The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human

The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human

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by Ian Tattersall

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Nothing fascinates us more than explorations of human origins,
and nobody tells the story better than Ian Tattersall.

What makes us so different? How did we get this way? How do we know? And what exactly are we? These questions are what make human evolution a subject of general fascination. Ian Tattersall, one of those rare scientists who is also a graceful


Nothing fascinates us more than explorations of human origins,
and nobody tells the story better than Ian Tattersall.

What makes us so different? How did we get this way? How do we know? And what exactly are we? These questions are what make human evolution a subject of general fascination. Ian Tattersall, one of those rare scientists who is also a graceful writer, addresses them in this delightful book.

Writing in an informal essay style, Tattersall leads the reader around the world and into the far reaches of the past, showing what the science of human evolution is up against-from the sparsity of evidence to the pressures of religious fundamentalism. Looking with dispassion and humor at our origins, Tattersall offers a wholly new definition of what it is to be human.

Delightful stories, scientific wisdom, fresh insight-the perfect science book.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

There is no more literate anthropologist writing on human evolution today than Ian Tattersall. . . . Becoming Human is at once absorbing in its details, provocative in its thoughtful speculations and delightfully informal in style."
-San Francisco Chronicle
Although many popular anthropological accounts of the human species have been written, few are as engaging as that of Ian Tattersall."-Natural History
Ian Tattersall combines his unique knowledge of the human fossil record, Paleolithic archaeology, primate behavior, prehistoric art . . . to offer a convincing scenario of how we have come to hold dominion over the earth."
-Donald Johanson, Scientific American
Ian Tattersall is one of the most innovative researchers in the field of human origins. In this collection of original essays, he muses on a wide range of topics relating to evolution. Essays include a discussion of human and animal intelligence, an update on Neanderthals, and the reasons behind Tattersall's belief that humans are not currently evolving.
Library Journal
In eight essays, anthropologist and American Museum of Natural History curator Tattersall (Becoming Human) explores the current understanding of organic evolution in terms of science and reason. He stresses the creative diversity of life forms throughout biological history, including the past existence of different hominid species. His own interpretation of evolution maintains that there have been three major episodic innovations in the emergence of humankind (each separated by about two million years): upright bipedality, Paleolithic technology, and the modern bodily anatomy. Of special interest is Tattersall's critical analysis of the so-called Neandertal problem. Oddly, he does not discuss space travel or genetic engineering in regard to the future of our species. Furthermore, Tattersall does not rigorously emphasize the power of scientific inquiry and the fact of organic evolution in the face of ongoing threats to empirical explanations, e.g., postmodernism, biblical fundamentalism, and religious creationism. Consequently, this is not the groundbreaking and helpful book it could have been. Even so, it is suitable for large science collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/01.] H. James Birx, Canisius Coll., Buffalo, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A collection of eight original essays that make up a primer on evolution. Beginning with an explanation of how scientists work, Tattersall, curator of Human Evolution at the American Museum of Natural History and author of Becoming Human (1998), etc., moves on to the mechanism of evolution, and our changing ideas about it-entirely Darwinian in Darwin's time, still Darwinian at the core. He stresses that living creatures, including humans, are not finely engineered organisms with every component perfectly adapted to its function. They are complex and clever, yet often clumsily improvised, owing as much to chance as to ingenious adaptation. There's no denying that humans are unique, but even our most dazzling cerebral powers did not spring up full-blown. Our sense of ourselves as individuals is an example. It turns out we can teach apes, our closest cousins, to recognize themselves in a mirror. They were the first species capable of making that connection-even monkeys can't. Halfway through, Tattersall turns to our immediate ancestors and asks the traditional question: What is the single change that set our ancestors apart from apes and placed them on the path to becoming human? Big brains and clever hands were leading candidates until a few decades ago. Today almost all experts agree that walking upright made the difference. Hominids walked for millions of years before Homo sapiens appeared a hundred thousand years ago. Soon after, the fossil record blossoms with evidence of painting, sculpture, music, notation, sophisticated, decorated tools, and elaborate burial rituals. These all result from the capacity for abstract, symbolic thinking, which differentiates modern humans from thosethat came before. Clearly something important occurred in the evolving brain, yet the modern big brain had existed for thousands of generations before this cultural explosion. There are plenty of strong personal opinions here (Neanderthals were a dead-end species; human evolution has stalled for the foreseeable future), but they ring true. The whole production is as absorbing and literate as one would expect from Tattersall.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x (d)

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What People are Saying About This

Jeffrey H. Schwartz
Ian Tattersall has done it again. With delightful and accessible sophistication, these essays have a personal touch. Tattersall weaves together philosophy of science, evolutionary theory, and the assumptions of evolutionary psychologists and paleoanthropologists. This is a gem of a book!
— Jeffrey H. Schwartz, University of Pittsburgh, Dept. of Anthropology
Donald Johanson
This exceptional collection of essays, by one of the foremost anthropologists in the world, provides unparalleled insight into how we became human? a must read!
— (Donald Johanson, author of Lucy)
W W. Howells
In typically lively fashion, Tattersall answers a variety of intriguing and often surpising questions that are sparked by examining our ancestors and the evolutionary processes that produced us. Even his title is not whimsy: what in fact do we, apes and monkeys make of what we see in mirrors, and what does this tell us about ourselves?
— W.W. Howells, Prof. Emeritus, Harvard University
Richard Klein
Ian Tattersall has already established himself as the author to read first for engaging, up-to-date, comprehensive syntheses of what happened in human evolution. Here, he also establishes himself as the authority to consult first for an exposition of the evolutionary theory that allows us to determine what happened. This is one of those rare books that will inform both specialists and interested lay persons, and they will not only learn, they will enjoy.
— Richard Klein, Stanford University, Program in Human Biology
Clark Howell
Ian Tattersall's essays are both a joy and reprieve, in an endeaver explicitly devoted to scientific elucidation of human evolutionary origins, all too often clouded by preconception and anthropocentric presumption.
— Professor Clark Howell, Prof. Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley, Lab for Human Evolutionary Studies

Meet the Author

Ian Tattersall is curator of human evolution at the American Museum of Natural History, and the author of many books and articles. His most recent book, Becoming Human, won the distinguished W.W. Howells Prize of the American Anthropological Association. An expert on both fossil humans and lemurs, he has done fieldwork in places as varied as Madagascar, Yemen, and Vietnam. He lives in New York City.

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The Monkey in the Mirror: Essays on the Science of What Makes Us Human 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author mentions that humans are not unique in self recognition, and that our closest relative the ape can be taught to recognize themselves in the mirror. Apes are not the only non human species that are capable of recognizing theselves in the mirrors. Dolphins also display this ability. In experiements where marks are made on the stomach of a dolphin, the dolphin will swim over to a mirror in the water and repeatedly turn his stomach to the mirror to view the markings.