Understanding Early Man

Some twenty years ago, I began a quest to understand man. Why are we the way we are? Can we be a kind and caring species that voluntarily takes care of our brother without asking for

anything in exchange, or is that contrary to our nature, to survival? Were those traits bread in to us so we as the small creature on the savanna without thick skin, without claws and tearing fangs, without the speed of a leopard, could work as a group to out-size, out-muscle the predators that controlled our environ? Did it require the violence that has dogged our existence since modern man emerged, our seemed inability to be kind just for the sake of kindness?

I have no answers, but my curiosity drives me to study our earliest ancestors, starting with the first creatures we considered to be predecessor–Australopithecines. To date, I’ve reached Homo erectus. Along the way, I’ve read a slew of wonderful books by brilliant scientists:

  • Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind by Donald Johanson and Maitland Edey (actually, all of Johanson’s books)
  • The Origin of Humankind by Richard Leakey (and all of all of the Leakeys’ books)
  • Java Man: How Two Geologists Changed Our Understanding of Human Evolution by Carl Swisher III, Garniss Curtis and Roger Lewin
  • Dragon Bone Hill: An Ice-age Saga of Homo erectus by Noel T. Boaz and Russell Ciochon
  • Evolution of Homo erectus by G. Philip Rightmire
  • Meeting Pre-historic Man by G.H.R. von Koenigswald
  • Adam’s Navel: A Natural and Cultural History of the Human Form by Michael Sims
  • The Acheulian Site of Gesher Beno Ya-aqov by Naama Goren-Inbar et al
  • African Exodus by Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie
  • Naked Earth by Shawna Vogel

To understand those primates that allowed our species to grow, I read:

To understand specifically how those very human traits of culture, language, religion, adorning our bodies, came into being, I read:

…and this mixed collection, the biography for Born in a Treacherous Time:

  • Allen, E.A., The Prehistoric World: or, Vanished Races Central Publishing House 1885
  • Caird, Rod  Apeman:  The Story of Human Evolution MacMillan  1994
  • Calvin, William, and Bickerton, Derek  Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human BrainMIT Press, 2000
  • Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca and Cavalli-Sforza, Francesco  The Great Human Diasporas: The
  • History of Diversity and Evolution Perseus Press  1995
  • Conant, Dr. Levi Leonard The Number Concept: Its Origin and Development Macmillan and Co. Toronto 1931
  • Edey, Maitland  Missing Link Time-Life Books  1972
  • Erickson, Jon Glacial Geology: How Ice Shapes the Land Facts on File Inc. 1996
  • Fleagle, John Primate Adaptation and Evolution Academic Press 1988
  • Grimaldi, David, and Engel, Michael Evolution of the Insects Cambridge University Press 2005
  • Jones, Steve, Martin, Robert, and Pilbeam, David The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution Cambridge University Press 1992
  • Lewin, Roger  In the Age of Mankind Smithsonian Books  1988
  • McDougall, J.D. A Short History of the Planet Earth John Wiley and Sons 1996
  • Meade, Margaret  Coming of Age in Samoa
  • Savage-Rumbaugh, Susan, et al Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind John Wiley and Sons 1996
  • Spencer Larson, Clark et al  Human Origins: The Fossil Record Waveland Press 1998
  • Strum, Shirley C. Almost Human: A Journey into the World of Baboons Random House 1987
  • Tattersall, Ian  Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness Harvest Books 1999
  • Tattersall, Ian et al  Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory, Chicago: St James Press 1988
  • Tattersall, Ian Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know About Human Evolution Oxford University Press 1997
  • Tattersall, Ian  The Human Odyssey:  Four Million Years of Human Evolution Prentice Hall 1993
  • Tudge Colin Time Before History Touchstone Books  1996
  • Turner, Alan, and Anton, Mauricio The Big Cats and Their Fossil Relatives:  An Illustrated Guide to Their Evolution and Natural History Columbia University Press NY  1997
  • Vygotsky, Lev  The Connection Between Thought and the Development of Language in Primitive Society 1930
  • Walker, Alan and Shipman, Pat  Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins Vintage Books  1996

I spent much time reading about the paleo-history of our planet–paleoclimatology, paleo-geology, paleo-biology, all of the paleos. I believe what we were and are is buried in the rock of our planet if we can understand what we’re seeing. I then wrote a pre-history of early man as I understood him, to better contemplate exactly how his days go, called Born in a Treacherous Time.  That one concentrated on Homo habilis, so I followed it up with another called Evolution: a Biography on the days and nights of Homo erectus.

I still don’t understand.



