Archive for the 'book review' Category

01
Aug
13

47 Must Read Books That Explain Human Evolution

homo habilis

Lucy: Her Story of Survival

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 Continue reading ’47 Must Read Books That Explain Human Evolution’
20
Jul
13

Book Review: The Path

The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the UniverseThe Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe

by Chet Raymo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Path: A One-Mile Walk Through the Universe, by Chet Raymo, is one of the most fascinating books you’ll ever read. Chet Raymo is a scientist, a thinker and a consummate inquirer. Everything excites him, draws his attention and I suspect threatens to distract him from his real job as professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College. Every morning, he walks to work along a course that covers approximately one mile. Having the type of mind he has, he can’t help but muse over every building, every smell, each part of his journey. It is in this book that he records his musings. Being a scientist with a passion for history, they are couched in the story of our Universe.He sees not just the upturned rock, but the forces that moved it to its current position and canted it at the odd angle. He sees not the flower by the stream, but its historic pilgrimage from Europe to its current home in New Hampshire. Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Path’

05
Jun
13

Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything

A Short History of Nearly EverythingA Short History of Nearly Everything

by Bill Bryson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So often scientific books lose us lay people with their PhD language. Not Bill Bryson. Using his infamous skill as a story-teller, he approaches the history of science with the same non-threatening approach John McPhee applied to the geology of America. Technicalities are dispensed with broad, non-pedagogic strokes while the surrounding humanity draws the reader into the intellectual excitement that is science. Readers can’t fail but want to read more.

Here are some of the topics he covers: Continue reading ‘Book Review: A Short History of Nearly Everything’

03
Apr
13

Book Review: The Acheulian Site of Gesher Benot Ya’Aqov, Israel: The Wood Assemblage

The Acheulian Site of Gesher Benot Ya'Aqov, Israel: The Wood Assemblage (Gesher Benot Ya'aqov Monograph Series)The Acheulian Site of Gesher Benot Ya’Aqov, Israel: The Wood Assemblage

by Naama Goren Inbar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A readable monograph, which sounds like an oxymoron but is actually a rarity. Lots of scientific detail. I read it to get better insight into this part of Israel during the middle Pleistocene, the time Homo erectus was emigrating from Africa to the world. Yes, I got some of that, though the author refused to draw conclusions from her collected data. This was my personal disappointment, but gave me respect for the type of scientist Dr. Inbar is. I’ve looked for the other books in the series (this one only covers the wood detritus collected at the site), but they either were never written or are unpublished.

View all my reviews

Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Acheulian Site of Gesher Benot Ya’Aqov, Israel: The Wood Assemblage’

27
Mar
13

Book Review: The Forest People

The Forest People (Touchstone Book)The Forest People

by Colin Turnbull

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished a wonderful book, Colin Turnbull’s The Forest People. Turnbull lived ‘a while’ (pygmies don’t measure time with a watch or a calendar) with African pygmies to understand their life, culture, and beliefs. As he relays events of his visit, he doesn’t lecture, or present the material as an ethnography. It’s more like a biography of a tribe. As such, I get to wander through their lives, see what they do, how they do it, what’s important to them, without any judgment or conclusions other than my own. Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Forest People’

19
Oct
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXXI

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

photo credit: M. Harrsch

Lucy’s story of survival

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXXI’

27
Sep
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXX

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

photo credit: M. Harrsch

Lucy’s story of survival

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXX’

14
Sep
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXIX

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

photo credit: M. Harrsch

Lucy’s story of survival

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXIX’

31
Aug
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXVIII

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

photo credit: M. Harrsch

Lucy’s story of survival

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXVIII’

03
Aug
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXVII

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

photo credit: M. Harrsch

Lucy’s story of survival

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXVII’

20
Jul
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXVI

credit: San Diego Museum of Man

Lucy: Her Story of Survival

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXVI’

13
Jul
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXV

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXV’

15
Jun
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXII

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXII’

08
Jun
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XXI

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XXI’

01
Jun
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XX

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XX’

18
May
12

Lucy: A Biography–Part XIX

Finally after ten years, I am close to publishing the heart-rending and fast-paced biography of Lucy. Written in the spirit of Jean Auel, this is the paleo-historic saga of our earliest ancestors as lived through the eyes of a female Homo habilis.

