Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors
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Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  1,707 ratings  ·  184 reviews
Nicholas Wade's articles are a major reason why the science section has become the most popular, nationwide, in the New York Times. In his groundbreaking Before the Dawn, Wade reveals humanity's origins as never before--a journey made possible only recently by genetic science, whose incredible findings have answered such questions as: What was the first human language like...more
Paperback, Non-Classics, 314 pages
Published March 27th 2007 by Penguin (first published 2006)
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AC
I found the beginning of this book - in fact, the first 8 chapters - utterly fascinating. A clear, intelligent, well-written account of all the essentials of modern thinking on biological and cultural evolution from the emergence of man 1.7 million years ago, thorugh the migration out of Africa (c. 50,000 BC), and up (in fact) to the Neolithic period. The emphasis is on genetics, but not overwhelmingly so -- and in any case, according to author at least (I know nothing about science, to put it m...more
Nate
In my experience, it has been hard to find good, popular books about human evolution and prehistory. The most interesting books I’ve found on the subject are Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” and “Guns, Germs and Steel.” Nicholas Wade’s book “Before the Dawn” is an excellent addition to that short list, bringing us up to speed on what scientists are currently saying about human origins and prehistory. Reporting on a wide range of research, including paleo-anthropology, genetics, and histori...more
Laura
The first half of this book is a fascinating look at what light DNA and current studies of genetics shed on human evolution. I learned much more abour our ancestors, the origin of language, and genetics than I ever did in school.

But the second half of the book goes into quesionable territory. He starts drawing conclusions from the still-developing understanding of the human genome that I just don't think are yet supported by the evidence. The science in this half of the book is somehow both too...more
Alison Dellit
Next time someone tells me that the Internet is still not as reliable for research as a proper 'book', I will pull out this book as evidence for why they are so deeply, deeply wrong.

I should have known better, really, than to think reading a five-year-old book on genetics was a good idea. Genetic research is moving so quickly, that there were always going to be things that have been superseded. And their were. My first moments of real doubt occurred around the author's insistence that there was...more
Dan
This first half of this book, on what genetics is adding to traditional sciences' understanding about the origin of modern humans, language, and settled living and agriculture is very good and interesting.

The second half of the book, on the origin of modern human populations, is deeply flawed.

Wade is sneaky. He doesn't come out and say white people dominate the world because they're genetically superior to people of color. He just hints at it, again and again. His only evidence, it seems, is t...more
Ryan
Interesting, but speculative

I decided to read this book as a counterpoint to Jarrod Diamond’s famous Guns, Germs, and Steel, which focused on geography and domestication of plants/animals as an explanation for the rise of human civilization. Wade argues that this point of view doesn’t take into account recent scientific evidence that human genes have continued to evolve over the past few thousand years, sometimes as an apparent result of civilizing forces.

This is an area of political controversy...more
Steve Van Slyke
Aug 24, 2013 Steve Van Slyke rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Descent of Man lovers
Recommended to Steve by: Amazon
Having just read Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived by Chip Walter, and being somewhat unimpressed, I was a little leery of reading another book on more or less the same subject by another non-scientist author. However, Nicholas Wade almost immediately won me over with his smooth flowing narrative and excellent writing style. Plus his knowledge of the subject matter did not suffer by approaching it from the outside, at least not for this lay reader.

Wade be...more
Ben Babcock
It's always a pleasure to read a book about science that's accessible yet still informative. Before the Dawn is a refreshing update to Darwinian evolution using the cutting-edge tool available to scientists and historians: genetics.

