Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins

Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins

by Ian Tattersall
     
 

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50,000 years ago - merely a blip in evolutionary time - our Homo sapiens ancestors were competing for existence with several other human species, just as their own precursors had been doing for millions of years. Yet something about our species separated it from the pack, and led to its survival while the rest became extinct. So just what was it that

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Overview

50,000 years ago - merely a blip in evolutionary time - our Homo sapiens ancestors were competing for existence with several other human species, just as their own precursors had been doing for millions of years. Yet something about our species separated it from the pack, and led to its survival while the rest became extinct. So just what was it that allowed Homo sapiens to become Masters of the Planet? Curator Emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History, Ian Tattersall takes us deep into the fossil record to uncover what made humans so special. Surveying a vast field from initial bipedality to language and intelligence, Tattersall argues that Homo sapiens acquired a winning combination of traits that was not the result of long term evolutionary refinement. Instead it emerged quickly, shocking their world and changing it forever.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Tattersall (The Fossil Trail), a noted expert on human evolution and an emeritus curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, offers a concise history of how humans became humans. He explains how the sparse skeletal remains of ancient human predecessors are studied, how the shape of a molar, the tip of a pelvis, the design of the knee or the ankle all offer clues to the genealogical maps of our past. He revisits the usual suspects: the famous three-million-year-old Lucy; the unprecedented (in 1984) hominid structure of the Turkana Boy; and the 400,000-year-old Heidelberg man. 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. His discussion of the origin of symbolic behavior and the many theories that seek to explain early humans’ unprecedented leap in capacity, including the acquisition of language, the development of art, and the ability to deal in the abstract, is provocative and illuminating. Tattersall’s combination of erudition and a conversational style make this is an excellent primer on human evolution. Illus. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

“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

Library Journal
Tattersall (cocurator, Spitzer Hall of Human Origins, American Museum of Natural History) has authored and coauthored over 22 books on human evolution and is currently working on a multivolume project to document the major fossils in the human fossil record. He calls this book a progress report on human paleoanthropology, in which he pulls together the newest discoveries and current theories on the origins of humanity. Most of us learned that human evolution was a single line from the earliest upright apes to Homo sapiens, but Tattersall introduces readers to the wide range of species, many that lived at the same time, that are contenders for places on our ancestral tree. Even more interesting is his discussion of the factors that made us such a successful species and how these traits developed. He extrapolates from the limited physical evidence available what types of environments our precursors lived in as well as their social and mental abilities. VERDICT An excellent book for high school and college students as well as general readers.—Betty Galbraith, Washington State Univ. Lib., Pullman
Kirkus Reviews
A veteran anthropologist writes a superb overview of how our species developed (a long process) and how we grew smart enough to dominate the planet (a short process in which evolution played little part). Tattersall (Paleontology: A Brief History of Life, 2010, etc.), curator emeritus at the American Museum of Natural History, begins with early hominids, who took the first step away from apedom about five million years ago by rising to walk on two legs. In absorbing detail, he describes two centuries of often-grueling field research that turned up more species that learned to make tools and whose brains slowly grew. For three million years, our small-brained ancestors, the Australopithecus genus, spread throughout Africa before leaving the scene. From about two million years ago, bigger-brained members of genus Homo ranged across Eurasia without making a great impression. Homo sapiens, remarkably young at 200,000 years, did not seem a great improvement until about 60,000 years ago, when their brains began processing information symbolically, leading to language, art, technology and sophisticated social organization, all of which accompanied our species across the world, wiping out competing hominids. While researchers argue over why this happened, Tattersall emphasizes that evolutionary milestones, even dramatic ones like flying, do not happen when new features appear but take advantage of those already present. Feathers existed long before birds flew, and Homo sapiens' brains were always capable of great things. 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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781137000385
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
03/27/2012
Series:
MacSci
Sold by:
Macmillan
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
183,752
File size:
3 MB

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"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

"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

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