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

Overview

Ian Tattersall is one of those rare eminent scientists who is also a graceful and engaging writer. Here, in eight brilliant essays on evolutionary theory, he attempts to answer the most controversial questions on human origins: What makes us different from all other species? How did we get this way? With only a handful of incomplete fossil remains, how do we know? Brimming with delightful stories and scientific wisdom. The Monkey in the Mirror takes us around the world and far into the past, offering fresh ...
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Overview

Ian Tattersall is one of those rare eminent scientists who is also a graceful and engaging writer. Here, in eight brilliant essays on evolutionary theory, he attempts to answer the most controversial questions on human origins: What makes us different from all other species? How did we get this way? With only a handful of incomplete fossil remains, how do we know? Brimming with delightful stories and scientific wisdom. The Monkey in the Mirror takes us around the world and far into the past, offering fresh insight into the fundamental questions of our evolutionary past -- and our evolving future.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
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.
From the Publisher
PRAISE FOR BECOMING HUMAN
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
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198515692
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 1/1/2002
  • Pages: 220

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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Table of Contents

Preface ix
Chapter 1 What's So Special about Science? 1
Chapter 2 Evolution: Why So Misunderstood? 29
Chapter 3 The Monkey in the Mirror 56
Chapter 4 Human Evolution and the Art of Climbing Trees 79
Chapter 5 The Enigmatic Neanderthals 107
Chapter 6 How Did We Achieve Humanity? 138
Chapter 7 Written in Our Genes? 169
Chapter 8 Where Now? 185
Index 205
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