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The Origin Of Humankind

(The Science Masters Series)

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  872 ratings  ·  63 reviews
“The name Leakey is synonymous with the study of human origins,” wrote The New York Times. The renowned family of paleontologists—Louis Leakey, Mary Leakey, and their son Richard Leakey—has vastly expanded our understanding of human evolution. The Origin of Humankind is Richard Leakey’s personal view of the development of Homo Sapiens. At the heart of his new picture of ev ...more
Paperback, 190 pages
Published August 23rd 1996 by Basic Books (first published 1981)
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Average rating 3.94  · 
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 ·  872 ratings  ·  63 reviews

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Jul 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: early-man, history
If you're interested in man's roots, there are several authors you must read:

Birute Galdikas
Dian Fosse
Donald Johanson
GHR Von Koenigsman
Glen Isaacs
Jared Diamond
Ian Tattersell
Lev Vygotsky
Margaret Meade
Noam Chomsky
Richard Leakey
Shawna Vogel
Sue Savage-Rumsbaugh

...but the man who started it all with his Margaret Meade-like charisma and down-to-earth writing style was Richard Leakey. His work in Olduvai Gorge caught the publics imagination like nothing before.

If you want to meet Richard L
Kaelan Ratcliffe ▪ كايِلان راتكِليف
Origin of Mind

This book nearly convinced me to become a paleoanthropologist, so not bad for a second hand purchase from a charity book store! So interesting and varied is the work presented in these pages, that I found myself wanting to look into more detail beyond the brief introduction Richard Leakey provides here.

The first half of the book can easily be described as laying out what is known of our species origins and it's trajectory to present day, based on what has been discovered via
Steve Van Slyke
Sep 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in human origins
I bought and read this book when it came out in 1994. An upcoming trip to Africa in 2017 caused me to pull it from the shelf and read it again. I've upgraded my original rating from 4 to 5 stars primarily because of how prescient Leakey was and how measured and thoughtful he was regarding competing theories of human origins.

For example, when the book was written, the Mitochondrial Eve theory that all humans came from a single female in Africa, and that there was no subsequent mixing with other s
Nov 04, 2015 added it
Shelves: school
tHAnks for not using words that are too big my guy .
Emma Gerts
Nov 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
I was putting this off a little, because sometimes I can find non-fiction a bit of a slog if it's too dense, but this was actually deeply enjoyable! With the caveat that it's now a little out of date, having been published in 1994 - I've loosely followed along with the development of anthropology out of casual interest and some of the questions Leakey poses in this book have since been if not answered, then at least the prevailing theories updated with the addition of new information. This is pa ...more
Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is a classic on human evolution in a similar way that "A Brief History of Time" is a classic in Physics. Short and concise, yet deeply insightful, and written by a scientist who happens to write well and not a "Scientific Writer" (see Matt Ridley, Thomas Friedman). The only thing missing from it is some of the more recent research on Genetics/DNA and evolution that was done after the time of publication. Evolution is a fascinating topic. How things evolve over time is endlessly interesting. ...more
Bianca Ichim
Feb 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
It was so nice to read a book that tries to explain abstract things without considering the possibility of "miracles". I also liked how the author inferred that humans should not be seen as noble creatures that have nothing to do with animals, because that's what we actually are, with a couple of improvements over the millennia. ...more
Jul 10, 2009 rated it it was ok
While this is a subject I find interesting, I found this book to talk in circles. There were a few instances that I found very interesting and understandable,but many more that were just confusing. That is why I gave this book a lower rating than I otherwise would.
Robert Koslowsky
Jul 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Richard Leakey’s The Origin of Humankind, is the third in Basic Book’s Science Masters series. I thoroughly enjoyed it, as I did reading two other books in the series, one by Paul Davies (The Last Three Minutes) and another by John Barrow (The Origin of the Universe). All three entries are short, easy-to-read books on cutting-edge science that boost the reader’s scientific literacy.

In Leakey’s brief summary of the evolution of humankind, I came to appreciate the theories behind the appearance o
Sep 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Provides a high level overview of the evolution of ape like creatures into modern homo sapiens (a bit dated surely given its publication date). Fascinating to learn about the techniques archeologists and biologists use to answer questions - not just what and when, but also why - about species that lived millions of years ago from meagre fragments of bone fossils and the sediment layers they're found in... ...more
Feb 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Well, I should have read this 24 years ago when it was new. Even so, Leakey's approach, giving us various theories of human origin -- art, language, mind -- and telling us which he leans towards, while giving the others their due, contrasts with the much more up to date Tattersall book (Masters of the Planet) which I recently read where everything seems much more settled. I'm glad I read them both. ...more
Mary H.
Sep 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Stuart Lutzenhiser
Mar 19, 2021 rated it liked it
Well written and presented. Probably would have been better if I had read it 25 years ago when it was published as I fear some of it might be out of date by now, particularly all the generic research that has been done over two or three decades. Still a well crafted and interesting read on what can be a complicated subject.
Steve Mayberry
Oct 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Dated, but still ... interesting/encouraging to read about scientists drawing conclusions in the face of limitless uncertainty. Less encouraging, but still interesting, to read about how much religious dogma to this day actively opposes scientific discovery
Mar 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
A classic on the topic. I read it many years ago. One more time before giving my book away hoping it will lead someone to science.

I did come up with a new idea for a horror story called "The Therianthrope." That is one of those cave drawings of an animal with a human drawn over it.
Jul 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Very nicely written brief overview of a complicated subject.
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
The story is easy to follow but there are some words that slightly off in the Indonesian translation
Mar 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Read this book to update my knowledge of early man.

