Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are

( 8 )


"Dazzling...A feast. Absorbing and elegantly written, it tells of theorigins of life on earth, describes its variety and charaacter, and culminates in a discussion of human nature and teh complex traces ofhumankind's evolutionary past...It is an amazing story masterfully told."
World renowned scientist Carl Sagan and acclaimed author Ann Druyan have written a ROOTS for the human species, a lucid and riveting account of how humans got to be the way we ...
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"Dazzling...A feast. Absorbing and elegantly written, it tells of theorigins of life on earth, describes its variety and charaacter, and culminates in a discussion of human nature and teh complex traces ofhumankind's evolutionary past...It is an amazing story masterfully told."
World renowned scientist Carl Sagan and acclaimed author Ann Druyan have written a ROOTS for the human species, a lucid and riveting account of how humans got to be the way we are. It shows with humor and drama that many of our key traits--self-awareness, technology, family ties, submission to authority, hatred for those a little different from ourselves, reason, and ethics--are rooted in the deep past, and illuminated by our kinship with other animals. Astonishing in its scope, brilliant in its insights, and an absolutely compelling read, SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS is a triumph of popular science.

Spanning more than four billion years, from "the beginning and a little before, " this brilliant chronicle of the first stirrings of life on Earth traces the human animal's evolution--and makes a powerful case for man's enduring kinship with the "lower" animals.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a leisurely, lyrical meditation on the roughly four-million-year span since life dawned on Earth, Sagan and Druyan ( Comet ) argue that territoriality, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, occasional outbreeding and a preference for small, semi-isolated groups are elements in a survival strategy common to many species, including Homo sapiens. Yet society's problems, they assert, increasingly demand global solutions and require a dramatic, strategic shift which the authors optimistically believe humankind is capable of achieving. This engaging, humane odyssey offers a stunning refutation of the behavioristic worldview with its mechanistic notion that animals (except for humans) lack conscious awareness. Writing with awe and a command of their material, the husband-wife team cover well-trod terrain while they discuss the evolution of Earth's atmosphere and life forms, the genetic code, the advantages of sexual reproduction. The last third of the book, dealing with chimpanzees, baboons and apes, is the most interesting. Sagan and Druyan find chimps' social life ``hauntingly familiar'' with its hierarchy, combat, suppression of females and chimps' remarkable ability to communicate through symbols. First serial to Parade. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Astronomer Sagan is probably the biggest name in popular science writing, a fact that should assure that his latest book--written with his wife, Druyan--will find a wide audience. Sagan's goal is to explain how luck and natural selection combined to produce human beings after three and a half billion years of life on earth. Human behavior, he stresses, results more from similarities with our animal ancestors than from any unique qualities we may possess. Sagan flounders a bit early on in his effort to explain molecular evolution, but he picks up speed later when the focus shifts to primate behavior. Despite a preference for the overly dramatic phrase at the expense of scientific clarity, the argument is coherent throughout. While this is hardly one of the best books on human evolution, it will likely be very popular, especially in public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/92.-- Eric Hinsdale, Trinity Univ. Lib., San Antonio
Kirkus Reviews
A BIG book about BIG questions—"Who are we? Where do we come from? Why are we this way and not some other? What does it mean to be human?"—with all the Sagan/Druyan trademarks: crystal-clear scientific exposition, a dash of pseudotheology, and lots of big numbers. Sagan and wife Druyan begin with a standard recital of the origins of sun, planets, and life on earth, but soon move on to their central theme: the triumph of evolutionary theory and the truths unveiled through study of our animal kin. An enjoyable brief life of Darwin sets the tone: enraptured regard for scientific orthodoxy, couched in lucid prose with playful asides (an imagined Hollywood version of the classic Wilberforce-Huxley debates on the origin of species). When the authors turn to the role of DNA in speciation, those big numbers start cropping up: "ten trillion or so cells of your body"; "perhaps a billion AGCT nucleotide pairs." And so does the amateur theology, in which Sagan and Druyan plump hard for deism, the notion of a God who created the universe and then absconded. Things rocket forward when the authors focus on the gaudy canvas of sexuality, consciousness, language, and so on in the animal kingdom. A barrage of eye-popping anecdotes leaves the impression that animal social life is a perpetual power play, with dominant males on top and submissive females on the bottom. Many parallels are drawn with humans—e.g., teenage boys playing "chicken" to establish a pecking order. Since the authors contend that no sharp line divides animals and humans, this leads to troubling conclusions about human nature. But Sagan and Druyan think we can overcome our animalistic impulses, althoughthey never quite explain how: The "shadows of forgotten ancestors" weigh heavily on us all. Too long and preachy, but, still, crack science-writing for the masses, and the Sagan name will vault it onto the charts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345384720
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/28/1993
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 528
  • Sales rank: 268,066
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 10.64 (h) x 0.92 (d)

