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The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived Paperback – Dec 11 2010


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (Dec 11 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199239193
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199239191
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 2 x 13 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 222 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #47,956 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

Review

Review from previous edition: "Informative." --Ewen Callaway, New Scientist 07/11/2009

"A provocative new book." --Sharen Begley, Newsweek 29.10.09

About the Author

Clive Finlayson is Director of the Gibraltar Museum and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto. He is an evolutionary ecologist with a DPhil from the University of Oxford. For the past fifteen years he has combined his ecological work with birds with leading an international multidisciplinary project that has focused on excavations of the Pleistocene caves in Gibraltar, especially Gorham's Cave, recently confirmed as the site of the last Neanderthals on the planet. His previous publication was Neanderthals and Modern Humans: An Ecological and Evolutionary Perspective (CUP, 2004).

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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Peter R. Smith on March 12 2010
Format: Hardcover
If the history of our species interests you, then this is a must read. The author obviously has a wealth of knowledge and a fascinating story to tell. We didn't stay bottled up in Africa and then suddenly break out and spread around the world. There were instead a number of excursions of different proto-humans, each of which thrived for a while before dying out. Although the title suggests that the book is largely about Neanderthals, they actually play a fairly minor role, taking up only a fraction of the book. As it turns out, the author's opinion is that there was little, if any, contact between Neanderthals and other human groups, but I won't spoil it by telling you why they eventually died out.

It is the kind of book that leaves you wanting to know more and ready to read about the next discovery. If I had a complaint it would be that the I often got confused, some timelines, maps and family trees would have really helped, so it does require concentration. But it was well worth the time and effort.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Pletko TOP 50 REVIEWER on Nov. 6 2010
Format: Hardcover
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QUESTION: why are we here and not the Neanderthals?

(Note that the Neanderthal or Neanderthal Man is an extinct member of the "Homo" genus that is known from ancient specimens found in Europe and parts of western & central Asia. In modern nomenclature, Neanderthals are either a subspecies of modern humans or a separate human species.)

ANSWER: we clubbed them over the head, of course.

Actually, as this book reveals, the answer is not this simple. As the author of this slim but comprehensive book tells us:

"The answer is actually a series of answers and, even though we are much closer today than we have ever been to resolving the question, these answers are incomplete."

Who is the author? The author is evolutionary ecologist Clive Finlayson. He is the Director of the Gibraltar Museum and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto. (Gibraltar is a British overseas territory located at the entrance of the Mediterranean, overlooking the Strait of Gibraltar.)

There are two main problems with this book. First, it can be tedious in parts. Second, it is rather light on its central topic. The title and preface suggests we are going to be reading about Neanderthals. Actually, one chapter is mostly about them, and they're mentioned repeatedly throughout the rest of the book. I had the feeling of waiting for the Neanderthal bit to come but never quite reaching it.

This book's subtitle is more illuminating: "Why Neanderthals died out and we survived" with an emphasis on "why...we survived."

It's worth ploughing through the tedious parts to get to this book's good parts because Finlayson can be very engaging. The story the author has to tell is also engaging and interesting.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER#1 HALL OF FAME on Sept. 9 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book starts by challenging the popular theory that humans moved out of Africa in one big wave, killing all other competitors as they went. And that's where they author goes wrong. He makes a caricature of his opponents, claiming that they believed in an inherent superiority of the human species and nothing else mattered. Now there may well be anthropologists who believe that. But there can't be many educated ones who do. It's not that simple. There were multiple waves and geography matters. As did chance. That is Finlayson's argument, but it gets tainted by his overzealous challenge to what appears (to me) to be a straw man argument. Beyond that, he makes a few errors of his own. So let's look at his main points:

1- Ecology played a major roll in human evolution. THE major roll. Well, that's what I would expect from someone who has spent his life studying ecology and fossils. Or at least someone who did that and never bothered to read much else. Of course ecology matters. Humans never would have evolved in the early Triassic when oxygen levels were low, or if Africa was covered in ice by some freaky ice age. Of course the availability of habitats made an important difference for humans and neanderthal alike. But the environment is only part of the story. I think common flies are pretty happy pretty much no matter where they end, as are cockroaches. Where humans equally adaptive generalists? Certainly. So variable ecologies was probably a strength, not a weakness for humans. Why it wasn't so for neanderthals is not well spelled out here. The author repeats the "dogma" that they were too big and clumsy to adapt to new environments at the same time as he argues that they were superb generalists in their environment and perhaps just as smart as humans.
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