BY THE EVIDENCE: Memoirs, 1932-1951 by L.S.B. Leakey

BY THE EVIDENCE: Memoirs, 1932-1951

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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. Alas for what might have been. But this endearing, rambling book reveals Leakey the Renaissance man, who -- when war or lack of funds interupted his archaeological work -- could turn with equal delight and energy to prehistoric rock art, ornithology, wartime intelligence, murder investigation, Dalmation 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. 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. 20th, 1974
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich