Masters of the Planet

Masters of the Planet

The Search for Our Human Origins

Book - 2012 | 1st ed.
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"When homo sapiens made their entrance 100,000 years ago they were confronted by a wide range of other early humans--homo erectus, who walked better and used fire; homo habilis who used tools; and of course the Neanderthals, who were brawny and strong. But shortly after their arrival, something happened that vaulted the species forward and made them the indisputable masters of the planet. This book is devoted to revealing just what that difference is. It explores how the physical traits and cognitive ability of homo sapiens distanced them from the rest of nature. Even more importantly, Masters of the Planet looks at how our early ancestors acquired these superior abilities; it shows that their strange and unprecedented mental facility is not, as most of us were taught, simply a basic competence that was refined over unimaginable eons by natural selection. Instead, it is an emergent capacity that was acquired quite recently and changed the world definitively"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.
Edition: 1st ed.
ISBN: 9780230108752
Branch Call Number: 599.938 TATTERSA
Characteristics: xxii, 266 p. : ill. ; 25 cm.


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Nov 07, 2018

In this fascinating book, Ian Tattersall expands on the idea presented in “Becoming Human”…that the crucial line of demarcation between Homo Sapiens and preceding species was the ability to engage in “symbolic” reasoning, plus the use of language…the ability to think, plan, question, design, and create – all the characteristics of modern humans…and to communicate these concepts to others, remember them, and pass them on to succeeding generations. This was the “great gulf fixed” between men and apes, and sets Homo Sapiens apart from all other forms of life that have been discovered so far.

I remember that in the very first issue of "National Geographic" I ever received as a child (September 1960, a gift subscription from an aunt – I still have it, plus every issue since, and quite a collection of earlier issues as well!) there was an article by Louis Leakey about “Zinjanthropus” – a pre-human species Tattersall says is now classified as Paranthropus Boisei. I was both fascinated and confused, because there were so many other hominid fossils being found, many of which were from species that apparently existed contemporaneously, and neither the Leakeys nor other scientists were sure exactly how to fit them all together in terms of chronology or taxonomy. Tattersall does his best to assemble them all into a coherent pattern (spending a lot of time on Australopithecus Africanus, “Lucy”, as one of the crucial discoveries) while explaining just how the mechanism of evolution works and showing how various scientific disciplines have contributed to our understanding. He readily admits that there is still much that is not known and that all conclusions must be tentative…and that we might not even be here, had climatic changes (or mutation-caused changes in gene sequences, for that matter) occurred in a different fashion. He charts a course for mankind "out of the trees", down into the woodlands and onto the savannahs, and, after many false starts and evolutionary dead ends, "out of Africa" and into the Levant, the Caucasus, Southeast Asia and Australia, and ultimately into Europe about 40,000 years ago.

The question as to whether or not evolution has any “goals” (as implied in the famous 1963 episode of “The Outer Limits” entitled “The Sixth Finger”) or whether or not it is guided by a divine hand is once again not addressed, and every reader must decide for himself or herself; but this book and the previous volume would be a wonderful place to start for anyone interested in learning how we came to be what we are today.

May 02, 2016

I always liked Ian Tattersall, and after reading this book I REALLY like him. When other people want to go off and yell that Neanderthals made the Taj Mahal and Australopithecus drove cars he says "Wait, let's be cautious because it may not be all that simple."
And his writing is something I trust.

Dec 09, 2013

Marvellous, well written and entertaining review of discoveries and theories about the evolution of human beings. Covers varied disciplines from anthropology (who knew there are so many sub specialties?) to genetics, biology, genetics and linguistics.


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