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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.
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Posted May 28, 2013
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