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Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors [Paperback]

Carl Sagan , Ann Druyan
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Sept. 7 1993 0345384725 978-0345384720 Ballantine Books ed
"Dazzling...A feast. Absorbing and elegantly written, it tells of theorigins of life on earth, describes its variety and charaacter, and culminates in a discussion of human nature and teh complex traces ofhumankind's evolutionary past...It is an amazing story masterfully told."
World renowned scientist Carl Sagan and acclaimed author Ann Druyan have written a ROOTS for the human species, a lucid and riveting account of how humans got to be the way we are. It shows with humor and drama that many of our key traits--self-awareness, technology, family ties, submission to authority, hatred for those a little different from ourselves, reason, and ethics--are rooted in the deep past, and illuminated by our kinship with other animals. Astonishing in its scope, brilliant in its insights, and an absolutely compelling read, SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCESTORS is a triumph of popular science.

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Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors + Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence + Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
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From Publishers Weekly

In a leisurely, lyrical meditation on the roughly four-million-year span since life dawned on Earth, Sagan and Druyan ( Comet ) argue that territoriality, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, occasional outbreeding and a preference for small, semi-isolated groups are elements in a survival strategy common to many species, including Homo sapiens. Yet society's problems, they assert, increasingly demand global solutions and require a dramatic, strategic shift which the authors optimistically believe humankind is capable of achieving. This engaging, humane odyssey offers a stunning refutation of the behavioristic worldview with its mechanistic notion that animals (except for humans) lack conscious awareness. Writing with awe and a command of their material, the husband-wife team cover well-trod terrain while they discuss the evolution of Earth's atmosphere and life forms, the genetic code, the advantages of sexual reproduction. The last third of the book, dealing with chimpanzees, baboons and apes, is the most interesting. Sagan and Druyan find chimps' social life "hauntingly familiar" with its hierarchy, combat, suppression of females and chimps' remarkable ability to communicate through symbols. First serial to Parade.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Astronomer Sagan is probably the biggest name in popular science writing, a fact that should assure that his latest book--written with his wife, Druyan--will find a wide audience. Sagan's goal is to explain how luck and natural selection combined to produce human beings after three and a half billion years of life on earth. Human behavior, he stresses, results more from similarities with our animal ancestors than from any unique qualities we may possess. Sagan flounders a bit early on in his effort to explain molecular evolution, but he picks up speed later when the focus shifts to primate behavior. Despite a preference for the overly dramatic phrase at the expense of scientific clarity, the argument is coherent throughout. While this is hardly one of the best books on human evolution, it will likely be very popular, especially in public libraries. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/92.
- Eric Hinsdale, Trinity Univ. Lib., San Antonio
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Have You Ever Wondered Who We Are? May 12 2004
After I read The Dragons of Eden, I learned that Carl Sagan explored more than cosmology. He also explored evolutionary biology-stimulated by his wife, the biologist Ann Druyan. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is a book that Sagan and Druyan wrote together. It is much more scientifically rigorous and sophisticated than The Dragons of Eden, and deals not with the evolution of the tripartite brain, but on the evolution of consciousness itself. Druyan and Sagan write that we are like babies left in a basket on a doorstep, never knowing and always wondering what our ancestry is. For me, the most influential of the book's explorations involve the study of the levels of consciousness in other animals, aside from the human animal. Through study after study, many amusing and all interesting, Druyan and Sagan emphasize that the difference between the consciousness of the human animal and other animals is "a difference of degree rather than kind." Indeed, some of the studies indicate that some of the other animals may have consciousness that surpasses in degree that that of the human animal. The book stresses that we will not understand who we are until we view ourselves as part of a continuum, and the book also explorers the history of human resistance to this idea. One or two of the chapters were too difficult for me to understand as a non-scientist, but I was basically able to understand the book while only skimming the difficult chapters about DNA construction and such. It was nice to know that rigorous science was part of the book. This is one of those books that will change your outlook on the world.
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5.0 out of 5 stars simply great May 18 2001
Carl Sagan is one of the greates minds of the 20th century. He was a man passionate about science and life, and showed it in his books. As a evolutionary biologist, i thought the book was fantastic for non-science minds and i myself enjoyed it to. i feel that he did a wonderful job of explaing everything in such away that anyone could understand. i would recommend anyone whether they come from a science background or not to read any of his books, but shadows of forgotten ancestors, demon haunted world, and cosmos i feel are musts.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Understanding ourselves... Feb. 15 2003
...and the reasons why we do what we do as humans --that's the basic concept of this book which, as most books written by Sagan, is easy to understand and read.
He starts with the big bang, followed by one cell organism , gradually taking the reader into a tale of how it is that we as a species came to be. It gives plausible explanations of so many of the things that religion cannot explain. Biology, human nature and sociology are explained in a simple but interesting way . It leaves the human species uncovered on just what it is that makes us. Books such as Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors enriched my life. Sagan and Druyan were a great team and I for one miss Carl Sagan and his wise approach in explaining science.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars enlightening June 1 2002
Sagan/Druyan deconstruct the Western Chrisitan Myth of Intrinsic Human superiority over their mammal kinfolk. They show how we may be cleverer, but not that much different then our primate
cousins. Sobering, intelligent and beautiful. Recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book Feb. 13 2003
I had a fundamentalist upbringing and even was a missionary for a couple of years. I'm now 49. Twenty years ago the Cosmos TV series changed my life. I've since read all of Sagan's books. While all are good, I think the most valuable is Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors and the second most valuable is Demon Haunted World. Also, the photograph of earth taken by the Voyager spacecraft from beyond the orbits of Neptune and Pluto, in Chapter 1 of Pale Blue Dot, is something everyone should see.
All my life I wondered why we behave the way we do and why things are the way they are. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is the most helpful thing I have found.
For me, parts of the first third of the book were a little dry, but it became a livelier read after that.
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5.0 out of 5 stars "We are all kin" Feb. 15 2002
Sagan and Druyan have created a masterwork in _Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors_. Written for the layperson, they clearly explain the origins and evolution of life on the planet.
Yes, this is well-trod ground, yet the complex processes of species variation, mutation and natural selection (at the micro level to the macro level) are clearly articulated. Sagan's bread and butter has been in bringing science to the masses and making it understandable. Its been years since I had had a biology class (even then very little of it "stuck".) Druyan and Sagan have managed to expand my understanding of life and make it "stick." This is his crowning achievement, and I highly recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars lovely book Oct. 3 2001
By A Customer
Well, Bob, I started to lose mine as I turned thirty, but that's just the hair on my head. I've been accumulating body hair all my adult life; the older I get, the more I resemble an ape. I'm not about to invite you swimming to prove this, though, so I suggest you visit your local zoo and take a good, hard look at the monkeys and orangutans and gorillas, particularly the gorillas. They are very like us.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Helps place us in perspective June 30 2001
By Sorek
This book shows how science, well-written, can be so much more rewarding and marvelous than the pseudoscientific creationist garbage that the fundametalist zealots are trying to foist upon innocent kids in American schools today. Sagan and Druyan draw from many rich sources to create a picture of human and animal behavior that is compelling and thought-provoking. As an animal rights activist, I find it particulary disturbing to consider the ramifications of animal research and factory farming.
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