Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Last Ape Standing (Chip Walter)

Last Ape Standing
Chip Walter
Nonfiction, Science
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In many respects - our upright stature, our prolonged childhood, our capacity for symbolic thought and language - humans seem to be alone among animals on Earth, but the fossil record tells us it wasn't always so. In addition to our direct ancestors, a veritable explosion of upright-walking hominins once roamed the world. What were they like? What was different about us? How did we outlast them? Author Chip Walter explores our evolution and prehistory, and offers a glimpse into our potential future as Earth's most successful and self-destructive species ever.

REVIEW: Like most people, I've heard of Lucy and Neanderthals and the New Zealand "hobbits", but knew little about them or how they fit in with our own story as a species. Walter explores what is known and speculated about Homo Sapiens and our lost relatives, a fascinating journey through stray fossils, artifacts, DNA, and even parasites. How much of what makes us unique, physically and psychologically, will never fully be known (barring the discovery of viable time travel), but it's amazing what can be deduced from the fragments left behind. Along the way, he debunks several popular myths, such as the grunting, stooped brute "caveman": our ancestors and relatives were all exceptionally well adapted to their environments, and Neanderthals actually had somewhat larger brains than we do. As for our future, though it looks grim, Walter implies that it's still possible for this upright-walking ape to pull off another evolutionary miracle and survive what we're doing to our world and ourselves. (If nothing else, the story of evolution is one of life overcoming immense obstacles and not only surviving, but thriving... even if we aren't around to see it.) I found it interesting and fairly accessible, even if the scientific names grew a bit thick now and again.

You Might Also Enjoy:
Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely) - My Review
Before Adam (Jack London) - My Review
Your Inner Fish (Neil Shubin) - My Review

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