Traces of Life: The Origins of Humankind

Traces of Life: The Origins of Humankind
by Kathryn Lasky

(Illus. by Whitney Powell)
EA, JH **


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This delightful book tells the story of human evolution using phylogenetic reasoning without reference to genetics or ecology and with little jargon. Although the concept of biological evolution is well explained, "evolution" is never mentioned. Technical terms are limited to names (paleoanthropologist, Homo erectus), while popular vocabulary, such as "missing link," is explained and incorporated into the logic of the text. Notions of geologic and biologic time are blended to organize the narrative around stages of human evolution. Each stage is described from the point of view of the scientists involved in discovery and the public reaction to their work, in historical perspective, and through portraits of daily life among our ancient ancestors. The interdisciplinary approach that makes it possible to discover fossils of ancient humans is described together with the thrill of the hunt. Phylogenetic theory is discussed in relation to each stage of human evolution, and included are simple examples of alternative theories and the principles paleoanthropologists use to decide which is most plausible. Illustrations, well over a hundred, are carefully crafted to illustrate or explain fundamental points within the text. In short, this volume is suitable as a unit text, a lecture resource, or an assignment focus.

--Reviewed by Charles M. Nelson in Science Books and Films, 27/1 (January/February 1991), p. 17.