Wade begins by giving a brief introduction into the application of genetics in the study of human history (and prehistory). Of particular interest is mitochondrial DNA (which is only inherited from the mother) and the Y chromosome (which a father passes onto his sons...more
David
While this isn't an easy book to read, I've learned a lot about our ancestors. I had never realized how warlike they were in the distant past. We took after chimpanzees in that regard. Also, our ancestors were often cannibals, afraid to say. The most interesting aspect of the book is the synthesis of a wide variety of evidence; archaeology, genetics, linguistics, anthropology/sociology, animal behavior and anatomy.
Tina Cipolla
If you are at all interested in knowing some of the things that have been learned from the human genome project this is a the book for you. It is also a book for you if you have like anything you have read of Jared Diamond's (particularly because it provides a counterpoint to The Third Chimpanzee and Guns, Germs, and Steel). However, let's put the warning right there up front, there are some unpleasant surprises in what has been learned from the human genome so far about just how much your genes...more
Lis Carey
Nicholas Wade discusses how the growing science of genetics expands and deepens our understanding of human evolution, our relationship to our closest relatives, and how we became the species we are--and what we might become in the future.

There's a lot of ground to cover, and this is a survey, not a textbook. It's very well-referenced, but in some cases he's relying on cutting edge research that, inevitably, will not all hold up. He also ventures into some touchy areas that not all readers will b...more
Ryan
Before the Dawn is an interesting, well-written summary of how genetics has shed light on human development. Because the Y chromosome in males doesn't change during reproduction (it can't mix with female genes the way other parts of chromosomes mix), it stays unchanged (except for minor mutations) over time. Similarly, the mitochondrion DNA from women doesn't change (the sperm's mitochondria are destroyed). Because of this, all humans can be traced back to a single man and woman. The book convin...more
Alan Kaufmann
One of the best books on the evolution of humans in a long time. Not since "Guns, Germs and Steel" has a book put forth such novel ideas about why we are the way we are. This book covers a lot of ground, summarizing the reasearch, conclusions and speculations of many of the world's leading geneticists on topics ranging from why (and when) hominids began walking upright to when we started wearing tailored clothes to how evolution is continuing in human populations right on up to the present.

While...more
Rex Fuller
Traveling back in time, at 5,000 years ago our written records disappear. At 15,000 years ago, human settlements disappear. About 50,000 years ago all language disappears, and our ancestral humans are nowhere to be found outside of northeast Africa. What did the first language sound like? When did we make fitted clothes? When did we start living with dogs, or was it vice versa? Did we go to India on the way to Siberia and the Americas? Where did we first domesticate grain? This book gives fascin...more
Mistress Eva
While some of the information contained in this book is a little out-of-date, specifically the Neanderthal and human interbreeding issue, it does provide a very fascinating overview of human history. As an anthropologist myself, I realize that there were many areas of speculation, some of which was more dubious than others, but anyone who reads about human history that far back should expect that. When speculating, Wade doesn't use language of certainty, but rather use phrases like "could have b...more
David Schwinghammer
Using DNA markers, scientists have traced our origin to a hundred and fifty hunter gatherers.



Is Evolution a theory or a fact? After reading Nicholas Wade’s BEFORE THE DAWN, there seems to be little doubt that it is a fact.



Scientists can now trace, using the DNA of a louse, when people first began wearing clothes. They can trace our ancestors to 5,000 people who lived in Northern Africa 45,000 years ago. Using mitochondrial DNA, scientists have identified three main branches of humankind bearing...more
P.
Apr 10, 2008 P. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: DNA/Prehistory/Origins of mankind
Before the Dawn is a discussion about the deep history of mankind. It ranges from his belief in one and only one successful emigration from Africa and the marshalling of his rationale to justify it. He includes much well thought and well researched information about such disparate groups and concepts as the Yellow Emperor, the Yananamo, warfare as a Darwinian adaptation, present day and Holocene evolution. It is a wonderful book full of bon mots and insight.
Peter Stuckings
Excellent book that details the present theories on where humans originated from in Africa, what they might have looked and lived like, when they departed the ancestral homeland, and what forces shaped them as they colonised the rest of the planet. A fascinating and little understood topic is what happened to humanity's competitors such as the Neanderthals and Homo Ergaster. Based on the prevalence of brutish and violent survivalism practised by our early ancestors, my guess is they triumphed by...more
Jrobertus
This book focuses on scientific knowledge about the evolution of man, emphasizing what DNA sequences tell us about our history. Wade is a journalist and his writing style is very engaging for a popular book on a technical subject. He shows how modern DNA analysis can complement archeology, and bear on our understanding of linguistics, aggression, cultural patterns and civilization as we know it. A really fun read.
Robin
Oct 04, 2012 Robin rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: owned
Very interesting and readable, but since Wade is a journalist and not a scientist I got the feeling that some important distinctions were being elided in the name of readability. So it was clear and easy to follow, but I think some important nuances in the scholarship he was drawing from were lost. A good book to read in conjunction with others on the subject, not as an authoritative source on its own.
Morgan
One of my favorite historical topics:
Where do we come from?
Why do we act the way we do?
When did we first start talking?
Where'd all our hair go?

