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First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human

First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human

by Jeremy DeSilva


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“DeSilva takes us on a brilliant, fun, and scientifically deep stroll through history, anatomy, and evolution, in order to illustrate the powerful story of how a particular mode of movement helped make us one of the most wonderful, dangerous and fascinating species on Earth.”—Agustín Fuentes, Professor of Anthropology, Princeton University and author of Why We Believe: Evolution and the Human Way of Being

“Breezy popular science at its best. . . . Makes a compelling case overall.”—Science News

Blending history, science, and culture, a stunning and highly engaging evolutionary story exploring how walking on two legs allowed humans to become the planet’s dominant species.

Humans are the only mammals to walk on two, rather than four legs—a locomotion known as bipedalism. We strive to be upstanding citizens, honor those who stand tall and proud, and take a stand against injustices. We follow in each other’s footsteps and celebrate a child’s beginning to walk. But why, and how, exactly, did we take our first steps? And at what cost? Bipedalism has its drawbacks: giving birth is more difficult and dangerous; our running speed is much slower than other animals; and we suffer a variety of ailments, from hernias to sinus problems.

In First Steps, paleoanthropologist Jeremy DeSilva explores how unusual and extraordinary this seemingly ordinary ability is. A seven-million-year journey to the very origins of the human lineage, First Steps shows how upright walking was a gateway to many of the other attributes that make us human—from our technological abilities, our thirst for exploration, our use of language–and may have laid the foundation for our species’ traits of compassion, empathy, and altruism. Moving from developmental psychology labs to ancient fossil sites throughout Africa and Eurasia, DeSilva brings to life our adventure walking on two legs.

Delving deeply into the story of our past and the new discoveries rewriting our understanding of human evolution, First Steps examines how walking upright helped us rise above all over species on this planet.

First Steps includes an eight-page color photo insert.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062938497
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 04/06/2021
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 46,882
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.70(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Jeremy DeSilva is an anthropologist at Dartmouth College. He is part of the research team that discovered and described two ancient members of the human family tree—Australopithecus sediba and Homo naledi. He has studied wild chimpanzees in Western Uganda and early human fossils in museums throughout Eastern and South Africa. From 1998 to 2003, he worked as an educator at the Boston Museum of Science. He continues to be passionate about science education and travels throughout New England, giving lectures on human evolution. He and his wife, Erin, live in Norwich, Vermont, with their twins, Ben and Josie.

Table of Contents

Author's Note xi

Introduction xv

Part I The Origin of Upright Walking

Chapter 1 How We Walk 3

Chapter 2 T. rex, the Carolina Butcher, and the First Bipeds 17

Chapter 3 "How the Human Stood Upright" and Other Just-So Stories About Bipedalism 31

Chapter 4 Lucy's Ancestors 47

Chapter 5 Ardi and the River Gods 67

Part II Becoming Human

Chapter 6 Ancient Footprints 89

Chapter 7 Many Ways to Walk a Mile 113

Chapter 8 Hominins on the Move 131

Chapter 9 Migration to Middle Earth 145

Part III Walk of Life

Chapter 10 Baby Steps 163

Chapter 11 Birth and Bipedalism 179

Chapter 12 Gait Differences and What They Mean 199

Chapter 13 Myokines and the Cost of Immobility 209

Chapter 14 Why Walking Helps Us Think 221

Chapter 15 Of Ostrich Feet and Knee Replacements 235

Conclusion: The Empathetic Ape 253

Acknowledgments 269

Notes 273

Index 325

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