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Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors: A Search for Who We Are

4.26 of 5 stars 4.26  ·  rating details  ·  2,735 ratings  ·  105 reviews
"Dazzling...A feast. Absorbing and elegantly written, it tells of theorigins of life on earth, describes its variety and charaacter, and culminates in a discussion of human nature and teh complex traces ofhumankind's evolutionary past...It is an amazing story masterfully told."
World renowned scientist Carl Sagan and acclaimed author Ann Druyan have
Hardcover, First Edition, 505 pages
Published September 15th 1992 by Random House (first published January 1st 1992)
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This is the fourteenth book I've read for my 52 in 52 project, and it's the only one so far that I finished reading in about one day. Saying that I could hardly put the book down is pretty accurate. But the authors, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan made their writing and analysis so engaging and fairly easy to understand, that getting through was not a laborious task.

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors, as I wrote in one of my tweets tonight, puts the Bible to shame. The book is not a parody of the Bible,
This was an excellent book. I've been a big fan of Carl Sagan for the last couple of years now, he's a very good writer and scientist. It's amazing to me that despite how old his work is, it's still completely relevant to today, and he explains very difficult science so clearly and simply.

Most people think of carl sagan as an astronomer, but this book is about evolution. And he does an amazing amount of research, just example after example.

I'll try and write a little about what I learned:

The g
Al Rankin
Jul 23, 2007 Al Rankin rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: freethinkers, agnostics, atheists, anyone troubled by religion or challenged by liberating ideas
Carl Sagan forever lays to rest any doubts I had that Christianity and all religions in general are frauds, fakes, and myths. The need to grovel before imaginary gods and the need to have some of those gods encourage the sacrifice of godsons, first sons, virgin daughters or other virginal heroes on crosses, slaughter stones, or thrown into volcanoes to atone for “our sins”, transgressions or shortcomings seems to be hardwired into our brain cells/genes. These beliefs spring from primitive human ...more
Tanja Berg
This book is written to put human beings in their right place in the animal kingdom. It spans creation of earth, evolution and is a solid attempt at explaining how it is that we are the way we are. It also dismantles the proposition that humans are special and unique from other beings. It is a difference in degree only. It is a humbling read that humans for all of our intelligence should be so cruel and arrogant in regards to our relatives. For we are related to every other living creature in th ...more
The true story of Genesis.
Timothy Davis
After I read The Dragons of Eden, I learned that Carl Sagan explored more than cosmology. He also explored evolutionary biology-stimulated by his wife, the biologist Ann Druyan. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is a book that Sagan and Druyan wrote together. It is much more scientifically rigorous and sophisticated than The Dragons of Eden, and deals not with the evolution of the tripartite brain, but on the evolution of consciousness itself. Druyan and Sagan write that we are like babies left in ...more
Христо Блажев
Сред сенките на забравените прадеди откриваме себе си:

От момента, в който оповестихме, че в “Изток-Запад” превеждаме The Pale Blue Dot (а преди дни приключихме преговорите и за The Dragons of Eden), заваляха питанки дали ще преиздаваме по-стари неща на Карл Сейгън, в частност – “Сенките на забравените прадеди”. Разбира се, трябваше да отговорим отрицателно, защото както тази, така и прекрасната “Свят, населен с демони. Науката като свещ в мрака” са си кни
James West
If I'm not mistaken this was the first Carl Sagan book I read and my first foray into evolution and related sciences. It was a game changer for me. A profound experience.
Plamen H.

Спомням си за една история от българската класика, в която се разказваше за едно малко, мръсно, неуко, бедно детенце, което имаше късмета да попадне на издигнат човек, който го взе под своята опека. Годините изминаваха, малкото момче растеше и се учеше на култура и знание. Изкачи стълбицата на обществото. Доби самоувереност в дози, които го превърнаха в тесногръд и арогантен човек. Нещо, което си пролича, след като той се завърна в родното си място и се от
Chelsea Rectanus
I really wish Goodreads would allow us half stars. After a day or so of contemplation, I took away a star, but Shadows is, in truth, worthy of just over three stars. Not quite four, as Sagan goes to his special place with the obscurely listed DNA strand patterns that (for a layman like me) bamboozle and even bore for a much lengthier stint than is necessary. Even so, the poetry conveyed through his meticulous and impassioned ode to genealogical reason is inspired. As Jodie Foster whispers, gazin ...more
Raul Ramos y Sanchez
This book could in many ways be called the humanist Bible. In clearly understood scientific terms, the book explains the origins of the earth, the rise of life on our planet and the biological foundations for some of our deeply rooted drives including sex, politics and racism. This is a book I've re-read many times as a reference for my own writing. If you're interested in a clear-eyed, superstition-free understanding of our world and our species, I highly recommended SHADOWS OF FORGOTTEN ANCEST ...more
Jul 08, 2007 Conor added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People concerned with the nature of existence and our role as stewards of the earth.
This book was amazing. WARNING Science, science science.
I learned three things from reading this book:

1) The Earth is billions of years old and we have been around for 1% of its history so, whatever we do to it, it is only in our own detriment. The idea of the destruction of this planet is completely anthropocentric and selfish.

