An opinionated, authoritative, and delightfully provocative account of efforts to make sense of human fossil discoveries.

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THE STRANGE CASE OF THE RICKETY COSSACK

AND OTHER CAUTIONARY TALES FROM HUMAN EVOLUTION

Despite his 2012 history of Homo sapiens, Masters of the Planet, Tattersall, curator emeritus in the anthropology division of the American Museum of Natural History, revisits the subject from another angle, with equally superb results.

In the earlier work, the author painted human evolution with a broad brush. Rewinding the tape, he delivers a history of the evidence itself (until recently, the majority of the evidence consisted of bones) and how paleoanthropologists interpreted it—mostly according to received wisdom, a terrible technique long discarded by other sciences. Examining early Neanderthal bones, those who believed these represented something new were drowned out by those who didn’t: most famously, a leading pathologist who insisted that this was a modern man with a skeleton distorted by rickets, arthritis, and a lifetime of horseback riding—the Rickety Cossack of the title. Proceeding forward, Tattersall mixes biographies, anecdotes (many about himself), discoveries, and fierce controversies as researchers tried to shoehorn each new finding into the currently fashionable theory of human evolution. “Nineteenth century scientists preferred to see a good Darwinian progression from apelike ancestor to modern human,” writes the author. Their 20th-century descendants were slow to accept that evolution in all nonhuman life is less a linear trudge to perfection than a messy bush that produces a diversity of species. Readers will share Tattersall’s pleasure at the changes he witnessed on entering the profession in the 1970s, when cladistics (a biological classification system), molecular genetics, and DNA analysis delivered an avalanche of fresh information, a new view of our relation to other species, living and extinct, and plenty of controversies.

An opinionated, authoritative, and delightfully provocative account of efforts to make sense of human fossil discoveries.

Pub Date: June 9, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-137-27889-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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