The Origin of Humankind

Textbooks cannot keep apace of significant finds or the applications of new technologies. It is the purpose of the Science Masters Series to present short, readable, and up to date surveys of the various scientific fields. Richard Leakey’s concise and articulate voice provides an equally satisfying text for the interested student or the long-graduated desiring a rundown of current theory.

It might seem that the Leakey family possesses some sort of witching stick that divines the presence of really spectacular hominid fossils in out of the way gorges. The finds of Louis and Mary and their sons Jonathon and Richard, which have largely provided the shape of the early human family tree, were the rewards of scientific study, intelligent guesswork, and phenomenal dedication in a grueling field. Richard Leakey has his detractors, but he is a respected authority and a personal force in the study of human evolution. In THE ORIGIN OF HUMANKIND, he is guarded, though persuasive, in the presentation of some of his more controversial opinions. He has reversed himself in the past when presented with convincing evidence, and one of the more valuable insights of this work is its revelation of the imperfect state of evolutionary theory and the flexible nature of good science.

Leakey includes a swift survey of the more important fossil finds and arranges their lineage as now commonly (though not universally) accepted. He discusses the controversial roles of social culture, bipedalism, and articulate speech in natural selection and searches through the aggravatingly sparse evidence for the beginnings of human interior reflection. His ideas on human and animal consciousness and the development of art and language provide some of the most intriguing and debatable passages in the book.