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Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  4,999 ratings  ·  186 reviews
Cosmos, the widely acclaimed book and television series by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, was about where we are in the vastness of space and time. Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is an exploration of who we are. How were we shaped by life's adventure on this planet, by a mysterious past that we are only just beginning to piece together? "We humans are like a newborn baby left ...more
Paperback, 528 pages
Published September 7th 1993 by Ballantine Books (first published September 15th 1992)
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Andrew Yes. He borrowed the title from the film because he found it highly evocative of a mood. What has happened in the past is important to us whether we…moreYes. He borrowed the title from the film because he found it highly evocative of a mood. What has happened in the past is important to us whether we remember it or not. -- I saw the film once on the screen in the 1970s and was deeply impressed by it. (less)
Andrew Each of Carl Sagan's books covers mostly different ground, though he does explore the same themes sometimes.

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4.25  · 
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 ·  4,999 ratings  ·  186 reviews

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Mar 27, 2010 rated it really liked it
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,
May 09, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Diane S ☔
May 13, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 5000-2019, lor-2019
3.5 thoughts soon.
Al Rankin
Jul 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Kevin Cecil
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Carl Sagan is my Jesus.
Tanja Berg
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: evolution
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
Timothy Davis
Jul 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Yaru Lin
Apr 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
If intelligence is our most marked distinction, then all the more reason there is to to acknowledge the more savage sides of our primate nature and how our social configurations have evolved to contain them, and to strip away our anthropocentric special snowflakes security blanket.
May 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: people who care, everyone, no one
Recommended to mark by: James Z. (a Trump hater)
Shelves: nonfiction, favorites
Shadows Of Forgotten Ancestors: A search for who we are (1992) Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan

Carl Sagan and his wife attempt to inform “we” (humans) as to just who we are, how we came to be here, and what the future may bring. They do an excellent job up until the end. Endings are hard. They rightly state at the end: “We are almost ignorant of what is coming. Nothing is preordained.” (p.415)
This book should be required reading for high school social studies. One problem is, however, the argument the
Raul Ramos y Sanchez
Sep 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
Daniel Gonçalves
Jan 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
By delicately mixing the objectivity and empiricism of the scientific method, with the eloquent, purposeful, elegant writing often pertaining to fiction books-Sagan is able to create an apotheosis of scientific literature .

I cannot emphasize this more: Carl Sagan will forever be remembered as one of the greatest humanists to ever grace mankind. His wit and profound knowledge were immortalized into this books that he so well wrote. The world is in need of human beings like him.
James West
Jun 12, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Isaac Carpenter
Jan 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
The subtitle of the book is "A Search for Who We Are". I am not altogether sure of the purpose of SFA. My best guess is that S/D seeks to give an account of humanity from their worldview. However, if this is their purpose, then I think it is woefully incomplete. However, the book is worth reading. The writing is compelling, interesting and accessible for the lay reader. This is the first I've read Sagan and I can easily see why he is so popular.

SFA begins with a brief overview of who humanity th
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This book could have had an alternate title of something like Life, Sex, and Getting Along. It is a genial introduction to the big questions: earth’s origins, biogenesis, DNA, and sex, with short detours along the way that use specific incidents and experiments to illuminate the larger issues. The style is clear and conversational, and the level is pitched toward people unfamiliar with the subjects. For instance, Darwin gets a good deal of space, starting with his illustrious ancestors, and goin ...more
Jul 27, 2011 rated it it was ok
I never thought I'd give a bad review of anything Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan wrote. The biggest problem I had with SoFA was threefold.

Firstly, it cast an extremely wide net. The books begins by describing conversations between Sagan and Druyan about human nature and war and civilization and things like that. They believe that in order to get to the root cause of some problem, say the proliferation of nuclear weapons, they have to discuss how humans evolved. And that led to a topic further back w
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors is Carl Sagan's look back into the evolutionary process of life on Earth. He writes, 'an exploration of who we are. How were we shaped by life's adventure on this planet, by a mysterious past that we are only just beginning to piece together? "We humans are like a newborn baby left on a doorstep, with no note explaining who it is, where it came from, what hereditary cargo of attributes and disabilities it might be carrying, or who its antecedents might be." Rising ...more
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
(view spoiler) ...more
Wendelle So
The book covers the basics, not the cutting edge of biology (genetics, history of life, mating competition, animal behavior examples etc.), but it is sumptously, poetically told in the trademark manner of Carl Sagan.
Amin Delshad
Oct 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
entertaining and well presented. a bit one-sided though.
Aug 15, 2017 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: interested in primates
Recommended to Lord_Humungus by: myself
Review in English and Spanish (below):

Somewhat disappointing, I'm afraid. How you like a book depends a lot on how old you are when you read it and what books have you previously read.

Carl Sagan is probably the second person who has intellectually influenced me most. I can say without much exaggeration that the series "Cosmos", which I saw as a child, changed my life. But it seems that Sagan was really "a man of one book". In this one he repeats many of his same old ideas. If you have read one o
Julio Andres Astudillo
Outstanding.... there's no way to review this book in its whole glory. This one really, really makes you understand who we are, who we were and who has always been with us this entire time: every living thing that walked the Earth. We are not beautiful and unique snowflakes, we are not special, we are just another species, with a unique ego, that's all we have. We are foster children trying to take over what we were merely given. Earth was not handed to us alone, it was handed for everything and ...more
If a book is written by Sagan, I will always recommend it.

This book has a lot of great things. It has history, biology, chemistry, anthropology, psychology and more. I’ve been reading a lot about these topics, so I didn’t learn anything new, maybe that’s why I didn’t find this book as enjoyable as the others. Also, I felt there wasn't a connection between some chapters, but that was just my reading experience. What matters is that conceptually, the book is remarkable.

You will learn a lot about
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
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
Edward Terblanche
Aug 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
With this book Sagan takes you back to your origins and tells you in no uncertain terms exactly who and what you are, so if you harbour illusions about how special you are because of the fact that you are human this book will do a great job of putting you well on your way to understanding your absolute insignifigance in the greater scheme of things. Although rather dated by now (2015) I feel that this book is still extremely revalent as you will learn an immense amount about your kinship with ev ...more
Brenna Bruce
Jul 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016-books
This is probably the most incredible book I have ever read. When purchasing, I thought that the book would mainly be about human history, and what it tells us about our future. What I didn't account for is how far you have to go back to start evaluating ourselves as a species. To start to really ask the important questions regarding humans, we have to go back to the origin of our planet, and from then to now is a huge leap. So not only is this book poetic and honest, it is very educational, and ...more
Heirloom Books
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
Sheng Peng
Feb 11, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It's likely that we will start fighting speciesism seriously in the next hundred years or so, if the extrapolation of the uprisings of feminism and civil right movements is not too wild. And the success of this new enterprise will be even harder to secure, considering the suppressed is not expected to be joining forces with its human proponents. Among these, Carl Sagan is an exemplary fugleman at the forefront.
Jul 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
I'm not typically one for the life sciences, but—as always—Sagan and Druyan have a way of explaining it well. Took me a while to finish after a few false starts a couple of years ago, but most of it managed to go by in a few weekends this summer.
Tristan Baxter
May 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic read. Really gives you a great perspective and insight into how we've come to be and the way we once were. Good reading for who is a Sagan fan or has an interest in early life and evolution.
Ben Morgan
Jul 06, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-for-sam
See my review for Pale Blue Dot.
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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
“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.”
“If the Earth were as old as a person, a typical organism would be born, live and die in a sliver of a second. We are fleeting, transitional creatures, snowflakes fallen on the hearth fire.” 8 likes
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