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Discover the sizzle in science. It's not that stuff that's always for the smart kids. It's the need to know. The passion for understanding. The absolute belief that for every problem, there is a solution. The creative mind seeking truth in a world of mystery. The quest for the Holy Grail.

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Books I’m Reading

Great Science Books

Assembling California
Born On A Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant
The Forest People
Geology Underfoot in Southern California
The Land's Wild Music: Encounters with Barry Lopez, Peter Matthiessen, Terry Tempest William, and James Galvin
My Life with the Chimpanzees
Naked Earth: The New Geophysics
Our Inner Ape: A Leading Primatologist Explains Why We Are Who We Are
The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness
Sand Rivers
The Singing Neanderthals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind, and Body
The Tree Where Man Was Born
The Wildlife of Southern Africa: A Field Guide to the Animal and Plants of the Region
The Worlds of a Maasai Warrior: An Autobiography

Jacqui's favorite books »
Share book reviews and ratings with Jacqui, and even join a book club on Goodreads.

RSS Fact and Fiction about Early Man

  • The Old Way: A Story of the First People October 4, 2017
    author: Elizabeth Marshall Thomas name: Jacqui average rating: 4.20 book published: 2006 rating: 5 read at: 2017/10/04 date added: 2017/10/04 shelves: history, early-man review: […]
    Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
  • Ki'ti's Story, 75,000 BC December 11, 2016
    author: Bonnye Matthews name: Jacqui average rating: 4.30 book published: 2012 rating: 5 read at: 2016/12/11 date added: 2016/12/11 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Bonnye Matthews
  • Meeting Prehistoric Man October 4, 2014
    author: GHR von Koenigswald name: Jacqui average rating: 4.00 book published: 1492 rating: 5 read at: 2014/10/04 date added: 2014/10/04 shelves: early-man review: Meeting Prehistoric Man by GHR Von Koenigswald is a journey throughout the world in discovery of early man as paleoanthropologists understood him during VonKoenigswald's time, circa 1950' […]
    GHR von Koenigswald
  • Letters from the Field, 1925-1975 September 13, 2014
    author: Margaret Mead name: Jacqui average rating: 4.10 book published: 1977 rating: 5 read at: 2014/09/13 date added: 2014/09/13 shelves: early-man review: If you didn't read my last week's post, you may wonder why I am so excited about Margaret Mead's eye-opening book, Letters From the Field. Even if you read me last week, you may wonder--I […]
    Margaret Mead
  • The Unfolding of Language: An Evolutionary Tour of Mankind's Greatest Invention January 12, 2014
    author: Guy Deutscher name: Jacqui average rating: 4.17 book published: 2005 rating: 3 read at: date added: 2014/01/12 shelves: early-man, research review: Dr. Deutscher has done a scholarly, thorough discussion on the roots of language, but I believe he started too late in time. I'm of the persuasion that language involves more than the spoken word. I […]
    Guy Deutscher
  • She Who remembers November 3, 2013
    author: Linda Lay Shuler name: Jacqui average rating: 4.09 book published: 1988 rating: 4 read at: date added: 2013/11/03 shelves: early-man review: […]
    Linda Lay Shuler
  • The Runaway Brain: The Evolution Of Human Uniqueness July 25, 2011
    author: Christopher Wills name: Jacqui average rating: 4.15 book published: 1993 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: science, early-man review: In my lifelong effort to understand what makes us human, I long ago arrived at the lynchpin to that discussion: our brain. Even though bipedalism preceded big brains, and we couldn't be who we are […]
    Christopher Wills
  • The Origin Of Humankind July 25, 2011
    author: Richard E. Leakey name: Jacqui average rating: 3.96 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, history review: If you're interested in man's roots, there are several authors you must read: Birute Galdikas Dian Fosse Donald Johanson GHR Von Koenigsman Glen Isaacs Jared Diamond Ian Tattersell Lev Vygots […]
    Richard E. Leakey
  • Lucy: the beginnings of humankind July 24, 2011
    author: Donald C. Johanson name: Jacqui average rating: 4.11 book published: 1981 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I read this book when I was writing a paleo-historic drama of the life of earliest man. My characters were Homo habilines, but they cohabited Africa with Australopithecines, so to understand the co-st […]
    Donald C. Johanson
  • Through a Window: My Thirty Years with the Chimpanzees of Gombe July 24, 2011
    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.25 book published: 1990 rating: 5 read at: date added: 2011/07/24 shelves: early-man, science review: I have read every book that Jane Goodall wrote. She has an easy-going writing style that shares scientific principals easily with the layman. Probably because when she started, she was little more than a no […]
    Jane Goodall
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