Not an overall history of human evolution but the story of the last million years, which began with three or four Homo species roaming the world but ended about 30,000 years ago with the disappearance of all but one.
British paleoanthropologist Stringer (Homo Britannicus, 2006, etc.) points out that most scientists agree that our first hominid ancestors appeared in Africa 5 million years ago; many species evolved, and a few wandered north about 2 million years ago. Where Homo sapiens originated and how it came out on top remains a matter of intense debate, but Stringer marshals the latest evidence and concludes that his own opinion is correct: Modern humans appeared in a small area of Africa about 200,000 years ago and then moved across the world exchanging genes, tools and behavior with rival human species before supplanting them. Besides trying to make sense of headline-producing fossil and archeological discoveries, the author explains dazzling advances that have solved many problems: precise techniques for dating, DNA studies (we have the complete Neanderthal genome), isotope analysis to determine an ancient species’ diet and travels, CT scans to reveal hidden and even microscopic details and geometric morphometrics and stereolithography to re-create, manipulate and compare skulls and other structures.
The book’s title remains a subject of controversy, but readers seeking to advance beyond the usual flamboyant field researchers will enjoy this intense, detailed account of what the world’s anthropologists are doing, thinking and quarreling about.