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DISCLOSING THE PAST: An Autobiography by Mary Leakey Kirkus Star



Pub Date: Oct. 26th, 1984
Publisher: Doubleday

A feast for Africa lovers and archaeologists is this pride of Leakey life histories (see Richard Leakey, below)--each very personal, with surprisingly little overlap. Mary was Louis Leakey's second wife, after an affair that shocked '30s morality (Louis was not only married, wife Frieda was about to give birth). Mary Leakey tells candidly how it came about: the introduction to up-and-coming Louis Leakey at a dinner party; the invitation to prepare drawings for a popular book he was writing; the meetings at the British Museum, the ripening romance. But before that there are evocations of childhood summers in the South of France or in Italy with her painter-father, Erskine Nicol, and her handsome, charming mother. She attributes her drawing skills to father, whose early death left the family bereft and financially high-and-dry. Mother's attempts to secure a proper Catholic education for Mary are remembered with engaging details of feigned fits and chemistry explosions that got her expelled from one pious academy after another. An interest in archaeology was there all along, however, and led to courses at London University, her first digs in England, the meeting with Leakey, and a first trip to Africa that altered the course of her life. Once married, the Leakeys settled in Nairobi and began putting East African prehistory on the map. The narrative is rich in detail of the celebrated finds--the early primate skull Proconsul, the Zinjanthropus and Homo habilis fossils, and, more recently, the fossil hominid footprints at Laetoli. There is discussion of the dating and speciation controversies that continue to divide the field, but less to make points than to convey the need for more information. Though the archaeological material is intrinsic, Mary Leakey stands forth as a strong personality, a gifted intelligence and scholar, no pale shadow in the light of the charismatic Louis. She is also the mother of three very different sons, a fancier of dogs and horses in the British tradition, and, indeed, a lover of all manner of exotic creatures in the environs. (There are tales, too, of not-so-nice fauna--army ants in son Jonathan's crib, hairy spider-like creatures in the privy.) Life with the peripatetic Louis became increasingly difficult as he aged and turned to assorted hero-worshippers and young ladies. But Mary Leakey's abiding love for the man shines through as strongly as her devotion to Africa and to prehistory. A wonderful life.