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Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins
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Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins

3.92 of 5 stars 3.92  ·  rating details  ·  320 ratings  ·  55 reviews
50,000 years ago – merely a blip in evolutionary time – our Homo sapiens ancestors were competing for existence with several other human species, just as their own precursors had been doing for millions of years. Yet something about our species separated it from the pack, and led to its survival while the rest became extinct. So just what was it that allowed Homo sapiens t ...more
ebook, 288 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Palgrave Macmillan Trade
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Given another chance at life, I would have chosen to be an anthropologist. So when I saw a new book about the development of humankind, I quickly grabbed it up (on my Nook). It was a great read for anyone interested in how homo sapiens came to be the premier species on the planet. Tattersoll tells a great story, using findings by researchers back to the earliest times of primates (over 2 million years ago). I learned that the path to homo sapiens didn't come straight through one species, but cou ...more
Masters of the Planet by Ian Tattersall
If you’re at all interested in how humans came to be human–and I am–you’re going to love this! Even if you’re not, you probably will. Oh, in the beginning, he does throw the names of species in, but that’s okay because what he says about each is so tantalizing. So, forget the names, except for Austropithecus, Neanderthal, and Homo, and imbibe the methods used to uncover and analyze each fossil, including ancient weather.

If you’ve read Chris Stringer’s Lone
I read this book in preparation for teaching a course on the relationship between human cultures and the non-human environment. We begin the semester with a section on human evolution where I establish the evidence for a naturalistic explanation of culture. I have had problems finding a book for this portion of the class, mainly because the books written for a general audience (as opposed to anthro or bio majors) are dominated by bad science writing filled with just-so stories, libertarian fanta ...more
I read this book because I'd been told it was a good introduction to the study of human ancestors attested in the archaeological record. The cover of the book claims that it is "the authoritative account of how homo sapiens edged out its cousins to become the world's only human species". The latter may be a better characterization, but that only applies to the tag-end of the story (basically why "humans" displaced Neanderthals). I found that the early parts of the book dealing with human ancesto ...more
Steve Van Slyke
Jan 18, 2013 Steve Van Slyke rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Paleoanthropology fans
Shelves: kindle, science, evolution
Just before reading this I read Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth by Chris Springer. I wish I had read this book first because it covers the whole span of human evolution from before the split with chimpanzees 6-7 million years ago, whereas Springer's book focuses on the development and exodus of modern humans from Africa 50 to 60 thousand years ago. Thus this book logically and chronologically leads you to Springer's book.

