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Becoming Human
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Table of Contents

Prologue The creative explosion The brain and intelligence: Humans and apes Evolution for what? Starting out Becoming human Being human Postscript Further reading

About the Author

Curator at the Department of Anthropology, American Museum of Natural History, in New York City

Reviews

What defining characteristic, if any, separates us from the rest of creation? Many books on human evolution (from Teilhard de Chardin's The Phenomenon of Man to Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct and beyond) have sought the holy grail of a defining characteristic for the species. Here, Tattersall (The Last Neanderthal, etc.), curator in the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, takes us through the gradual development, over millions of years and countless refinements, of Homo sapiens, often consulting the fossil record for corroboration of the innovations he takes to be significant. Tattersall makes it perfectly clear that he doubts studies suggesting that chimpanzees, using American Sign Language, can communicate with humans to any meaningful degree‘thus preserving verbal language as a candidate. He presents himself throughout as a man of strongly held opinions, confident that the "out of Africa" model of human evolution is far superior to the "multi-regional" hypothesis, that Neanderthals could not speak as we do and that "punctuated equilibrium" (the theory that isolated genetic innovation is followed by a spread throughout a population) should become the new evolutionary paradigm. The evidence presented for such beliefs, however, is rarely gone into in enough detail for readers' scales to balance on their own. Ultimately, and unsurprisingly, Tattersall considers symbolic thought (as "epitomized by our linguistic abilities") as the best candidate for the attribute that sets us apart from other species. Although Tattersall provides some moving descriptions of early cave art and other human endeavors, he is less successful at producing a volume that stands out in a crowded field. (Mar.)

In his new book, Tattersall, curator in the Department of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, communicates the processes and diverse products of human evolution, offering a new perspective from which to view and therefore better understand our Homo sapiens species. Through an enlightening examination of the latest fossil evidence, we gain new insights into the role of competition among species, the impact of climate, and the episodic vs. gradual nature of evolutionary changes. By comparing Homo sapiens with higher apes and early humans, Tattersall reveals our species' unique characteristics, including language, symbolic thought, art, and innovation. He describes the mixed (old with new) nature of our anatomical structures, speculates on the potential of the current environment to support further human evolution, and ponders the implications of these conditions for who we are and what we can be. This well-written book, suitable for both lay readers and scholars, should appeal to anyone desiring a better understanding of human evolution and the nature of Homo sapiens.‘Shaun Calhoun, USAF Research Lab-Tyndall Division, Technical Information Ctr., Panama City, Fla.

"In this superbly written book, Ian Tattersall combines his unique knowledge of the human fossil record, Paleolithic archaeology, primate behavior, prehistoric art, as well as the workings of the human brain and our extraordinary cognitive powers, to offer a convincing scenario of how we have come to hold dominion over the earth."--Donald Johanson (author of From Lucy to Language) in Scientific American
"An ambitious effort . . . Tattersall meets the challenge commendably."--The San Diego Union-Tribune
"Although many popular anthropological accounts of the human species have been written, few are as engaging as that of Ian Tattersall."--Natural History

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