47 Must Read Books That Explain Human Evolution

Here’s a well-rounded list of books that will tell you the basics of mankind’s evolution from primate to modern man. It includes books on the paleoanthropology,

archeology, paleo-everything, primate behavior, evolution of those features that characterize our human-ness and more. I’ve read every book on this list, keep most of them in my library. I wish I could read each one again for the first time:

  1. Allen, E.A., The Prehistoric World: or, Vanished Races Central Publishing House 1885
  2. Brown Jr., Tom, Tom Brown’s Field Guide: Wilderness Survival  Berkley Books 1983
  3. Caird, Rod  Apeman:  The Story of Human Evolution  MacMillan  1994
  4. Calvin, William, and Bickerton, Derek  Lingua ex Machina: Reconciling Darwin and Chomsky with the Human BrainMIT Press, 2000
  5. Carss, Bob and Birch, Stewart The SAS Guide to Tracking Lyons Press Guilford Conn. 2000
  6. Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca and Cavalli-Sforza, Francesco  The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution   Perseus Press  1995
  7. Conant, Dr. Levi Leonard The Number Concept: Its Origin and Development  Macmillan and Co. Toronto 1931
  8. Diamond, Jared  The Third Chimpanzee   Harper Perennial  1992
  9. Edey, Maitland  Missing Link  Time-Life Books  1972
  10. Erickson, Jon Glacial Geology: How Ice Shapes the Land   Facts on File Inc. 1996
  11. Fleagle, John Primate Adaptation and Evolution  Academic Press 1988
  12. Fossey, Dian   Gorillas in the Mist    Houghton Mifflin  1984
  13. Galdikas, Birute  Reflections of Eden: My Years with the Orangutans of Borneo Little Brown and Co. 1995
  14. Goodall, Jane In the Shadow of Man  Houghton Mifflin  1971
  15. Goodall, Jane The Jane Goodall Institute 2005 http://www.janFriendshipegoodall.com/chimp_central/chimpanzees/behavior/communication      .asp
  16. Goodall, Jane Through a Window Houghton Mifflin 1990
  17. Grimaldi, David, and Engel, Michael Evolution of the Insects Cambridge University Press 2005
  18. Human Dawn: Timeframe Time-Life Books 1990
  19. Johanson, Donald and Simon, Blake Edgar  From Lucy to Language  Simon and Schuster  1996
  20. Johanson, Donald and O’Farell, Kevin  Journey from the Dawn:  Life with the World’s First Family  Villard Books 1990
  21. Johanson, Donald and Edey, Maitland Lucy:  The Beginnings of Humankind   Simon and Schuster  1981
  22. Johanson, Donald and Shreve, James Lucy’s Child: The Discovery of a Human Ancestor Avon 1989
  23. Jones, Steve, Martin, Robert, and Pilbeam, David The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution Cambridge University Press 1992
  24. Leakey, Richard and Lewin, Roger  Origins   E.P. Dutton 1977
  25. Leakey, Richard The Origin of Humankind  Basic Books  1994
  26. Leakey, Louis  Stone Age Africa,  Negro Universities Press   1936
  27. Lewin, Roger  In the Age of Mankind  Smithsonian Books  1988
  28. McDougall, J.D. A Short History of the Planet Earth   John Wiley and Sons 1996
  29. Meade, Margaret   Coming of Age in Samoa
  30. Morris, Desmond Naked Ape Dell Publishing 1999
  31. Morris, Desmond The Human Zoo Kodansha International 1969
  32. Rezendes, Paul Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Sign Quill: A HarperResource Book 1999
  33. Savage-Rumbaugh, Susan, et al Kanzi: The Ape at the Brink of the Human Mind John Wiley and Sons 1996
  34. Spencer Larson, Clark et al  Human Origins: The Fossil Record  Waveland Press 1998
  35. Stringer, Chris, and McKee, Robin  African Exodus: The Origins of Modern Humanity  Henry Holt and Co. NY 1996
  36. Strum, Shirley C. Almost Human: A Journey into the World of Baboons Random House 1987
  37. Tattersall, Ian  Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness   Harvest Books 1999
  38. Tattersall, Ian et al  Encyclopedia of Human Evolution and Prehistory, Chicago: St James Press 1988
  39. Tattersall, Ian Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know About Human Evolution Oxford University Press 1997
  40. Tattersall, Ian  The Human Odyssey:  Four Million Years of Human Evolution  Prentice Hall 1993
  41. Tudge Colin Time Before History   Touchstone Books  1996
  42. 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
  43. Vogel, Shawna Naked Earth: The New Geophysics  Dutton 1995
  44. Vygotsky, Lev  The Connection Between Thought and the Development of Language in Primitive Society 1930
  45. Walker, Alan and Shipman, Pat  Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins  Vintage  Books  1996
  46. Waters, JD Helpless as a Baby  http://www.jdwaters.net/HAAB%20Acro/contents.pdf  2001
  47. Wills, Christopher Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness   Basic Books 1993

Do you have any you’d add?

Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman.  She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, an ISTE article reviewer, an IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s working on a techno-thriller that should be ready this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.

Follow me

10 Responses to “47 Must Read Books That Explain Human Evolution”

  1. August 5, 2011 at 9:41 am

    Hello there, long time no write!

    The list is very good, comprehensive. There are a few that I’d like to add that are perhaps a little contentious but very good in understanding how our image of ourselves has changed and been challenged over the last century.

    1) E. O. Wilson: Sociobiology… The last chapter of this book started a hell of a crap storm. The field of sociobiology, however, largely informed today’s modern approaches to the application of biological principles to behaviour.

    2) Lorenz: On Aggression… Again, very contentious but was a launching pad for many lines of thought on how human beings got to be where we are today.

    3) Diamond: Guns, Germs & Steel: I see you included ‘The Thrid Chimpanzee’ which was of course a compulsory inclusion, though I’d like to suggest GG&S as an equally important exploration of how societies develop relative to the geography they develop within.

    What do you think?

    • August 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm

      I love EO Wilson. I have a review of his autobiography. Sociobiology was tough to get through, but a good read.

      I’ll have to look up Lorenz. I’m soon going back to my novel on early man and I want to understand where our aggression came from (instinct?) and how we made it human.

      Diamond–all of his books could be on this list. I’m glad you mentioned Guns, Germs and Steel.

      I don’t know much about survival in the wild–what our long-ago forebears were required to do–so included some on that topic. I’ve read considerably on reading tracks, signs, the weather, etc., to make decisions on surviving without a roof over one’s head.

      Thanks for the comment. Glad to see you back.

  2. August 6, 2011 at 5:26 pm

    Indeed, aggression is an interesting topic. The approach of Lorenz in the work mentioned above has been largely disregarded in modern contexts, this doesn’t change the fact that his work really got people thinking. Essentially he thought that any animal with natural weapons, like a lion with its teeth and claws or an elephant with its tusks, has some kind of ‘instinctual’ carefulness when using them during squabbles with members of its own species. He argued than human beings, having no natural biological weapons of our own, lacked this instinctual safety net. Thus, upon our invention of tools as weapons, we were not able to adequately control ourselves when directing them at members of our own species. This lead, according to Lorenz, to escalation of conflict and eventually war. It is rightly regarded as simplistic and in some ways fanciful these days, but interesting none the less.

    If you would like to read something that has contributed hugely to how conflict is viewed today within the context of inclusive fitness and the like, see if you can get your hands on the following journal article; ‘The Evolution of Behaviour’ by John Maynard Smith, 1978, in Animal Societies and Evolution. If you can’t find it just let me know and I’ll see if I can email you a copy, it was a bit of a genre definer.

    Thanks for the welcome back also! I had been away from the blog for a while with all the moving and job hunting going on. I’m all settled in Canberra now in a decent apartment about a five minute walk from the pharmacy I’m working in and about 15 minutes from the ANU where I’m studying. I’ve also picked up a little work tutoring some first year students in human biology which is great. With the goal of becoming a teaching academic, any kind of paid university teaching work is absolutely a step in the right direction.

    How is everything progressing with your book? I’m looking forward to taking a look at it when it’s ready to hit the shelves.


    • August 7, 2011 at 12:43 am

      I just googled Smith’s Evolution of Behavior. No joy so far, but I only went through the first page. I’ll see what I can find. There’s an ‘Evolution Library’ that looks pretty fascinating. I may get distracted.

      So our unemployment is 9.2% How’s your’s in Australia? Thankfully, I got another year contract for my teaching job, so I continue. I wish you luck with your efforts. I always look forward to your posts.

  3. August 7, 2011 at 4:52 am

    We are at 4.9% but there are hundreds of thousands of voluntarily unemployed in Australia. Our welfare system is a little TOO supportive. Finding work here is relatively easy. Especially if you have a university education. In Australia only ~15% of people have Bachelor’s degrees and less than 4% have post-grad qualifications of any kind. This may appear strange given that we don’t actually pay for our university education directly here, finances are not an issue if you have good enough grades (for most universities, providing engineering or medicine isn’t the goal, Cs and Bs will do). For undergraduates we have a system called HECS-HELP. How this works is that if an Australian citizen is accepted to any university, they sign the HECS-HELP form, provide their tax file number and the government then pays the university for your education. Upon graduation and reaching a certain income threshold (a mid range full time salary) the money owed to the government is then deducted along with your income tax at a manageable pace (you barely notice they are taking it). In addition, an undergraduate’s fees are subsidised so you really only pay back about half of what you owe. We have a similar system called FEE-HELP for post-grads, the only difference is that it isn’t subsidised so you pay back the whole amount.

