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Close Encounters with Humankind: A Paleoanthropologist Investigates Our Evolving Species

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  463 ratings  ·  76 reviews
What can fossilized teeth tell us about our ancient ancestors’ life expectancy? Did farming play a problematic role in the history of human evolution? And what do we have in common with Neanderthals? In this captivating bestseller, Close Encounters with Humankind, paleoanthropologist Sang-Hee Lee explores our greatest evolutionary questions from new and unexpected angles. ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 19th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company (first published February 20th 2018)
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Start your review of Close Encounters with Humankind: A Paleoanthropologist Investigates Our Evolving Species
Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 20th February 2018

Close Encounters with Humankind is a sort of compendium of various questions about hominid ancestors. It doesn’t try to tackle things chronologically or systematically. Instead, it poses interesting questions — are there cannibals in the line of human descent? How much of a Neanderthal am I? — and then tries to answer them with the best of what we know at the moment. Sometimes the answers aren’t entirely satisfactory or complet
Peter Tillman
This was a decent intro to paleoanthropology, but it was too basic to be of much interest to me. Looking at my notes, I didn't really learn anything of note. Which is why I quit reading. 2.4 stars, for me.

You might like it better if you are new to the subject. She writes well, and certainly knows the topic. And she has an interesting background: a young Korean American scientist who looks at the topic from a fresh viewpoint. Hmm. Maybe I should get it out again?
This is a collection of Dr. Lee's columns written for a Korean general science publication. As such, they're very short and not very informative. If you're looking for in-depth looks at particular topics in evolution and paleoanthropology, this is not your book. There's a Further Reading section that offers some suggestions, but I wish it were more extensive.

All that said, the articles are well written and engaging and raise questions about hominin evolution that may lead a motivated reader to i
Anup Sinha
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent Discussions, Lives up to Title.........

I zoomed through this book quickly because Sang-Hee Lee discusses many of the very questions I have about humankind and evolution. She is obviously steeped in knowledge and research but also has an engaging style. I find it hard to believe she originally wrote this in Korean because the English writing is so good.

Best of all is that Lee doesn’t pretend to know anything that isn’t proven nor does she insist on only one explanation. She outlines all
Prima Seadiva
Audiobook, reader good.
A selection of breezy essays on paleoanthropology. They were originally written for publication a Korean magazine by Korean American author.
I found them enjoyable and would like to know more about some of the topics
Jul 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really enjoyable summary of current scientific evidence and thinking on human evolution, edited from columns published in a South Korean newspaper.
Robert Kortus
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fun, easy to read book on the evolution of humans. This book is a sort of "appetizer" for the more thorough exploration of this topic as found in books like "Sapiens" by Yuval Noah Harari. ...more
A collection of short essays by the paleoanthropologist. Interesting at points but nothing that knocked my socks off. She hypothesizes on how adults acquired the ability to process milk and suggests that white skin is an adaptation that may only go back 5,000 years or so. Her ideas on Neanderthals mirror the changes that most paleos now agree with that they had more culture and language than was previously thought. Her support for an earliest human ancestor from Asia, rather than Africa, is prov ...more
Amanda Panda
Dec 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: goodread-wins
Jan 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars
First nonfiction book of the year! This book was fascinating, and I highly recommend it!
D.L. Morrese
May 02, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very readable overview that addresses the (almost musical) questions of: All the kinds of people, where do they all come from? All the kinds of people, where do they all belong (cladistically)?
(Why Eleanor Rigby came to mine, I don't know.) It spends a fair amount of time contrasting the multi-regional vs. the total replacement theories of human evolution, and some of the implications thereof. It's a good summation of the subject, although a bit imprecise in its wording at times becaus
Apr 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I gave this four stars on style points. I’ve read quite a lot on this subject and there were no news flashes for me (although there were a few interesting new takes on some of the established data). However, I am not part of the target audience for this book, it is intended for someone looking to get a basic understanding of paleoanthropology. For the intended reader the conversational writing style and lack of scientific jargon is perfect. Don’t get me wrong, this is no dumbed down effort. The ...more
Apr 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The articles were interesting enough and written in an enjoyable manner, just no real conclusions, a lot of it might have been this or it might have been that so out didn't really grab me. I just skimmed through it. ...more
Nico Van Straalen
In my attempts to imbibe everything that has been written about human evolution, I also read this book, but I was disappointed. I admit that I am not among the target audience, however, I nevertheless was irritated about the shallow treatment of the topic. Sang-Hee Lee considers the Neanderthal genetic legacy in the human genome as evidence for Neanderthal being ancestral to Homo sapiens, which I believe is a wrong interpretation of the literature. Also I don't like her assertion that the "Europ ...more
Nov 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think Sang-Hee Lee, a paleoanthropologist, did a really good job with this book. It's a collection of essays, that cover many topics, that try to answer many questions, but also have you thinking and wondering. The section titled "Got Milk?" had me asking a lot questions and may just be my favorite section. Great job Sang-Hee Lee, and thanks for allowing me to review this book for you. I won this great book on GoodReads and like I do with most my wins I will be paying it forward by giving my w ...more
For anyone unfamiliar with human evolution, this book is a good introduction. Because each chapter was originally a self-contained article in a Korean science magazine, there is a substantial amount of redundant material, which does become somewhat tiresome.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters which addressed the evolutionary origins of skin color, of eating meat, of drinking milk, and of agriculture.