Since Donald Johanson uncovered the tiny three-and-a-half foot clawless, flat-toothed Australopithecine, we have asked, Who is she? And how could she survive in a world of mammoth predators and unrelenting natural disasters she had no understanding about? This book answers those questions as well as more fundamental ones like, Where did God come from? Why did man create his first tool? How did culture start?

Here’s a summary:

Lucy: A Biography follows three species of early man (Australopithecus, Homo habilis and Homo erectus), as they fight for the limited resources of Pleistocene Africa. Lucy, of the species habilis, blames herself for the death of her family and agrees to mate with a stranger (Raza). As they journey to Raza’s homebase, they are tracked by two deadly predators: Xha, of the smarter and more powerful species Homo erectus, and the violent and unforgiving Nature, a sentient being who meddles with fate and Lucy’s future as though it were a chemistry experiment. The story is carefully researched to shared the geography, climate, and biosphere that would have been Lucy’s world 1.8 million years ago, when man was not King and nature ruled with a violence and dispassion we call ‘disaster’ today.

Every week, I’ll post part of this story.

A note: While I took Lucy’s name from the infamous Australopithecine skeleton discovered by Donald Johanson, Lucy is a Homo habilis. Her adopted child Boa is an Australopithecine.

Continue reading ‘Lucy: A Biography–Part XIX’

11
Dec
11

New Books by Dead Authors

Did you know Michael Crichton has a new book out, Micro? He’s dead. Shouldn’t the publishers say, by the estate of… or Inspired by… Instead it’s

Michael Crichton

and

Richard Preston

The review even says, This is Crichton in top form. Yes, I understand ‘they’ say Crichton started this before he died and Preston finished it, but–come on.  And the Amazon customer reviews reflect this disparity.

Happens with Robert Ludlum, too. They credited 5-6 books to his name–through 2006–though he died in 2001. Readers who don’t track the Obits in their local enewspaper might think they were getting the original.

Follow me

Continue reading ‘New Books by Dead Authors’

28
Sep
11

Book Review: Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe

I’d like to introduce my guest blogger, Tian You Liang. A  graduate of Stony Brook University with a bachelor’s in Health Science, Mr. Liang now works as instructional support to refine innovative approaches to teaching quality science courses. His passion is providing students with the proper learning assets and critical thinking skills so that they identify good science and make better informed decisions in their future endeavors. Today, he shares his thoughts on a wonderful book Death from a Distance and the Birth of a Humane Universe (Paul M. Bingham and Joanne Souza, 2009).

This manuscript puts forth a new theory on the tantalizing question of how humans evolved to be so profoundly different from other animals. I’ve read many books on the evolution of man, spent a good bit of time trying to uncover the roots of our warlike nature (is it attributable to simple survival or something else?) and how that balances with our almost naive empathy for others and fundamental need to cooperate with others.

Here’s Tian’s take on Bingham and Souza’s book:

Stony Brook University professors Bingham and Souza present a single root cause for human origins and uniqueness. From this one cause springs forth the answers to how all of our human properties came to be, such as:

  • Our sexual psychology and behaviors
  • Uniquely human brain expansion
  • Human speech
  • Our human ethical sense
  • Our modern anatomies and life history.

What is the root cause? According to Bingham and Souza, humans are the only animal on Earth to manage the conflicts of interest between conspecifics through inexpensive decisive coercive threat resulting in kinship-independent social cooperation. If I had to put it in my own words it would be: Early humans threw rocks with elite skill (originally as a hunting strategy) and then redeployed that skill for social coercion in pursuit of their own self-interests giving rise to the first form of law enforcement, allowing the very first cooperative human coalitions to form.

I doubted that notion heavily at first. As a matter of fact, in the introduction, Bingham and Souza encouraged healthy skepticism and doubt when confronting new ideas and theories and to only keep what survives continuous falsification attempts.

Death from a Distance does not stop at just explaining how we got our primitive start to becoming human. Bingham and Souza give us a new critical lens with which to view our historical revolutions up to the modern state. They argue the cause for each and every one of these adaptive revolutions is clear: A new weapon system that allows for larger human coalitions to manage conflicts of interest at a larger scale. Case after case is presented from history and point to the immediate coercive technology that precedes the growth of human sophistication. Here are some examples:

  • It is the bow and arrow that causes Neolithic (agricultural) revolutions multiple times around world.
  • Body armor and melee weapons (swords and axes) gave rise to the ancient empires of Rome, China, Aztecs and many other ancient civilizations we learned about in high school.
  • Gunpowder rifles and handguns catalyzing the birth of the modern democratic state (i.e. American Revolution)
  • Aircraft, nuclear missiles and precision “smart” bombs allow management of conflicts of interest on a global scale.

