If homo sapiens is an omnivore, then Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey -- who contributed more than any other individual to the...


BY THE EVIDENCE: Memoirs, 1932-1951

If homo sapiens is an omnivore, then Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey -- who contributed more than any other individual to the evidence on man's origins and antiquity -- must be described on the basis of this book as an intellectual omnivore, a man of delightful, infinitely divertible curiosity through which the passion for unearthing man's descent ran like a dominant but sometimes obscured thread. This intended middle volume of his memoirs -- which became the last when Leakey died the day after finishing it -- records the least unified period of his life, and so is more revealing of the mensch than of the scientist. A valuable and affectionate publisher's preface explains that the first volume, published in 1937, told how Leakay grew up among the Kikuyu and was initiated at thirteen as a member of the tribe; Volume III would have recorded the great discoveries at Olduvai Gorge that pushed man's history back two million years, Leakey's involvement in the Mau Mau troubles and in Jomo Kenyatta's trial. Alas for what might have been. But this endearing, rambling book reveals Leakey the Renaissance man, who -- when war or lack of funds interrupted his archaeological work -- could turn with equal delight and energy to prehistoric rock art, ornithology, wartime intelligence, murder investigation, Dalmatian dog breeding, museum curatorship, writing -- about Kenyan colonial problems, Kikuyu customs, Angolan string figures -- even learning to burp and diaper his infant son while his wife and equal, Mary, went on botanical safari. Here are fascinating glimpses of the old Africa: the vast herds of game, the vanishing cultures, the muddy difficulty of travel which made field trips adventurous -- running out of food, drinking water flavored with rhino urine, digging out mired cars while dignified Masai warriors look on, digging beneath them. Leakey advises owlishly that one should always examine the stomach contents of a dead animal; expresses his long-time concern for ecology; remarks on the cruelty of zoos; makes scornful reference to ""so-called civilization""; and notes with glee that the Abbe Breuil's pants almost fell down at the First Pan-African Congress on Prehistory. In his descriptions of his archaeological work, one is impressed above all by Leakey's zest and by the tenacity with which he held on to key ideas and bits of information over decades, if necessary, till he could take up the battle, again. Potpourri though this book is, Leakey emerges as a wonderful man, lovable, innocent, irreverent, not in the least forbidding.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 1974


Page Count: -

Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1974