2) There is nothing that we do that our closest relatives, the apes, can't do also, in different degrees.

3) If we adduce our intellect as the finest distinction between us and other animals, not only are we wrong but we are
The prologue suggests there is a guiding thesis at work, but it's hard to feel it at work at least for the first few hundred pages.

One thought provoking section was about the evolutionary usefulness of culture. I've read other books that suggest a species population has to be small so that adaptive mutations are rapidly incorporated into the entire population and not diluted, and this might only occur after a disaster or due to geography. This book adds to that, presenting a theory that certain
Ambitious, interesting, daring, and a bit unevenly written. Using the metaphor of an orphan abandoned on a doorstep, trying to reconstruct the past, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan look at human evolution from the formation of the solar system to the emergence of our species.

"Shadows" is at its best in the earliest chapters, covering the emergence of life and quite a bit about cells and DNA, interspersed with sections about how these facts were discovered. Charles Darwin in particular comes across as
3.5 stars (c'mon, Goodreads! Give us half stars!)

I often found myself (unfairly, no doubt) comparing this book to Becoming Animal , as both tread the ground of full embodiment, as opposed to identification only with the mind (a la Descartes) or with some sort of transcendent spirit or soul. But where I frequently wished Abram would stop talking like a hippie and embrace a more scientific grounding, I wished that Sagan and Druyan would open up a bit more to possibilities of things as yet unknown
I thought I had read everything by Sagan, and then I stumbled upon this. I was worried it wouldn't be as great as the other ones, since I would've found out about it sooner if it were more well known, but it was a good read. He goes into biology, zoology and anthropology, highlighting the purported differences between us and the rest of life, and skillfully erases the supposed boundary. I shall say no more, only that anyone with a passion for science, life, and the universe should give this a re ...more
Great book by one of the masters of science writing. This book explores what it means to be human and examines our place in the world from a scientific perspective. Required reading for anyone wishing to discuss creationism and evolution, as well as those discussing human nature in general. fantastic stuff.
I love Carl Sagan's books, and have read everyone of them. This being the last one. It's not one of his best work, but still an interesting read. I now know more about the connections between human - primate - animal behavioral patterns than I ever thought I would. For instance - did you know that most primate society have bartering/trading tendencies? only they usually trade for food, sex, or protection. Or that human beings officially have the second longest parent-child upbringing process out ...more
Chance Spencer
This is an amazing explanation of the process of evolution, the emergence of life, and our role within the animal kingdom as well as all of life. This book brought upon me a few "light bulb" moments, when the big picture suddenly clicks into place, especially in one chapter called "Dominance and Submission", where Sagan goes into detail in how a variety of different species all go through an unconscious process of selecting the most beneficial genes and those individuals are more likely to repro ...more
I'm a Sagan fan & have had this book for years. So picked it up again as the Cosmos series with deGrasse Tyson started. Enjoyed the first half a lot - had to skip through a lot of the second half - just a little too much detail for me. But Sagan was way ahead of his time....
Aug 29, 2007 bkwurm rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who has an interest in learning about our origins
How much of our behaviour and instincts are derived from our ancestry? Quite a lot, apparently.

Starting from the origins of the solar system, Carl Sagan shows how life began and evolved and, in that process, evolved many of our traits.

Comparisons with our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, show that tribalism, xenophobia, territorialism, are all survival strategies. Hierarchies, dominance and submission among the chimpanzees are uncomfortably similar to those in human relationships. Even altru
Brilliant although a bit dark and depressing. I even began wondering if I were not just an automaton following my DNA's instructions whilst reading some parts something that never concerned me when I read Dawkin's The Selfish Gene. Also the title of the book seems incorrect as a large part is devoted to animal behaviour especially Chimpanzees, who are not our ancestors but rather our relatives. In particular great emphasis is placed on Chimp's social and sexual behaviour and many parallels are d ...more
A well written exploration of the evolution of humans and how we are shaped by our distant evolutionary ancestors.

Starting from the big bang, Sagan traces how cells formed and evolved into multicellular organisms.

Particularly fascinating are the chapters detailing how our closst cousins, the chimpazees, display so many human behavioural traits. The dominance-submission hierarchy, for example, and the deference shown to alpha males are all eerily familiar.

