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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Out of Africa!
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...
Published on March 12 2010 by Peter R. Smith

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Makes some good points, some flawed points
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...
Published on Sept. 9 2011 by A. Volk


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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Out of Africa!, March 12 2010
By 
Peter R. Smith (Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
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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
4.0 out of 5 stars A book that answers the question: "Why isn't a Neanderthal reading this book??", Nov. 6 2010
By 
Stephen Pletko "Uncle Stevie" (London, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
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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. It's about survival, adaptation, mutation, climate, environment, innovation, extinction, and luck. As well, this book's epilogue is especially well-written and ties all the themes together.

Another feature of this book that I enjoyed is that Finlayson questions and even challenges established dogma about our past. He comes up with his own interesting arguments.

Finally, one revelation (of many) given in this book is that Neanderthals were not the stereotypical dumb, lumbering, heavy-browed, ugly brutes we've been told about in the past. The cover of this book (displayed above by Amazon) shows a child, actually the reconstruction of a Neanderthal child whose remains were found in Gibraltar. Doesn't he look human?

In conclusion, this is an engaging book, a must-read for anyone interested in exploring and understanding our past!!

(first published 2009; list of illustrations, preface, prologue; 10 chapters; epilogue; main narrative 220 pages; endnotes; index)

<<Stephen Pletko, London, Ontario, Canada>>

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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Makes some good points, some flawed points, Sept. 9 2011
By 
A. Volk (Canada) - See all my reviews
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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. So why didn't they adapt like humans?

2- Chance matters in evolution. D'uh. But opportunity requires taking advantage of it, and again, this isn't well explained.

3- Because the author relies on a faulty metaphor based on a single study in Spain (probably a friend's research). In it they found that wealthy families survived better than poor ones other than years of severe drought, when the poor families, used to surviving on very little, showed lower mortality rates. So it's those under stress who are the best innovators claims Finlayson. The best able to adapt to shifting environments. That's certainly quite a leap to base an entire book on a single correlational historical study! Here's the two problems with it. Besides the obvious problem of perhaps that one paper isn't representative of people as a whole, there is no indication that the poor people survived because they were better innovators. Their bodies were simply conditioned to exist on fewer resources. Not only that, but there's no evidence it was a genetically-related quality, meaning there's no evidence on whether it's evolutionarily-relevant or not. That's the first flaw. The second is that the poor people, over time, will be swamped out by the rich people's descendents during good times, wiping them out completely. The Native Americans were much better survivors than the Europeans who invaded them, yet the wealthy Europeans could afford to throw over more and more descendents as they had such a large surplus of resources. The concept of genetic sinks is one that the author needs to explore in greater depth.

4- Human inventiveness wasn't anything special. The author, in an effort to combat the extreme view that it was everything takes the equally silly view that it (human intelligence) was practically meaningless compared to the forces of ecology ad chance. He offers the absurd example that remote islands could have been colonized by humans arriving there on driftwood from storms! He gives as evidence the fact that small monkeys have done that and that a man drifted for 2 weeks after the big Asian Tsunami. That's well and good, but monkeys require much less debris, and the man was literally in an ocean of floating debris. Trying to imagine the requisite family of humans being washed out on some natural raft is just absurd. Why deny their sailing ingenuity? He also talks about rapid shifts from plains to forests, claiming that small thrown spears don't work in a forest. Big thick thrusting spears do. That must be news to a lot of bow hunters around the world!

I got the very strong impression that Finlayson is largely ignorant of a lot of literature on human and hunter-gatherer behavior. Certainly, he consistently underestimates the requisite ingenuity of ancestral humans as well as the importance of genetic pumps and genetic sinks. These two flaws deeply hurt his thesis. So while I'm sure that ecology and chance did play significant roles in human evolution, I'm equally sure that population genetics and ingenuity played an equally large roll. So I recommend this as an interesting book to read, with the aforementioned caveats in mind, making it a three and a half star book in my view (so I went with three to be conservative). The story of human evolution is fascinating as it evolves itself as new evidence appears. Finlayson offers some very interesting evidence about ecology and chance, but ironically, he falls claim to the very extremism he claims to oppose. Our story, like ourselves, is almost certainly much more than just right place at the right time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Clear and well argued, March 31 2014
By 
Gayle Gibson (Toronto, Ontario Canada) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (Paperback)
This book covers all the usual material while examining the 'usual' assumptions about these ancestors in a fresh and serious way. Well-written, thought-provoking.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book, March 16 2013
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This review is from: The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals died out and we survived (Paperback)
Excellent book, written by an expert in the field. The book tackles complex subjects such as anthropology, evolution, archeology, and an overview of the history of the geological and climatic changes that helped shaping the life on earth in different geological stages. Yet, it was written in a way to make it easy to read even for people with no previous exposure to those subjects.
It was highly engaging from the start till the end, and I liked its emphasis on the role of climate in shaping the human evolution, as it has a great relevance in this time of accelerating climate change.
The book will take you through the journey of the human race through history till the current time, at the same time giving you all the tools and information you need to try to follow the trajectory into the future.

Highly recommended.
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