Table of Contents

Prologue: The Orphan's File 1
1 On Earth as It Is in Heaven 9
2 Snowflake Fallen on the Hearth 19
3 "What Makest Thou?" 33
4 A Gospel of Dirt 51
5 Life Is Just a Three-Letter Word 73
6 Us and Them 97
7 When Fire Was New 119
8 Sex and Death 141
9 What Thin Partitions... 157
10 The Next-to-Last Remedy 181
11 Dominance and Submission 201
12 The Rape of Caenis 219
13 The Ocean of Becoming 239
14 Gangland 257
15 Mortifying Reflections 265
16 Lives of the Apes 293
17 Admonishing the Conqueror 317
18 The Archimedes of the Macaques 341
19 What Is Human? 361
20 The Animal Within 385
21 Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors 409
Epilogue 417
Notes 421
Permissions Acknowledgments 479
Index 481
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 8 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2012

    Not what I expected

    I have to say I love Sagen, and I love human evolution. So this book was a no brainer for me to pick up. There were lots of interesting bits in the book, but I felt like I was slogging through the primordial muck to get to them. The informatiom on how the earth formed was great! And the theories of how life may have started were important to the story, but there was way more information on protiens, microbs, cells, etc than I really needed. I felt that there was a lot of repetition through out the book, but I stuck with it. Just when I thought I was finally to the intesting part, i.e. human evolution- IT ENDED! To be continued in another volumn?
    So if you want to know more about neanderthal, erectus, civilization, language developmemt - you aren't going to get it in this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 13, 2012

    Life changing

    In the best posible way this book has made me open my eyes to our existence and our fragility. Everyone that has curiosity and natural childlike wonder will enjoy and prpobably gain from this book.

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  • Posted February 18, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    One of the Best

    This is beyond doubt one of the best written science related books that I have read over the years. There are quite a few excellent science writers but none come close to this husband and wife team.

    While I don't personally believe in all of the theories contained therein, it is still a dazzling, fantastic ride through ancient history. The writers make you feel as if you could actually be standing beside the characters as they absorb you into their world.

    I read this tome several years ago and can actually say that I still to this day reflect on several of the comments and analysis made within the pages. In fact, the more time goes by, the more I begin to bend my philosophy to match the book..

    They masterfully tell the story of human nature and whther it is through brute hypothesis or the elegant writing, it certainly gives us pause to reflect. The account is both riveting and fast paced. It probably reads at a much faster pace than the authors intended which is to their credit. Rarely do I encounter a book that I simply "can't put down".

    If you want a slant on the dramatic way we became to be who we are, this is an excellent place to start. You will learn why we hate those that are different from us, racism, family ties and why we have the pecking order we live with. The book is quite brilliant in its insights and conclusions. Again I must say I do not adhere to all of these beliefs but they make wonderful food for thought.

    If you have never read Sagan or Druyan, to me, that is a shame. Buy, borrow or steal this book. It is a illuminating ride.

    I hope you find my opinion helpful.

    Michael L. Gooch, Author of Wingtips with Spurs.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2004



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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 9, 2002

    must read

    its a very interesting book for understanding life in all its forms. Has lot of information to substantiate the philosophy of life

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 8, 2000

    Now thinking people have their own 'story of Genesis'

    OK, maybe that's a slight overreach but the point remains that this book is needed and is appreciated. From the scientific equivalent of 'Let there be light' to the present day, this book retraces our best estimations as to what our journey from nothingness toward humanity must have entailed. Through Sagan's unique talents at weaving the scientific story, I felt throughout this book as though it was I who was represented as the newly invented strand of DNA, as the Arboreal ape in its own society, as the collecting bits of matter soon after the formation of the Universe, as in some sense as Carl would have us know, it was was all of us. A wonderful addition to my library indeed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 13, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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