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Science Books

May 31, 2007

The Last Human: A Guide To Twenty-Two Species Of Extinct Humans
G. J. Sawyer, Viktor Deak, Esteban Sarmiento, Richard Milner, Donald C. Johanson (2007)
ISBN: 0300100477

In this truly remarkable book a bevy of experts piece together a roll-call of bygone hominids right up until the last remaining species - Homo sapiens. In an impressive collaborative effort, The Last Human draws on the vast experience of scientists who hold positions at the American Museum of Natural History, National Museums of Kenya, Arizona State University, and the National Geographic Society. There's a veritable swag of up-to-the-minute, groundbreaking details on human evolution, including some recent and lesser-known facts that may come as a surprise. The Last Human begins in Africa 6-7 million years ago, and follows the emergence of 22 human species, which ends with the arrival of Homo sapiens. But contrary to populist accounts of human evolution, The Last Human points out that Homo sapiens are not the inevitable product of one single lineage of hominids. In fact, fossil records show that the hominid family tree has sprouted many branches, which represent the forerunners, extinctions, and relatives appearing over hominid history. And if all this information doesn't grab your attention, then think about this: hominid history is predominantly characterized by the cohabitation of prehumans and humans, which means that we are currently out on an evolutionary limb, so to speak. Filled with superbly rendered 3-D scientific drawings, The Last Human details each hominid species in regard to chronology, geography, physiology, classification, habitat, cultural accomplishments, and possible reasons for extinction. The Last Human is essential reading, and a worthy addition to anyone's library.

A Natural History Of Time
Pascal Richet & John Venerella [translator] (2007)
ISBN: 0226712877

Thanks to geology, the fossil record, and radiometric dating, scientists can be quite certain that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old. But what methods did people use to date the Earth prior to such scientific advances, and can these methods be blamed for the belief that the Earth is no more than 6,000 years old? Pascal Richet, professor of geophysics at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, seems to think so, as prior to the natural sciences, people turned to mythology for answers when faced with the deep mysteries of the universe. Despite an abundance of clues existing in nature itself that could clear up such mysteries, peoples from earlier times chose to associate natural phenomena with the supernatural, creators, and gods. As a result, religious leaders would often attempt to date the Earth, such as the bishop of Antioch, who declared that the Earth was "5,698 years and the odd months and days" old. How did he know this? Well, er... he just did, OK? But as the centuries rolled on, data derived from natural observations began to accrue, until some original thinkers began to see a huge problem with the mythological accounts of the Earth's history. By the time of the Scientific Revolution, inquisitive minds involved in astronomy and the growing field of geology explained that the Earth might in fact be many millions of years old. But Richet writes that it wasn't until the discovery of radioactive elements that a more accurate dating of the Earth occurred. A Natural History Of Time provides a lavish rendering of the Earth's history, while simultaneously providing a reason why many people seem to be suffering from a mythological hangover.

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