The Origin of Our Species – Chris Stringer

It’s a book about evolution. The evolution of us! Chris Stringer is a man who works in the Natural History Museum, which is pretty cool. He also goes on TV to talk about remains of humans and human-like people when they are found, which is much less cool, but someone has to do it, and since he knows more about the subject than anyone else (give or take), this makes sense.

This book summarises what is currently known about human evolution, what the current theories are (without spoiling it too much, Recent African Origin with some variation) and much more. Like: do we have Neanderthal DNA? (SPOILER: yes.) Did we evolve by becoming long distance runners? MAYBE! There’s lots of good stuff in there. I was surprised by how much my knowledge of the subject was based on an Usborne book I must have read 90 billion times when I was about 10. Which, given that it was based on (at least) 20 year old knowledge, and featured much less in the way of words and much more in way of pictures of hairy folk stabbing mammoths, was not terribly accurate, according to Mr (or Dr, or more likely Professor) Stringer. Some of it held up, though.

It’s very nice to read something so informative, and thought-provoking, but I did find a couple of things annoying. Generally, it’s written in a very approachable style, but there’s far too much “as we’ll see in Chapter 6” and “as discussed in Chapter 2” – I don’t need things trailed for me in a book that’s only a couple of hundred pages long – I will get to it when I get to it. I also could have done with a bit of a glossary – is Upper Paleolithic the same as Late Stone Age? When dealing with things that happened tens/hundreds of thousands of years ago, it’s a bit difficult to keep the sequence of things straight unless there’s a timeline somewhere.

But those are minor quibbles – there’s plenty of good stuff in it, and I enjoyed it a lot.


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