An exceptionally reader-friendly introduction to human evolution.
Lee (Anthropology/Univ. of California, Riverside) bases her book largely on a series of essays published simultaneously in a Korean newspaper and science magazine for the general public. To engage the widest general audience, the author writes in a refreshingly conversational style, eschewing the jargon of paleoanthropology so that the topics are “understandable to someone without a background in” the discipline. Because of their origin as separate essays, there is some repetition in chapters, but this is minimal and often adds to the clarity of the subject being discussed. Chapter titles reflect the tone of the essays—e.g., “Big-Brained Babies Give Moms Big Grief,” “Granny Is an Artist,” “Got Milk?” and “A Gene for Snow White.” The approach is not chronological, so chapters can be read in any order, and they often begin with a question or an anecdote. Many chapters conclude with a brief section labeled “Extra,” which brings a fresh perspective such as an update or a personal note. The author introduces readers to both the knowns and the unknowns, controversial issues that plague scientists trying to untangle these roots. How do the Neanderthals and the Denisovans fit in, and what about the tiny Hobbit-like hominins who lived in Indonesia thousands of years ago? There is some humor here but no flippancy. Lee demonstrates clearly how research continues to add to our understanding of the complex roots of human origins, roots that “are becoming more complicated and tangled than we ever thought before.” As the author notes, “humanity did not agonize over the best long-term course development. We proceeded by making the best decision possible at that moment, within our specific environment.” Full-page black-and-white illustrations of tools, fossils, and locations add to the book’s appeal.
Highly accessible, consistently interesting popular science writing.