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Before The Dawn: Recovering The Lost History Of Our Ancestors

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  3,337 Ratings  ·  245 Reviews
A provocative alternate history of humanity's ancient ancestry and the evolution of human nature draws on ground-breaking scientific findings to offer insight into such debated issues as the evolution of language and race, the domestication of companion animals, and the defeat of the Neanderthals.
Published June 1st 2010 by Duckworth Publishing (first published 2006)
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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
Feb 23, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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 Genetic research is moving so quickly, that there were always going to be things that have been superseded.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
Oct 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review: This review will be in 2 parts; an overview of how I felt about it & a bunch of notes on interesting things I want to remember about it.

This book puts together, in layman's terms, the results of anthropologists, biologists, & gene mapping into a comprehensive history of the human race. Since DNA testing is now possible & the human genome project is done, they can sample areas (generally people don't move far from where they're born) & see when & where they came from.
Jul 14, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, favorites
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
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 22, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfic-science
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
Jun 14, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Steve Van Slyke
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Tina Cipolla
Feb 03, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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Mar 26, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: worst-books-ever
I cannot believe it took me 3/4 of the book to realize who this author was. I really could have saved myself a lot of time if I had only connected the name with his newer, even more racist, book.

This book had an incredible amount of potential. It highlights all the best material I learned in my Anthropology of Evolution class. Wade uses a mix of solid science (some stellar science, actually) and a bunch of unsubstantiated old school evolutionary psychology bullshit to tell the epic story of huma
May 15, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 13, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
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.
May 07, 2016 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is an extraordinarily bad book, although it starts out well. As a sociology Ph.D. student (currently “dissertating” as of May 2016) focusing on science and technology as well as economic sociology, I have started to reprise the human origins literature looking for information about tool use (as deep background for my own work) as well as the adoption of boats. I was drawn to Wade’s book via the Amazon megamachine and purchased it because it was the product of a long-time science journalist. ...more
Jocelyn mel
Nov 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book. I am really turned on by the knowledge we've gained about primate and human history on earth as a result of DNA and mitochondrial DNA studies. It's astounding how much overlap there is between previous theories of archeology and linguistics and this new data that science is compiling about the migration and evolutions (up to the present even!) of people. It's just a fascinating book in general, and I especially admire the tone that is set for considering topics that are par ...more
Timothy Riley
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A early migration out of Africa took a coastal route through to Australia and Oceania. Genetics and linquistics support the idea that some coastal peoples are related along the route today but most of the living sites would be underwater today. Ocean levels were much lower because of water trapped in glaciers. Some evidence suggests that they were forced to take the coastal route because of aggressive Neanderthal populations. One branch broke off and went northwest through Iran, Turkey and began ...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
Jun 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: evolution
Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade

Before the Dawn is a fascinating book that uncovers the origins of our humanity. Nicholas Wade through the use of genetics was able to answer some of the most interesting questions about our ancestors. This 320-page book is composed of the following chapters: 1. Genetics & Genesis, 2. Metamorphosis, 3. First Words, 4. Eden, 5. Exodus, 6. Stasis, 7. Settlement, 8. Sociality, 9. Race, 10.Language, 11.History, and 12
Jun 28, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 16, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Before the dawn opened my eyes to a lot of what we've learned about evolution and human pre-history in the past decade and a half. A lot of his points are interesting, but I have two minor issues with the book. 1. For a book about science and fact, Wade leaned too heavily on conjecture and speculation. A large part of science is hypothesis, and I appreciated him filling in the gaps with leading theories, but unfortunately he presented them as near facts. 2. To Nicholas Wade, DNA is the single bi ...more
Alan Kaufmann
Nov 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed
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.

Rex Fuller
Oct 01, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Cindy Dyson Eitelman
Aug 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
I wanted to start off this review with a jibe at the 'Paleo diet' fad, but I quickly realized that would be an insult to this scholarly review of human history and the study thereof. This is an awesome work! He includes the most recent findings, theories, and ongoing studies of genetics, archeology, paleoanthropology, historical linguistics, primatology, social anthropology, evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology and evolutionary anthropology; and there may be a little geography throw ...more
Aug 14, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Apr 10, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 04, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
May 20, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Easy to read, not too dense and accessible material. In essence, it's an overview of the impact of genetics (the discovery of the human genome in 2003) on biology, paleontology, acheology, psychology, linguistics, sociology and history.

In 12 chapters, Wade describes how humanity originated. He begins by describing our common ancestry with chimpanzees and bonobos and modern humanity's eventual exodus out of Africa (around 15.000 BC). Then he describes how early humans left their hunting and gathe
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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
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“The most fundamental, a major shift from the ape brand of sociality, was the human nuclear family, which gave all males a chance at procreation along with incentives to cooperate with others in foraging and defense. A second element, developed from an instinct shared with other primates, was a sense of fairness and reciprocity, extended in human societies to a propensity for exchange and trade with other groups. A third element was language. And the fourth, a defense against the snares of language, was religion. All these behaviors are built on the basic calculus of social animals, that cooperation holds more advantages than competition.” 0 likes
“From the proportion of Mongol royal house Y chromosomes in their sample, Tyler-Smith and his colleagues have been able to calculate just how well Genghis succeeded in his procreative program. An astonishing 8% of males throughout the former lands of the Mongol empire carry the Y chromosome of Genghis Khan. This amounts to a total of 16 million men, or about 0.5% of the world’s total.” 0 likes
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