 While it is neat to know how we got to the present day, Bingham and Souza’s theory predicts the future of humanity will depend on one question. Who holds decisive coercive power? If it is in the hands of the public, we will see a democracy and if it is in the hands of a few, we will see an authoritarian state.

 I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Towards the end of the book I had to put the book down every dozen pages or so and not just let the content soak in; but, also see how well all of this information maps onto the real world I have been living in. Death from a Distance is not just for anthropologists or archeologists. It draws upon the natural sciences and social sciences in a unifying nature to explain the human condition in a profound way.

For those who prefer visual, check out this YouTube:

I must say, I’ve never tied the latter into our ability to throw before reading this book.

21
Sep
11

Book Review: The Origin of Humankind

The Origin of Humankind (Science Masters Series)The Origin of Humankind

by Richard E. Leakey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

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 Vygotsky
  • Margaret Meade
  • Noam Chomsky
  • Richard Leakey
  • Shawna Vogel
  • Sue Savage-Rumsbaugh

…but the man who started it all with his Margaret Meade-like charisma and down-to-earth writing style was Richard Leakey. His work in Olduvai Gorge caught the publics imagination like nothing before. Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Origin of Humankind’

14
Sep
11

Book Review: Runaway Brain

The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human UniquenessThe Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness

by Christopher Wills

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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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 without that upright stance, I believe we would be little more than vertical apes without being followed quickly by an explosion in our brain size. And, I’m not talking about volume–quantity–as much as quality. Neanderthals taught us brain growth must be in the correct part of the brain. Bigger, stronger animals require bigger stronger brains, but that doesn’t mean they are more efficient or effective. Neanderthals had a brain bigger than modern man, but it was used to drive their life style, not their evolution.

It is this topic that Christopher Wills investigates in his wonderful book, The Runaway Brain: The Evolution of Human Uniqueness (Harper Collins 1993). His approach is not so much a simple discussion of our brain’s changes over time as a focus on how those changes turned the genus Homo into the most unique animal on the planet. His writing is fun, easy-to-understand and almost like a thriller as we are forced to turn pages long after we might have put the book down. Why? We must see what happens next. He discusses not only evolution, but brain growth in modern man–how does the brain mature throughout our own lifetime. I learned most of this in my child psychology classes, but reading it through his eyes was so much more fun than the way my professors described it.

The real meat of the book is his discussion of changes in the brain that enabled our evolution to Thinking Man. So much of what we are wouldn’t be possible without drastic changes in the brain’s structure. Mutations, certainly, but we’re thankful for them. Our ability to speak as we do is one. Our interest in art and music–symbolic thinking, where we don’t just say things in a black-and-white sort of way, but use mental pictures. As recently as the early 1900’s, this sort of symbolic thinking allowed primitive tribes to travel their habitat without ever getting lost–even to places they had never before been.

How did we come up with counting? How did we decide to adorn ourselves with paint and jewelry? These would not have occurred without changes in our brain that made these seem normal. Why does man problem-solve? Most other species follow instinct. If there isn’t a solution that’s hard-wired into their genes or they can learn from a parent, it’s out of their reach. Not mankind.

These are all part of the Runaway Brain. Jump in and don’t let go. If you borrow the book from the library, you’ll end up purchasing it because you’ll want to refer to it over and over.


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.

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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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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


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RSS Fact and Fiction about Early Man

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    author: G.H.R. 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 […]
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    author: Guy Deutscher name: Jacqui average rating: 4.18 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 […]
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    author: Christopher Wills name: Jacqui average rating: 4.16 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 […]
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  • The Origin Of Humankind July 25, 2011
    author: Richard E. Leakey name: Jacqui average rating: 3.97 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 […]
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  • Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind July 24, 2011
    author: Donald C. Johanson name: Jacqui average rating: 4.12 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 […]
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    author: Jane Goodall name: Jacqui average rating: 4.27 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 […]
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