This was a quick, easy read that will be accessible to the layperson, but for anyone who has read
Margaret Sankey
This is a collection of essays Lee, a paleoanthropologist, wrote for a South Korean magazine, offering public-friendly answers to the most interesting questions the come up in survey classes--were people cannibals? how did walking upright make birth more dangerous? what role did grandmothers play in the survival of humans? Why are so many modern people lactose intolerant?
Apr 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent introduction and overview of human evolution! This book would work great along side a more technical text in a course, as it provides clearly written, easily understood discussions of key concepts and topics in human evolution.
Jennifer Wallis
Some interesting bits of info here, but the book felt a little disjointed.
Edward Rathke
Nov 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-history
Oh, do I love learning paleoanthropology!

Lee is a clever and insightful writer. Sometimes funny, but always incredibly informational. She also takes ideas that may not appeal to many (such is paleoanthropology!) and presents them clearly, plainly, and conversationally. She takes apart myths and plants evidence based research.

But, yeah, this isn't for everyone but if you're even slightly interested in ancient humans, you'll love this book. Lee will likely inspire you to learn more and more about
Feb 16, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very accessible and entertaining book on how we got to be who we are as humankind and on how human evolution is inextricably linked to our collective decisions (culture) and our impact on the world (selective breeding, species extinctions, etc.).

I particularly enjoyed the author's parting question on what if all discovered hominin species were just Homo sapiens - how might it change our understanding of our history and evolution?

Lots of food for thought on what future paths our human past will
Jun 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 5-star-books
This is a collection of Korean articles about discoveries in the field which covers the origin of our species. As such it’s more disjointed than a chronological narrative of paleoanthropology normally would be. But the questions covered are absolutely fascinating. It spent a lot of time on Neanderthals and Denisovans. But what I thought was so interesting were all the starts and fits in the field which got us to our current knowledge about our lineage, which still looks like a jumbled mess. But ...more
Devashish Sharma
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
one great book which dives deep into the human evolution. a very intresting and "new" kind of book. sang hee lee has made sure to reach the masses by making the language very simple to understand and free from technical stuff.
the best thing about the book is that it touches almost every subject relating to the evolution of man including anatomy , physiology , environment , psychology , politics etc.etc.... a very engaging read...!!
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked the style of the book - a series of essays. Each of the essays (apparanrly written for a newspaper) answers questions on paleoanthropology with enough information for a nonprofessional in the field (like myself) to digest. How did acquire ability to digest milk, eat meat? Does brain size matter? What about the Neanderthals, the Denisovans, etc. This is the kind of book best read by picking it up from time to time as opposed to a straight read through.
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
Nothing new here. This might be especially interesting to people just dipping their toes into the whole field of paleoanthropology. It is a primer. One irritating aspect of this book is its failure to clearly differentiate between theory and "just so" stories. That is, he often throws out ideas that are plausible, but far from proven. Also a number of grammatical lapses. Not the highest quality book. ...more
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Unfortunately not a fan.

I understand the author's theory however it did not work. The concepts are fascinating but need to be fleshed out more. There needs to be more backing up of the concepts.

The book is written more for someone who doesn't have a background in anthropology/paleoanthropology, but it doesn't change my opinion. I feel this book doesn't do the subject justice and misinforms those who do not yet have enough information to make their own opinions.
Elizabeth Theiss
Oct 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, nonfiction
Although I’ve read many books about evolution, this one is unique in its organization and readability. Chapters addressed single questions about evolution and used brief reviews of research to answer them in charming essays. If you’re looking for a chronological, detailed account of the science of evolution, this book is not for you. But for a curious mind in search of the answers to common questions on the subject, this book is ideal.

Jun 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Compiled from a series of magazine articles, Close Encounters is extremely accessible. The author infused the book with humor and great story telling. Human evolution is a topic that has the power to be controversial, fascinating and sometimes very, very boring. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to better understand our evolution, but also knows the limits of their own attention span.
Matthew Galloway
I quite enjoyed this one. I've seen that some reviews criticize this as being too basic, but even as someone who had graduate level biological anthropology courses, I found it interesting. The essays aren't merely about conveying information, but rather are creating dialogues about them, with us. Plus, I haven't kept up on it all, so I did learn from it. ...more
Oct 17, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There’s some good material in here, but some distinct oddities too. Painting Denisovans as Asian Neandertals is just strange, and her misrepresentation of the neutral theory of molecular evolution runs so deep and so wide that I found myself uncharitably wondering if it was not a deliberate attempt at obfuscation (ignorance always being a considerably lesser sin than dishonesty).
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