Tatersall agrees with Springer that there was a
Caleb Friz
I really enjoyed this thoroughly researched and illuminating exploration of human evolution. It is difficult to stay up to date on all the new fossil finds, and this simple chronological explanation of all the evidence to date successfully pulled together all the disparate strands of evidence into a meaningful narrative. The only weakness is that discoveries are being made so fast, especially in improved genetic sequencing, that this book will probably be out of date in another five years. Altho ...more
Very stimulating to reengage with physical anthropology. Very clear analysis of the major finds in human evolution and the pathway from australopiths to Homo. The decision to become fully bipedal was a near run thing. We almost didn't make it. I like that Tattersall thinks the invention of fire happened long before we have evidence for it. He's excellent when dealing with bones but becomes dubious when 'symbolic consciousness' is being bruited about. It's assumed Cro Magnon had language but not ...more
Stuart Macalpine
One of a few books which have recently come out about human evolution as a result of the dawning realization, over the last few decades, that there have been many hominids wandering about Africa during the last two million years, and that human evolution isn't a simple story of a single lineage. The sections about evidence of social behaviour and diet are fascinating... but the best part for me was the last section which mentions the emergence of 'paleo linguistics' studying the way phonemes spr ...more
Paul R. Fleischman
It is amazing how little we know scientifically about the origin of our own species. Modern science has enabled us to look through telescopes across billions of light years, and has also made it possible for us to sequence the genome that carries the information necessary to run our bodies and ourselves. Modern science, however, is still struggling to create a coherent narrative about the evolution of our Homo sapien species, because our memory is personal and not historical, and because the ev ...more
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Hajira Shaheen
Fascinating read on the rise of humans, as a species. I specially loved the masterful storytelling skills of Tattersall. It’s an anthropological detective thriller - He is speaks quite directly and openly about the various archaeological finds, its implications and how all the jigsaw puzzles fit together.
His honesty is appreciable when evidence is received contrary to the some set notions and his theoretical explanations – for instance, the discovery of “Lucy” – who seemed to be a hominid that
This sometimes surprising, always fascinating book on the history of human species examines the fossil record to explain what we know about the developmental path from the earliest ape-like hominids to the prehistory of our own Homo sapiens ancestors. For most of human existence several species co-existed, sometimes side-by-side. Why is there only us today? A lot goes into trying to answer that question, including what trait or traits characterize humanness, how early climate changes and populat ...more
Michele Weiner
This is the story of the rise of homo sapiens. Tattersall traces the fossil record of hominid evolution through the millennia. He begins with discussion of Darwin, who had the right idea in a way, but whose conceptualization of the way species change was incomplete. Tattersall explains how DNA actually works, and why we share so many genes with fellow creatures. It's not only the genes, but also the "junk DNA" that in fact causes the genes to express themselves in a specific sequence, for specif ...more
Christopher H.
Ian Tattersall's new book, Masters of the Planet, is an eloquently and well-written story of our human origins. While much of the material included in this book was familiar to me, I have to say that Dr. Tattersall's organization and presentation makes this book the perfect gift for someone looking for a thorough but easily understandable first exposure to human evolution. Tattersall's love of systematics, anatomy and taxonomy shines through brightly as he uses the narrative to carefully documen ...more
Reya Kempley
Dec 02, 2012 Reya Kempley rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: All human beings
Shelves: science, nonfiction
One of the reviews on the back states, " will not see yourself, let along our entire species, in the same way again." I could not agree more! This book was an incredibly engrossing look at hominid evolution from its beginnings in Africa, discussing in detail the whys of certain changes in hominid skeletal structure and behavior as gleaned from abundant examples from the fossil record. It covers such things as why becoming bipedal was beneficial from the perspective of the changing environm ...more
Pearson Moore
Title: Masters of the Planet
Author: Ian Tattersall
Genre: Nonfiction, Paleoanthropology
Length: 266 pages
Reviewer: Pearson Moore
Rating: 3 stars

A leading authority in paleoanthropology discusses human evolution over the last five million years.

From the Publisher
Fifty thousand years ago—merely a blip in evolutionary time—our Homo sapiens ancestors were competing for existence with several other human species, just as their precursors had done for millions of years. Yet something about our spe
Victor Antonov
I won this book through the First Reads giveaway program and, to be honest, it was one of the wins that I was most excited about. Nevertheless, my review has not been influenced by the excitement.

Ian Tattersall is a curator in the Museum of Natural History in New York. He has many years of experience in the field of anthropology and this clearly shows in his book. It is a very interesting read for anyone with interest in the origins of mankind. It is reasonably accessible to people with little o
Note that I am not a specialist in this area

