Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings [NOOK Book]

Overview

This biography of the "First Family" of anthropology reveals how their discoveries, collaborations, and rivalries contributed to our own knowledge of the origins of humankind.

In this fascinating and authoritative work, acclaimed science writer Virginia Morell brings to vivid life the famous and infamous Leakey family, pioneers in the field of paleoanthropology: Louis Leakey, the patriarch, who persisted through initial scientific failures and...
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Ancestral Passions: The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings

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Overview

This biography of the "First Family" of anthropology reveals how their discoveries, collaborations, and rivalries contributed to our own knowledge of the origins of humankind.

In this fascinating and authoritative work, acclaimed science writer Virginia Morell brings to vivid life the famous and infamous Leakey family, pioneers in the field of paleoanthropology: Louis Leakey, the patriarch, who persisted through initial scientific failures and scandal-ridden divorce to achieve spectacular success in digs throughout East Africa; Mary, his second wife, who worked alongside Louis as they made their outstanding discoveries at Olduvai Gorge and elsewhere; and Richard, their son, who ascended to the top of the field in his parents’ wake, only to be threatened with both near-fatal illness and fierce professional rivalry. Morell transports us into the world of these compelling personalities, demonstrating how a small clan of highly talented and fiercely competitive people came to dominate an entire field of science and to contribute immeasurably to our understanding of the origins of humanity.

The First Family of anthropology--Louis, Mary and Richard Leakey--has dominated this science as no other family in history ever has--and has laid the foundations for much of what is known about the origins of man. Drawing on private family papers and letters, Morell presents a powerful biography that also serves as an overview of paleoanthropology. Photos. NPR sponsorship.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Born in Kenya, Louis Leakey (1903- 1972), son of a dynamic missionary, grew up among Kikuyu natives. At Cambridge in 1923, a rugby injury left him with post-traumatic epilepsy, necessitating a prolonged leave that marked the beginning of his fossil-hunting career. In 1933, one month after his first wife, Frida, gave birth to their son Colin, Louis announced that he was leaving her for one of his students, Mary Nicol. Over the next four decades, the husband-and-wife Leakey team made stunning discoveries of hominid fossils that supported Louis's theory that humankind originated in Africa and was millions of years older than most experts had assumed. In a revelatory biography that strips away the aura surrounding a legendary family, Oregon-based science writer Morell maintains that by the late 1950s, the Leakey marriage had deteriorated into a business partnership. Louis had extramarital affairs and fell ardently in love with his young protgs, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and gorilla-watcher Dian Fossey. His son Richard, by this account, had a bitter professional rivalry with his domineering father and, fearing that Louis would try to ease him out, kept from him his 1968 diagnosis of terminal kidney disease, which he overcame with a kidney transplant operation in 1980. Morell balances grand scientific adventure with personal chronicle in an extraordinary group portrait that was written with the family's cooperation yet is not authorized. Photos. Newbridge Book Club alternate. (Aug.)
Library Journal
A science writer for the New York Times Magazine and other journals celebrates the leading family in anthropology.
Donna Seaman
It's so fitting that a family, a complex and contentious one at that, discovered the roots of humankind's many-branched family tree. As the Leakeys unearthed one astonishing hominid fossil after another, they toppled cherished theories and shibboleths about our origins and, after decades of exhaustive fieldwork, established Africa as our first home, pushed back the time frame of our evolution by millions of years, and revealed our connection to other primates. The famous "Leakey luck" was manifest in Louis, the brilliant, passionate, not to say excessive, patriarch; in Mary, the consummate scientist and a woman of awesome determination and discipline; and in their angry, ambitious, and exceptionally talented son Richard, who both fought and fulfilled the promise of his inheritance. Their work aroused bitter controversies, inspired media frenzies, and set the course for the entire field of paleoanthropology. Morell has done a truly superb job of telling the Leakeys' compelling and manifold tale. Not only does she bring each of these extraordinary personalities to life, but she also explains the significance of their quest and conveys the drama of their painfully competitive relationships and their struggle to validate their hotly contested findings. This is an utterly fascinating book from start to finish and destined to be a cornerstone in the history of our search for our ancestors.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439143872
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 1/11/2011
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 1,260,924
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

Virginia Morell is an author of science and natural history books and frequent contributor to publications including Science, Smithsonian, and National Geographic. She lives in Ashland, Oregon, with her husband, fellow writer Michael McRae.
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Kabete 13
Chapter 2 From Cambridge to Olduvai 26
Chapter 3 Laying Claim to the Earliest Man 48
Chapter 4 Louis and Mary 68
Chapter 5 Disaster at Kanam 80
Chapter 6 Olduvai's Bounty 94
Chapter 7 Consequences 105
Chapter 8 Cloak-and-Dagger 121
Chapter 9 Race for the Miocene 137
Chapter 10 A Life in the Sediments 152
Chapter 11 Louis and Kenyatta 163
Chapter 12 "Our Man" 175
Chapter 13 Fame, Fortune, and Zinj 185
Chapter 14 Mary's Dig 197
Chapter 15 Murder and Mayhem 210
Chapter 16 The Human with Ability 225
Chapter 17 Chimpanzees and Other Loves 237
Chapter 18 Kichard Makes His Move 252
Chapter 19 A Girl for the Gorillas 263
Chapter 20 To the Omo 274
Chapter 21 Breaking Away 289
Chapter 22 Richard Strikes Oil 299
Chapter 23 Mining Hominids at Olduvai 309
Chapter 24 Dearest Dian 320
Chapter 25 Father and Son 333
Chapter 26 Jackpot at Koobi Fora 342
Chapter 27 Misadventure at Calico 358
Chapter 28 An Unstoppable Man 372
Chapter 29 Roar of the Old Lion 385
Chapter 30 An end and a Beginning 401
Chapter 31 The Best Bones 412
Chapter 32 The Gladiators' Clash 423
Chapter 33 On the Trail of Homo Erectus 433
Chapter 34 Mother and Son 445
Chapter 35 A New Contender 459
Chapter 36 The Name Game 470
Chapter 37 Footprints for the Mantelpiece 482
Chapter 38 Battling over Bones 491
Chapter 39 Richard Reborn 503
Chapter 40 "How Very Human" 517
Chapter 41 Grande Dame of Archeology 532
Chapter 42 A New Challenge 539
Epilogue 552
Appendix 555
Notes 557
Bibliography 609
Index 619
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