April 13, 2012

Review: "The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans" by G.J. Sawyer, et al.

This is an amazing book!  First, I have to say that as the "Chief-Resident" nerd in our family, that I am an inveterate collector of field guides--field guides to birds, trees, flowers, rocks--well, you get the picture.  This beautiful book--The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans--is perhaps best characterized as a naturalist's 'Field Guide' to the history of the evolution of human species (i.e., the hominins).  The authors present a relatively detailed synopsis of the current state-of-knowledge associated with each of the 22 hominin species portrayed in the book, starting with Sahelanthropus tchadensis and Ororrin tugenensis at about 6 million years ago, and then finish up with anatomically modern humans, or Homo sapiens.

For most of the species represented in the book, the authors briefly describe and discuss the following: (1) Fossil sites and locations; (2) Age of the species; (3) Tool Use; (4) Appearance; (5) Growth and Development; (6) Differences between males and females; (7) Animals and habitats; (8) Climate; (9) Classification; and (10) Historical notes.  It really is wonderfully organized, and serves as an excellent reference source as one reads about these species in the available literature.

The real value of this book-at least to me--is that the authors have supplied beautifully reconstructed images of what these individuals may have looked like in the habitats they are thought to have occupied.  They have taken casts of the fossils and added tendons, muscles, flesh, skin, and hair.  The results are simply astounding.  As just one superb example, the cover of the book is their rendition of the famous Australopith, "Lucy", the fossil of the little female Australopithecus afarensis discovered by Donald Johanson in 1974.  It takes your breath away just to look into her face and realize that she and her kind represent something like 800,000-900,000 years in the several million year old history of the human species.  This is a book that one can spend hours with every time you take it from the shelf, and learn something new each time too.  Absolutely a must have for your library!


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