The Stories of Our Lives

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The Stories of Our Lives

Human evolution from prehistory onward

Where do we come from? Who are we? Where are we going? These questions were famously posed by painter Paul Gauguin.  And we're still asking them today.  With recent advances in the fields of genetics, anthropology, and evolutionary biology, some answers are emerging. Sometimes disturbing, always fascinating, the story of our human origins has been a popular topic writers have been exploring for many years. Here are several titles that address the many questions about our human journey.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford
A well known British science writer, Rutherford uses the contemporary field of genomics in an attempt to untangle the genetic history of contemporary humans.  He concludes that our human origins are complex, involving sexual relations between homo sapiens, Neanderthals, Denisovans and other early human species. Although engaging, one of the main criticisms of this volume is that it is heavily Eurocentric, paying sparse attention to the evolution of humans in Africa, Asia and the Americas. 

A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade
In this controversial title, the New York Times science writer uses recent studies in genetics to theorize about the nature of human social behavior, especially the origins of racism. Although controversial and clearly speculative, it's an interesting contribution to the body of work on the subject of human origins.

Close Encounters with Humankind by Sang-Hee Lee
Lee, an anthropology professor at University of California-Riverside, originally penned this collection of essays for publication in a science magazine. She addresses topics such as the role Neanderthals and Denisovans play in human evolution, and whether the first human populations appeared on Africa or Asia. Full of intriguing information on our early human ancestors, this book offers a highly readable and refreshing introduction to the field of human evolution. 

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
The author, a historian at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, ponders the reduction of human groups from prehistory, when at least six species of humans roamed the Earth, to contemporary times, when homo sapiens is the sole survivor. The author also considers important benchmarks along the evolutionary journey such as harnessing the use of fire, the abandonment of hunter gatherer society for agriculture, and the creation of languages. 

The Complete World of Human Evolution by Chris Stringer and Peter Andrews
Although most of us modern humans don't want to consider ourselves to be an invasive species, Stringer and co-author Andrews persuasively argue that we homo sapiens are the most successful invasive species on the planet!  Divided into three parts, the title's first section deals with our nearest biological relatives, living great apes (including chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans).  The second part examines fossil evidence to trace the migration patterns of our human ancestors. The final section provides an overview of the rise of human populations, tracing the history of humanity through fossils and artifacts. Generously illustrated, this account of human evolution is appropriate for high school age and adult readers.

What Does It Mean to Be Human? by Richard Potts and Chris Sloan
The companion volume to the Smithsonian Institution Museum of Natural History's Hall of Human Origins, this title's authors delve into the remnants left behind by our ancient ancestors and find that homo sapiens is the final remaining human species, arising during an age of great seismic and climactic turmoil. This well illustrated book is likely to appeal to all who ask the question the title poses.