    The reason low rates of university education persist despite this wonderful system is that most jobs in Australia simply don’t require a degree. Bank managers, store managers, office workers, government staff, finance workers and the like are trained on the job, no degree needed.

    • August 7, 2011 at 8:25 pm

      Fascinating. Supply and Demand rears its inevitable head. Americans pay dearly for their college ed, yet many do that because it is in demand in the marketplace.

  4. August 8, 2011 at 2:44 am

    Indeed. After working with numerous American co-workers in Japan and hearing how hard it was to get through university/college (it’s an interesting distinction for us, a college here, generally, is a tertiary institute that handles qualifications higher than high school but lower than degrees) I often worried how it would be if our system, one day, went the same way. There was talk of introducing some form of direct fee for students a few years ago (a trifle, some small amount) and there was quite literally a riot. I don’t think they will bring it up again any time soon.

    My primary objection, and that of most Aussies, to paying directly is that education is classified firmly as a right here, certainly not a privilege. The beauty of the system here in Aus, and that of the UK also, is that it is totally egalitarian. If a student wants to be a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer etc. they can easily become one if they have the grey matter and the right attitude, the fact that they come from a single income family without much spare money isn’t really a factor. A perfect example is a new class mate of mine who was raised by a single parent on a disability pension, she now attends the ANU (I mentioned before that this is our equivalent of Harvard or Yale) as a post-grad at no expense to her father.

    Do you think the US could ever adopt a similar system? Would it run the risk of being labelled ‘socialised’?

  5. August 8, 2011 at 6:33 am

    Let me see how to say this. Many Americans I know don’t mind the idea of paying a fair price for fair value. Please don’t take that to mean you don’t–in our case, we include a college education in that category of individual responsibility rather than a government benefit. It’s a mindset I believe that goes along with our enjoyment of working long hours for a good job. My European friends think I’m nuts to not mind working the hours I do. They think I should feel oppressed by my employer, but I truly enjoy working hard at my job, putting the hours in and reaping the benefits. It feels good personally to work hard and succeed, don’t you think?

    We have quite a few scholarships available for public or private schools. Most students who have the intellect can get a scholarship to several colleges. As in your case, that is based on willingness to study, get the grades, score well on pre-entrance exams. For example, my daughter went for free to one of the top colleges in the country–the equivalent of Harvard and Yale. My son could have gone for free to a quite expensive school ($40,000 a year), but he selected a different one–a public University. That one gave scholarships based on financial need. Individuals like the student you mentioned with the single mom would receive a full scholarship. Those who can afford to pay their way, do so. Most Americans choose to keep taxes as low as possible and the government out of our business (most meaning 40% compared to 20% who would like the gov involved in everything). That mean we pay for more items, pay less taxes, have more discretionary money, but less freebies. To many of us, that’s a fair trade.

    It’s an interesting fact that’s come out since we’ve entered this period of economic problems that 40% of Americans pay no taxes at all. Those individual are deemed by the gov as unable to pay. I have at times been in that group and other times not. That’s possible because what the government subsidizes is low enough it works.

    I think when you look at the details, our two systems are pretty similar. The student who is motivated and has the grades will be able to go to college in both our countries. The difference is that in our case, a lot of the funding comes from private groups, not gov or taxes. If it was all gov, I would label it socialist as it fits the definition. Do you feel that’s a bad word? Or just an economic system? Do you think ‘capitalism’ is a bad word?

  6. August 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm

    You make a good argument and I can see your point. Scholarships do fill the gaps, what of the C student without sufficient money though? Could they get a scholarship if they weren’t an athlete or had some other scholarship worthy talent? I don’t mean to sound antagonistic, I’m just curious, I’m not an American and only know what I’ve learned from TV, movies (90% of our TV and films are American, as a result of this, interestingly and oddly, most younger Aussies can fake an American accent of at least a couple of regional variants with some accuracy) and American co-workers. I have no interest in promoting mediocre students entering university, and this can be a problem here, but as a student who didn’t do well in high school (lots of reasons, bad crowd mostly) who then went on to do very well in university, I wonder if I would have gotten a scholarship in the US.