The book explored the various definitions as to what exactly defines modern man. At what moment in time can we say "this" is where "we" began? There is no consensus. Each theory is presented with pros and cons and discusses evidence that supports or refutes the theory.

There are 4 key stages or events that most anthropologists agree are pivotal:

1. The human family begins with bipedalism 7 million years ago.

2. Bipedalism proliferates.

3. Brain c
David Latham
Nov 02, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, non-fiction
Very interesting and on one of my favourite subjects, evolution. I'm sue by the time I read this book in 2015 there would be quite a bit of out of date information, but still good for a layman and it sparked my interest in early human civilisation, a period I've never personally cared about but came to look at with fascination. when did that spark of human understanding as we know it begin? When would we as a person be able to hold a conversation, as long as we knew the language with one of our ...more
Lora Shouse
Nov 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a more interesting book than I expected.

The book, Published in 1994, gives an overview of the current state of anthropological research at the time with respect to the earliest humans, including controversies over just where the lines of demarcation between our ape ancestors and the earliest humans are, and just when it was that human ancestors began to think like humans.

There are numerous illustrations of various types of fossils, cave paintings, and human artifacts.

The author gives se
Jigme Datse
May 12, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book really grabbed me to start, I was totally loving it, but for whatever reason, I started to only take little nibbles of it from time to time. Richard E. Leakey wrote eloquently about our earliest ancestors up to "modern human." This was something that I've studied a bit before, but I don't think I've ever studied it in this kind of depth.

This is another book that I picked up in the Acadamy of Classical Oriental Sciences dispensary. I found it a bit unusual to see there, thinking it had
Dec 21, 2009 rated it liked it
I am not an anthropologist; I never will be and I am okay with that. Which is why I needed this book to help me understand the various theories surrounding different areas of anthropology and the key theories within the field. Richard Leakey carefully delinated areas of interest in language suited to someone who is either beginning in the field or looks at the topic as a hobby. He carefully offers names for follow up if a particular theory appeals and does not hid his own opinions. While the mat ...more
Aleisha  Zolman
Aug 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone who wants to have an anthropological mind blowing experience
This book was so easy to read. Don't confuse the word read with understand...the evolutionary theory and understanding of anthropology is incredible. I could tell my understanding was expanded by reading this book but that i could tell there was stuff that was going over my head in understanding of how the specifics of head size, or brain size or bipedalism may or may not indicatae language development...and ultimately the evolution of homo sapiens as we know them. although i can generally grasp ...more
Aug 06, 2013 rated it liked it
a pleasant, short, very high level read about how humans evolved from millions of years ago when we began to separate from apes up to some hundreds thousands years ago when homo sapiens were fully set. the first few million years are especially interesting, if brief. the sections on how humans evolved brain, language and even art were especially interesting.
of course, at about 100 pages, its way to short to really cover the subject, but at a very high level, this books provide an interesting and
Rob Galpin
A good introduction to (relatively) recent thinking on the origin of humankind, including a good summary of what details scientists have disagreed on in the past. Leakey is not however a natural writer, and has nothing like the flair for imaginative explanation that someone like Dawkins has. You'll notice this is in the rather toe-curling fictional reconstruction half-way through the book. Still, it's a useful read and a neat summary of a complex science. ...more
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is a great primer on anthropology and human evolution. It looks at the various forces shaping what we are as humans and how we became this way. I've never taken an anthropology class and I haven't read about Homo Erectus or the Lucy skeleton since 6th grade, but the book is written for layman and explains everything very well. I thought it was super interesting coming from my psychology background as well. Recommended for fans of popular science. ...more
Mark Fallon
Jul 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Leakey explains the evolution of modern humans, framing the discussion around the different traits that make us human – being bipedal, creating tools, hunting, art, language and conscience thought. He offers the different points of view that scientists take over the moment when our ancestors became “human”. Even with the evidence gained through better dating methods and DNA, the arguments are far from settled.
May 31, 2008 rated it really liked it
While I found this book to be a bit technical at the time I read it, anybody interested in human origins (NOT the biblical sort....) is morally required to read anything they can get their hands on by anybody in the Leakey family. At just under 160 pages, you really can't beat the information you're going to get. ...more
Dec 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Short, nifty little history of human evolution. Makes for a terrific assignment for intro students in Anthropology and provides a valuable basis for hominin evolution and the concepts associated with this field, like the OOA v. the Multi-Regional hypothesis, our relatedness to Neanderthals, and more.
Jesse Markus
Feb 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
Pretty darn good. This book is almost 20 years old, but it's still pretty informative. As balanced and unbiased as you could hope for. Pretty easy breeze to read, for anyone who's interested yet daunted by the subject. Draws on a wide range of sciences, including archaeology (duh), geology, neurology and linguistics. ...more
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Richard Erskine Frere Leakey is a paleoanthropologist and conservationist. He is second of the three sons of the archaeologists Louis Leakey and Mary Leakey, and is the younger brother of Colin Leakey.

Other books in the series

The Science Masters Series (1 - 10 of 21 books)
  • One Renegade Cell: The Quest For The Origin Of Cancer
  • River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
  • Why Is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality (Science Masters)
  • The Last Three Minutes: Conjectures About The Ultimate Fate Of The Universe
  • Nature's Numbers: The Unreal Reality Of Mathematics
  • The Origin Of The Universe
  • The Pattern on the Stone: The Simple Ideas that Make Computers Work
  • Kinds of Minds: Towards an Understanding of Consciousness
  • The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements
  • Words and Rules: The Ingredients of Language

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