Origins: What New Discoveries Reveal About the Emergence of Our Species and Its Possible Future is a popular science book about human origins written by paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey and science writer Roger Lewin and first published on 1977-10-28. A followup book was written called Origins Reconsidered: In Search of What Makes Us Human, which I have yet to read.
I found this book at a secondhand store and thought it looked fascinating, so I bought it.
I own a first edition hard cover and am currently reading it.
- The book is fully illustrated with lots of diagrams and photos of the topics being discussed.
- The authors clearly state, multiple times, that a lot of what paleoanthropologists do is interpretation and speculative. They also give multiple examples from tribal humans and other animals which demonstrate the wide variety of possible behaviors, showing why it's so difficult to describe prehistoric human behavior. I like this because not enough scientists treat their fields with the proper amount of humility.
- Though published in 1977, the authors rightly warn about global warming occuring if people continue to use fossil fuels. It's sad to read, but important to point out that even in the 1970s, global warming was already such a well known problem that even paleoanthropologists were writing about it.
- A lot of the book is now outdated. Terms for ancient organisms have changed, lineages have been re-worked, etc. For example, the authors have Ramapithecus as a human ancestor, but it's now considered an ancestor of orangutans.
- The authors rightly point out that there are no meaningful biological differences between black people and white people, our skin tone is merely the result of how close our ancestors lived to the equator. However, they make the misguided suggestion that the first step to ending racism is eliminating racial identities altogether. Sociologists demonstrate how such an approach would not reduce inequality, but only eliminate our ability to talk about racism.
- The authors unfortunately repeat the incorrect notion that the human brain's left and right hemispheres are specialized for logic and creativity. Neuroscientists indeed show that the two hemispheres have slightly different specializations, but they're not nearly as basic as creativity and logic, rather both hemispheres do both all the time.
- The authors make a couple of appeals to mythology with a joke about Adam and Eve after discovering a fig leaf impression at a dig site, and invoking the proverbial mark of Cain. I'm fine with such allusions, but young earth creationists don't need any help with their crazy beliefs and could easily quote mine this!
- For some reason, the publisher chose Rockwell as the typeface for the entire book. Although Rockwell is an attractive typeface for headlines and graphics, it doesn't read well at the small point size used in the book.
The US paperback is a dull sunrise photo with half the cover wasted on solid color blocks and text. I don't care for the title's typeface, and the use of Copperplate Gothic for the rest is dull.