    I don’t think socialism is a bad word, it’s just a way of doing things. Generally my perspective on government is that anything essential should be controlled by government (schooling, health care, telecommunications network, roads and the like) anything optional is free to be a profit driven business that addresses a given niche (clothing, restaurants, electronic goods etc.). Anything that falls between like supermarkets, clearly profit driven but supplying a needed product, not a wanted one, should be free to operate as this type of business but with those unable to afford general expenses like food being aided by the government.

    Generally I don’t think capitalism is a bad word either, it has its place, I work in the pharmaceutical industry and understand fully the benefits of competition in funding much needed research and development. On the same token however, I don’t feel that a company with profit as its bottom line can provide necessary services like education or health care (since the privatisation of several hospitals here and our major telephone network things have gone to hell in a hand basket) without compromising their priority order (clearly in these two cases students and patients should always come before shareholders). Thus my liking of a model where important things are public and luxuries are private.

    I do not, however, support the government in passing any kind of legislation that regulates how people carry out their social lives. Marriage for example is a choice made by a couple (gay or straight) not something a government has any right to have any say in. As you can see I’m quite, ‘liberal’, in the American terminology.

    You have a point about taxes, we pay LOTS of tax here. I pay around 30 cents in the dollar as a student who works part time and is on a fairly low income. My father, as a partner in an accounting firm, is on quite a high income and as a result pays almost 50 cents in every dollar in tax (the maximum tax bracket). We do get a lot for it however. I have had several surgeries in the last decade and had a few hospital stays for other reasons, I’ve never paid a dime. The maximum I pay for any pharmaceutical is $34.20 (even if the drug itself actually costs $300 or more) thanks to our medicare system. I also don’t pay anything to visit the local general doctor for check ups or script refills for my asthma medicine (that costs more than $100 but I pay only the amount above). Things are changing however with local doctors though, more and more are demanding payment for consultation and the fee is often higher than the rebate given by the government. This has upset many people here as even on the ‘bulk bill’ system where doctors claim directly from the government they can make a handsome living.

    I guess it’s all about balance. If you don’t pay a lot of tax, you have the extra cash for the things you need to buy any how. At least ideally.

    All of this being said I’m of a decidedly more socialist bent than most Aussies (I must clarify however that no Australian I have met considers the government running of hospitals or education socialist).

    • August 10, 2011 at 7:08 am

      Very rational explanation of it all. All things being equal, I’d love to provide the basics to every individual–food, shelter, even education–but the price seems to be prohibitive if Europe, Greece, Spain, Ireland, and now the riots in Britain because of downsized social benefits are examples. I think people want to work, not get something for free. It seems to be human nature to me. I wonder if that’s where it all started. Early man spent time problem-solving (creating Acheulian tools when Olduvai no longer were good enough), rather than being satisfied. Challenge and hard work seem to be in our nature.

      I don’t see how that balances with the government providing for all needs. America may have hit a decent balance–prior to our latest shenanigans. We support 40% of the population on the sweat of 60%. Lots of that tax money comes from capitalistic companies who pay the high corporate taxes. Lots comes from the rich. 10% of the population pays 80% of our taxes. I fear when we try to provide more, the examples of Britain and Greece say it doesn’t work. If we took every dollar that ‘rich’ people had, it wouldn’t come close to paying the bill associated with the benefits being considered by our President and his Congress. People don’t seem to appreciate what they get for free. In your case, you work hard in school to earn your free education with grades. Can you lose the ‘free part’ if you don’t get good grades?

      The C student in America can go to almost-free junior colleges. That gives them two years to get themselves pulled together and it goes toward a 4-year college degree. They have to get a B average to move on. I think that works well because college isn’t for everyone, maybe not for most. I think those who want to, make it. Students can go back to college at any time during their lives, so circumstances can change, they become more serious and then start. I like that.

      America as a whole is considerably more capitalist, supply-and-demand, Conservative than most of the world. We think that’s the reason for our success (defined as economic). The freedoms available here, which includes freedom from high taxes, are a double edged sword, but work best with a generous dose of personal responsibility. I trust myself more than the government everyday of the week. I have no doubt I can do a better job with my life–every aspect of it–than the government. That’s a drastic philosophic difference from socialism.

      Interesting discussion.

What do you think? Leave a comment and I'll reply.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s in this blog

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.

That's science.

Read Sizzling Science on Kindle


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 234 other followers

Share This

Bookmark and Share



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: 4.19 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: 4.31 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: 4.16 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: 4.11 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: 4.12 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
California Yellow Pages
blogarama - the blog directory
Free Blog Directory
wordpress stats
blog search directory
Science Blogs

Vote for Me


%d bloggers like this: