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Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life Paperback – May 8 2012


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Kirkus Reivew, April 15, 2011

"An appealing account of human evolution and the fiercely competitive anthropologists who are unearthing our ancestors’ remains and arguing over what they mean…. The author does a superb job of describing the nuts-and-bolts of field research, the meaning of the often headline-producing findings and the ever-changing variety of species who split off from the common ancestors of chimpanzees and hominids.”


About the Author

Martin Meredith is a journalist, biographer, and historian who has written extensively on Africa and its recent history. He is the author of many books including The Fate of Africa and Diamonds, Gold, and War. He lives near Oxford, England.

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Paleoanthropology at its best May 18 2013
By Hans U. Weber - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
A beautifully written and thoroughly researched chronicle of the field work and analyses of the fossil remains of the earliest human-like beings dating back millions of years. The scientists and field workers often suffered incredibly harsh conditions. At first their finds were ignored or criticized by their peers. The characters and their squabbles and sometimes bitter disagreements are vividly described. I rank this book in the class of Nicholas Wade's masterpiece, Before the Dawn (2006) which focuses on the origins of our species and our past contemporaries. Imagine that about 18,000 years ago our planet was inhabited by four or more species of Homo (hominins). All except H sapiens have become extinct.
AN EXCELLENT SURVEY OF THE SEARCH FOR OUR ANCESTORS June 4 2014
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Author Martin Meredith wrote in the Preface to this 2011 book, "This book follows the endeavors of scientists striving to uncover the mysteries of human origins over the past 100 years.,, The route back to this ancient world has been marked by misfortune, false hopes, fraud and extraordinary feats of skill and endurance. The early stages of the quest were dominated by a handful of ambitious individuals, obsessed by their work and driven by hopes of fame and glory. Their goal was to find the oldest human ancestor... the science of paleoanthropology has been renowned not just for the exploits of researchers in the field but for their intense rivalry, personal feuds and fierce controversies. One field scientist observed ruefully in his memoirs how the profession was plagued by 'treachery, cutthroat competition and backstabbing.' ... The results of the quest have been momentous. Scientists have identified over twenty species of extinct humans. They have firmly established Africa as the birthplace not only of humankind but also of modern humans... We have all inherited an African past." (Pg. xiii-xiv)

Of Richard Leakey's 1470 skull discovery, he notes, "Alan Walker observed that apart from its large brain, it differed little from Australopithecus africanus. Leakey disagreed. He was convinced that it was a species of Homo---and therefore represented the world's 'earliest known man.' ... In jubilant mood, Leakey took the skull to Nairobi to show his father, knowing how pleased he would be to see such evidence supporting his long-cherished belief in human antiquity... 'It's marvelous,' [Louis] remarked, adding with a laugh, 'but they won't believe you.'" (Pg. 79-80)

He recounts the rivalry between Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson: "Johanson wanted to more than to match Leakey; he was determined to surpass him and establish himself as pre-eminent in the field. So often did Johanson talk of his ambition that several of his colleagues thought he had become obsessed with the idea... Johanson had often be scathing about Richard Leakey's lack of academic credentials. The two fossil-hunters had nevertheless developed what appeared to be a firm friendship... in 1973, Leakey had gone out of his way to encourage him, making introductions, taking him into the field, offering advice... But after finding Lucy, Johanson's ambition soared further... 'He wants everything for himself... and it was all because he wanted to pass Richard.'" (Pg. 90)

Later, he states, "Johanson... had endured a lean period. He had not made a fossil discovery since 1977. His hopes of resuming his expedition to Hadar had been thwarted by a moratorium imposed by the Ethiopian authorities in 1982 on foreigners wanting to undertake paleoanthropological research. One of the reasons for the ban had been Johanson's admission in his book Lucy of his grave-robbing exploit in Hadar. When Johanson subsequently asked Leakey for permission to study new fossils in Kenya, Leakey had rebuffed him. 'I consider you a scoundrel,' Leakey told him by letter." (Pg. 118)

He summarizes, "the fossil evidence was beginning to indicate to paleoanthropologists that in the million years after 2.5 million years ago, there had been no simple linear transition from one species of Australopithecus to a successor species of Homo but rather a period of wild evolutionary experimentation." (Pg. 120) Later, he adds, "The threshold between australopithecines and the first species of Homo is little more than a blur. The fossil record between 2.5 and 2.0 million years ago is so sparse that paleoanthpologists have yet to determine which species of Homo came first and when it emerged from the ranks of australopithecines. What appears certain is that Homo arrived at a time when the world was experiencing another dramatic change in climate... wild swings from wet to dry conditions followed by droughts---which put enormous pressure on hominids to adapt." (Pg. 163)

This is an excellent and very informative (not to mention UP-TO-DATE!) book on the quest for human evolution, that will be of great value to anyone seeking such a survey overview.
AN EXCELLENT SURVEY OF THE SEARCH FOR OUR ANCESTORS June 4 2014
By Steven H Propp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Author Martin Meredith wrote in the Preface to this 2011 book, "This book follows the endeavors of scientists striving to uncover the mysteries of human origins over the past 100 years.,, The route back to this ancient world has been marked by misfortune, false hopes, fraud and extraordinary feats of skill and endurance. The early stages of the quest were dominated by a handful of ambitious individuals, obsessed by their work and driven by hopes of fame and glory. Their goal was to find the oldest human ancestor... the science of paleoanthropology has been renowned not just for the exploits of researchers in the field but for their intense rivalry, personal feuds and fierce controversies. One field scientist observed ruefully in his memoirs how the profession was plagued by 'treachery, cutthroat competition and backstabbing.' ... The results of the quest have been momentous. Scientists have identified over twenty species of extinct humans. They have firmly established Africa as the birthplace not only of humankind but also of modern humans... We have all inherited an African past." (Pg. xiii-xiv)

Of Richard Leakey's 1470 skull discovery, he notes, "Alan Walker observed that apart from its large brain, it differed little from Australopithecus africanus. Leakey disagreed. He was convinced that it was a species of Homo---and therefore represented the world's 'earliest known man.' ... In jubilant mood, Leakey took the skull to Nairobi to show his father, knowing how pleased he would be to see such evidence supporting his long-cherished belief in human antiquity... 'It's marvelous,' [Louis] remarked, adding with a laugh, 'but they won't believe you.'" (Pg. 79-80)

He recounts the rivalry between Richard Leakey and Donald Johanson: "Johanson wanted to more than to match Leakey; he was determined to surpass him and establish himself as pre-eminent in the field. So often did Johanson talk of his ambition that several of his colleagues thought he had become obsessed with the idea... Johanson had often be scathing about Richard Leakey's lack of academic credentials. The two fossil-hunters had nevertheless developed what appeared to be a firm friendship... in 1973, Leakey had gone out of his way to encourage him, making introductions, taking him into the field, offering advice... But after finding Lucy, Johanson's ambition soared further... 'He wants everything for himself... and it was all because he wanted to pass Richard.'" (Pg. 90)

Later, he states, "Johanson... had endured a lean period. He had not made a fossil discovery since 1977. His hopes of resuming his expedition to Hadar had been thwarted by a moratorium imposed by the Ethiopian authorities in 1982 on foreigners wanting to undertake paleoanthropological research. One of the reasons for the ban had been Johanson's admission in his book Lucy of his grave-robbing exploit in Hadar. When Johanson subsequently asked Leakey for permission to study new fossils in Kenya, Leakey had rebuffed him. 'I consider you a scoundrel,' Leakey told him by letter." (Pg. 118)

He summarizes, "the fossil evidence was beginning to indicate to paleoanthropologists that in the million years after 2.5 million years ago, there had been no simple linear transition from one species of Australopithecus to a successor species of Homo but rather a period of wild evolutionary experimentation." (Pg. 120) Later, he adds, "The threshold between australopithecines and the first species of Homo is little more than a blur. The fossil record between 2.5 and 2.0 million years ago is so sparse that paleoanthpologists have yet to determine which species of Homo came first and when it emerged from the ranks of australopithecines. What appears certain is that Homo arrived at a time when the world was experiencing another dramatic change in climate... wild swings from wet to dry conditions followed by droughts---which put enormous pressure on hominids to adapt." (Pg. 163)

This is an excellent and very informative (not to mention UP-TO-DATE!) book on the quest for human evolution, that will be of great value to anyone seeking such a survey.
Paleoanthropology July 11 2013
By Michael Berthaume - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fun book about some of the history of paleoanthropology and the discovery of several of the first major hallmark fossils.


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