As for morality, again, the book details
The book took a long time to reach its main conclusions and points but the read was worth it. Sagan and Druyan argue that there is no 'fundamental key' difference between humans and animals and they only differ on a scale of degree; they say ignoring this truth is only to our detriment because we will never find out who we really are and how to use the talents given to us. They go step by step in the book and dispel notions that were once thought to be uniquely human: morality, love, self-contro ...more
Carl Sagan knows evolution inside and out and turns out this wonderfully in depth examination of human origins, mainly for the purpose of highlighting our purposefully forgotten ancestry. A little bit of cosmology and a whole lot of biological and ecological evolution, mainly a restatement of facts you can get in IB Bio 2. The second half, however, is thoroughly enlightening examining the striking behavioral similarities between humans and our closest ancestors, even going so far as to break dow ...more
Beach Bum
I'd like to write some long and almost poetic review to show my appreciation for all the late Carl Sagan has taught me through his books. I can't, this book is just to good for a poor soul like me to review properly. Buy it, read it, pass it around to your friends. When Dr. Sagan passed away humanity lost a very special and vitally important person.
Melissa Carpentier
Wow, I've never had genetics and the story of life on earth explained in such an immersive and engaging way. So clearly that I was seeing the past one celled organisms and first photosynthesis capable creatures as almost super hero figures. This book doesn't so much attempt to answer all questions about our evolutionary history or circumstances but to bring to light the questions that life on earth presents to us humans about ourselves and where we came from and what we actually are.
Nice review on evolution and discusses the long processes behind how we got to be the way we are. We really are just animals.
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  • Conversations with Carl Sagan
  • Climbing Mount Improbable
  • Carl Sagan: A Life in the Cosmos
  • At the Water's Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back to Sea
  • Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History
  • Carl Sagan: A Life
  • The Neandertal Enigma: Solving the Mystery of Human Origins
  • The Humans Who Went Extinct: Why Neanderthals Died Out and We Survived
  • Life: A Natural History of the First Four Billion Years of Life on Earth
  • Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters
  • When Life Nearly Died: The Greatest Mass Extinction of All Time
  • Why Darwin Matters: The Case Against Intelligent Design
  • Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution
  • The Counter-Creationism Handbook
  • Masters of the Planet
  • Flim-Flam!
in 1934, scientist Carl Sagan was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. After earning bachelor and master's degrees at Cornell, Sagan earned a double doctorate at the University of Chicago in 1960. He became professor of astronomy and space science and director of the Laboratory for Planetary Studies at Cornell University, and co-founder of the Planetary Society. A great popularizer of science, Sagan produced th ...more
More about Carl Sagan...
Contact Cosmos The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence

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“Fireflies out on a warm summer's night, seeing the urgent, flashing, yellow-white phosphorescence below them, go crazy with desire; moths cast to the winds an enchantment potion that draws the opposite sex, wings beating hurriedly, from kilometers away; peacocks display a devastating corona of blue and green and the peahens are all aflutter; competing pollen grains extrude tiny tubes that race each other down the female flower's orifice to the waiting egg below; luminescent squid present rhapsodic light shows, altering the pattern, brightness and color radiated from their heads, tentacles, and eyeballs; a tapeworm diligently lays a hundred thousand fertilized eggs in a single day; a great whale rumbles through the ocean depths uttering plaintive cries that are understood hundreds of thousands of kilometers away, where another lonely behemoth is attentively listening; bacteria sidle up to one another and merge; cicadas chorus in a collective serenade of love; honeybee couples soar on matrimonial flights from which only one partner returns; male fish spray their spunk over a slimy clutch of eggs laid by God-knows-who; dogs, out cruising, sniff each other's nether parts, seeking erotic stimuli; flowers exude sultry perfumes and decorate their petals with garish ultraviolet advertisements for passing insects, birds, and bats; and men and women sing, dance, dress, adorn, paint, posture, self-mutilate, demand, coerce, dissemble, plead, succumb, and risk their lives.

To say that love makes the world go around is to go too far. The Earth spins because it did so as it was formed and there has been nothing to stop it since. But the nearly maniacal devotion to sex and love by most of the plants, animals, and microbes with which we are familiar is a pervasive and striking aspect of life on Earth. It cries out for explanation. What is all this in aid of? What is the torrent of passion and obsession about? Why will organisms go without sleep, without food, gladly put themselves in mortal danger for sex? ... For more than half the history of life on Earth organisms seem to have done perfectly well without it. What good is sex?... Through 4 billion years of natural selection, instructions have been honed and fine-tuned...sequences of As, Cs, Gs, and Ts, manuals written out in the alphabet of life in competition with other similar manuals published by other firms. The organisms become the means through which the instructions flow and copy themselves, by which new instructions are tried out, on which selection operates.

'The hen,' said Samuel Butler, 'is the egg's way of making another egg.' It is on this level that we must understand what sex is for. ... The sockeye salmon exhaust themselves swimming up the mighty Columbia River to spawn, heroically hurdling cataracts, in a single-minded effort that works to propagate their DNA sequences into future generation. The moment their work is done, they fall to pieces. Scales flake off, fins drop, and soon--often within hours of spawning--they are dead and becoming distinctly aromatic.

They've served their purpose.

Nature is unsentimental.

Death is built in.”
“Of all the planets, moons, asteroids, and comets in our Solar System, there is fire only on Earth—because there are large amounts of oxygen gas, O2, only on Earth. Fire was, much later, to have profound consequences for life and intelligence. One thing leads to another.” 1 likes
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