Definitely to be filed under the popular science section of your local bookstore, this book has been and easy read so far. I've particularly enjoyed its treatment of the first true homo sapiens and what our first ancestors may have lived like.
Craig
Wow! Everything I learned as an anthropology student is augmented by this amazing tome. This book is a layman's update on what the research into the human genome now tells us about human prehistory. Human language, geographic history, and biological history are all wrapped up in a compelling narrative. This is the book about human pre-history that I have been waiting for since high school.
Diane
The first part of this book tells the story of man's evolutionary descent from our common ancestors (chimpanzees and bonobos), and continues by describing the history of our ancestors as they developed into modern-day humans. Nicholas Wade does this by explaining previous archaeological findings and interpretations of these findings. But then he brings in new information provided by genetic research, linguistic studies, and new theories to give a more complete picture of our prehistoric history....more
Nathan
If you’re a maverick researcher with a relentless belief that we can wring stories from data, regardless how tenuous, Nicholas Wade’s got your back.
Ray Wilkett
An excellent overview of the history of our species since the first appearance of anatomically modern humans. Traces the development of modern behavior, human migration, and genetic diversity. This book presents many interesting ideas about the ongoing evolution of the human species.

Many people have the idea that humans as a species stopped evolving with the advent of behaviorally modern humans 50,000 years ago. This is simply not the case, and the author presents convincing arguments regarding...more
Carmine
Really fascinating look at human genetics and what they reveal about ancestral human populations and prehistory. Very, very good!
Kyla
Yes, and yet....so many things to pick a bone with.*

*but mostly, a lack of well-documented evidence
Laurel
I agree with the other reviewers who note that the first half of this book is significantly more interesting than the second half. Apparently, the book is somewhat controversial, and given it is now several years old, it is also dated. I'm not a scientist and don't keep up with genetic or anthropological research much (or, at all). So, I can't comment on the book's accuracies or inaccuracies. It was clear to me that a lot of what the author presented was based on best educated guesses using the...more
Thom Dunn
published 2006. Chapter on Mitochondrial Eve and descendants.
Cary
High 4.

One nice thing about journalists who write science books? The books are generally well-written. (I'm looking at you, Chris Stringer, who's The Origin of Our Species I read before this.)

Another nice thing is that, not being scientists, they have less of a horse in the race, so they tend to write more purely to inform and are willing to discuss some of the less accepted theories. Mr. Wade does a great job on both fronts.

The first half and change of this book discusses human evolution and w...more
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Nicholas Wade is a British-born scientific reporter, editor and author who currently writes for the Science Times section of The New York Times. Wade was born in Aylesbury, England and educated at Eton College and King's College, Cambridge. Wade has been a correspondent, based in Washington, and deputy editor, based in London, of the journal Nature. He also reported from Washington for the journal...more
More about Nicholas Wade...
The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History Life Script: How the Human Genome Discoveries Will Transform Medicine and Enhance Your Health The Science Times Book of Language and Linguistics The Science Times Book of Genetics

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