the complexity of the modern world. Mostly, I didn't agree with him. But check it out for youself. Maybe you will agree.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 9, 2014

    Really a very interesting read. At times I found that the autho

    Really a very interesting read. At times I found that the author repeated himself, but overall, this was a really excellent book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2014

    EVOLUTION

    People we evolved from primates but different family branch ok

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 4, 2014

    .

    .

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 25, 2014

    Really informative!

    While it was being written, new information was coming in. Such fascinating stuff!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2014

    Jesus made you

    I cant believe people except the fact that we were apes. Stupid. Gros. Jesus people jesus.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2014

    Minus stars

    Very sacreligious book. Man did not evolve from apes. God made man in His own image. Blasphemous book. Minus stars

    0 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2014

    After five page review dont bother

    Its all there plus sample should save you two bucks

    0 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 16, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted May 28, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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