An engaging resume of the pros and cons in the raging controversies that characterize anthropology/paleontology today, as...

UPRIGHT

THE EVOLUTIONARY KEY TO BECOMING HUMAN

Bipedalism long preceded tool use and bigger brains in human evolution, notes primate-watcher Stanford (Anthropology/Univ. of Southern California), and it was all for the love of meat.

Taking several giant steps backward in time from his earlier work, The Hunting Apes (1999), the author addresses what happened in African ecology six million years ago to give rise to early bipeds, the shufflers and short-distance walkers who eventually evolved into the modern marathon walkers who peopled the globe. Forget about opposable thumbs: primates have them. Forget about standing up to look for predators lurking in the high grass of the savannahs: Africa did not transform overnight from all forest to all savannahs; it was a patchwork of woods, forests, and grasslands abundant with multiple primate species and hominids living side by side. Forget about hands being freed to make tools or carry food or babies: that’s all part of the “linear, simplistic stories” in which a single species of hominid “progresses” to Homo sapiens. No, the advantages that favored early modifications of anatomy and respiration for efficient walking, states Stanford, were that they enabled our ancestors to forage more widely for small game and to eventually move onto grasslands where they could find carcasses of big herd animals to divide and share. Three million years ago, tools came into play; a million years later, the brain mushroomed in size. For all Stanford’s skillful demolishing of many current human-origin theories, especially those that propose a sole reason or a one-step process, his meat-eating incentive will surely be criticized as just another single-cause theory. This in spite of Stanford’s disclaimers to the contrary and his statement that “we have no reason to assume that the cause of the first steps was directly related to the cause of later improvements.”

An engaging resume of the pros and cons in the raging controversies that characterize anthropology/paleontology today, as well as a pleasing summary of the author’s own arguments.

Pub Date: Dec. 15, 2003

ISBN: 0-618-30247-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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