An appealing account of human evolution and the fiercely competitive anthropologists who are unearthing our ancestors’ remains and arguing over what they mean.
Observing that apes and chimpanzees live in Africa, Charles Darwin theorized that it was the home of our common ancestor, “the most likely birthplace of humankind.” Almost no one agreed at the time, writes British journalist and historian Meredith (Mandela, 2010, etc.). Experts dismissed South African Raymond Dart’s landmark 1924 discovery, a complete skull of a primitive hominid. Matters did not change until after World War II, largely because of the energetic, colorful and contentious Louis Leakey, soon joined by his wife, Mary, their children and grandchildren. In human anthropology more than most sciences, both academic success and fame depend on finding extraordinarily rare human remains, a task that requires grueling persistence, a talent for raising money and luck. Meredith reveals his journalistic roots by focusing on these ambitious, often media-hungry men and women whose foibles and nasty feuds may not be relevant but make for entertaining reading.
The author does a superb job of describing the nuts-and-bolts of field research, the meaning of the often headline-producing findings and the ever-changing variety of species who split off from the common ancestors of chimpanzees and hominids.