The title of this book is somewhat accurate: the book does look at the question of how did humans become the masters of the planet. One can quibble with this characterization - for example, the impact of humans on the world has led to some calling for the recognition of new geologiic "anthropocene" era, but I doubt it will have an impact comparable to the photosynthesis and the Great Oxygenization Event 2.4M years ago. The central question it addresses
Joan Husmann
Tattersall's hypothesis of how Homo sapiens became fully "human" is that function follows form in nature. We didn't develop language (symbolic thinking) and then develop the physical characteristics to use it; those structures must have already been in place. Why did one small group out of the various groups make the leap to using language? That question is unanswerable, but genetics show we are all descended from that small group. We started talking and haven't shut up since.
Well done book by prolific author on fossil records and what can be assumed by them. Tattersall goes deeply into original earlier beliefs about how man evolved but also adds current newer ideas of how we have come to be "Masters of the planet". Basically, what I got out of it is that people have a brain that uses symbolic thinking simultaneously on a variety of levels and can use language. I found it interesting that the farther one travels from man's beginning in Africa, the less sounds the peo ...more
Tattersall ha lavorato con Johanson sullo scheletro di Lucy, ma ha fatto anche molto altro. S’è occupato di locomozione bipede, di linguaggio, del pensiero simbolico. In questo saggio, decisamente attuale e ben fatto, porta una esaustiva visione d’insieme sui dati in nostro possesso riguardo all’evoluzione dei generi Homo, Australopithecus, con cenni a Paranthropus, Ardipithecus, Kenyanthropus. La sua posizione sull’unicità della nostra specie si basa su un esame attento di ciò che è il pensiero ...more
Christian Schoon
Dr. Tattersall is curator of the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins at the Am. Mus. of Nat. History. This is a non-controversial generalized look at the emergence of modern humans and what evolutionary developments and social interactions came together to make us the intriguing and occasionally dangerous apes we are today. There are a few speculations and surprises, but it'll be familiar territory to anyone familiar w/ the subject. A good re-cap, tho, of discoveries and new digs of the past decade or ...more
An excellent exposition of our biological uniqueness as humans, highlighting our newly acquired use of symbolic thought and behavior as what predominantly has set us apart from other hominids in prehistory. This acquisition happened, as Tattersall argues, abruptly and recently (his estimations are from 50,000 to 100,000 years ago; a blink of an eye in evolutionary time). Of particular interest is his assessment that culturally and cognitively, humans can advance much further evolutionarily, but ...more
Guillaume Belanger
Brilliant book! Short and to the point. Really up to date and very balanced in presentation. Writing style is mature and clear.
Loved this. Paleo-anthropology and early hominids have always been interesting to me, but I never got the chance to take more classes on the subject during my time in college. I found that this book was very informative and sometimes entertaining on the subject.

Definitely a book that I would recommend to friends and colleagues.
Brian Cole
Great exploration of what it means to be human which the author agreed he didn't successfully answer. The descriptions of the predecessors were interesting. Another author admission whas the inability of we present humans to understand and express how the predeccessors thought. Near the end of the book the author used the example of how children readily embrace the new to bring or explain innovation to their elders to explain how the homo sapiens probably became symbolic thinkers and artists. Af ...more
Roy Kenagy
Nov 25, 2011 Roy Kenagy marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
PW Review:

"Tattersall moves through the complex fossil records effortlessly and with a welcome sense of wonder. He also consistently conveys a deep knowledge of his subject. His discussion of the origin of symbolic behavior and the many theories that seek to explain early humans’ unprecedented leap in capacity, including the acquisition of language, the development of art, and the ability to deal in the abstract, is provocative and illuminating. Tattersall’s combination of
Zack Subin
A little dense in archaeological details but otherwise quite informative.
Very readable and enjoyable. There were parts where I wished he would go into more detail; I would really have liked more information about the hominids who probably are not our ancestors, but I guess that is a different book. He also believes that no older hominids had actual language, only homo sapiens, even though lots of older hominids made tools, hunted cooperatively, and had control of fire. I find that complete lack of language a bit difficult to swallow.
Julian Haigh
Wow, we really don't know much about our ancestors at all, or even who is. The hablis-erectus-sapien development I learnt in high school is out the window, and the picture is even more murky and interesting. My personal take is that we have evolved because we WILL a change due to a change. The idea of exaptation and eusociality are explained somewhat and the importance of critical junctures and rapid shifts in physiology.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 37 38 next »
  • Lone Survivors: How We Came to Be the Only Humans on Earth
  • The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived
  • The Last Human: A Guide to Twenty-Two Species of Extinct Humans
  • Cro-Magnon: How the Ice Age Gave Birth to the First Modern Humans
  • The Wisdom of the Bones: In Search of Human Origins
  • Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins
  • The First Human: The Race to Discover Our Earliest Ancestors
  • Lucy's Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins
  • Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding
  • Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors
  • After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5000 BC
  • The Link: Uncovering Our Earliest Ancestor
  • The Dawn of Human Culture
  • Out of Eden: The Peopling of the World
  • When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time
  • Prehistory: The Making Of The Human Mind
  • Born in Africa: The Quest for the Origins of Human Life
  • Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human
Becoming Human: Evolution and Human Uniqueness The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE The Last Neanderthal: The Rise, Success, And Mysterious Extinction Of Our Closest Human Relatives The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know about Human Evolution Extinct Humans

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“It is...highly probable that from the very beginning, apart from death, the only ironclad rule of human experience has been the Law of Unintended Consequences.” 5 likes
“Hominids typically haven't so much adapted to change, as they have accommodated to it.” 2 likes
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