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Book Review

Book Review: by Lang Reid

Where Did We Come From?

As opposed to the myriad of books covering “Where did I come from?” for youngsters, this is a publication for adults, but don’t get hot and sweaty, it’s not one of “those” publications!
“Where Did We Come From?” (ISBN 1-84543-175-8, Apple Press UK, 2006) is sub-titled “The Essential Guide to Human Evolution” and was written by Carl Zimmer. This writer is a prolific contributor to science journals, including National Geographic and won the American Science Writer’s Award in 2004. He has the street cred as they say these days.
The book begins with one of our ancestors Sahelanthropus tchadensis, known in science as a ‘hominid’, a creature with both chimpanzee and human characteristics. Was he our great grandfather many times removed? Author Zimmer even gives us beautiful color plates dotted throughout the book, so we can see exactly what we used to look like, and let me assure you, we have improved!
Very early in the book he also brings in Charles Darwin, who had published his ‘Origin of the Species’ in 1859, which caused an uproar and outrage from all those who followed another book, generally of the King James Authorized Version variety. However, it was not until 1871 that Darwin described our evolution in ‘The Descent of Man’. Once again Darwin had caused a storm, but as Zimmer remarks, “In many ways, he (Darwin) has been splendidly vindicated.”
The book explores the making of basic tools, and how that helped the hominids find food that was otherwise impossible to gather. That ability to use the primitive tools began around 2.6 million years ago, so Black and Decker were not the first!
The expansion of the brain as the years rolled on is explained in depth and also explains why animals can walk as soon as they are born, while the human animal takes about one year before bipedal ambulation is possible, and from there we eventually arrive at today and postulations over tomorrow.
At an RRP of B. 895 in my local Bookazine, it is not the cheapest book on the shelves, but in the information for money stakes it is hard to beat. I was enthralled by this book, and it leaves you itching for more. His style of narrative is flowing and takes you gently by the hand to weave you through the last six million years or so, give or take the odd hundred thousand. For any student approaching the final years of secondary school, this should be a fascinating read. For the rest of us adults, it is a fascinating read.
My only complaint about this book, other than the fact I wanted it to go on for ever, it is so readable, was the insertion of ‘sub-chapters’ in the middle of another chapter. You are reading along and suddenly you are in the middle of a bunch of non-sequiteurs, and then you find it is a separate topic, inserted within the chapter. These insertions are on a slightly different colored paper stock, but they would have been better to lump them all in together at the end, in my opinion.