Fossil Men: Book summary and reviews of Fossil Men by Kermit Pattison

Fossil Men

The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind

by Kermit Pattison

Fossil Men by Kermit Pattison X
Fossil Men by Kermit Pattison
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Book Summary

A behind-the-scenes account of the shocking discovery of the skeleton of "Ardi," a human ancestor far older than Lucy - a find that shook the world of paleoanthropology and radically altered our understanding of human evolution.

In 1994, a team led by fossil-hunting legend Tim White—"the Steve Jobs of paleoanthropology"—uncovered the bones of a human ancestor in Ethiopia's Afar region. Radiometric dating of nearby rocks indicated the skeleton, classified as Ardipithecus ramidus, was 4.4 million years old, more than a million years older than "Lucy," then the oldest known human ancestor. The findings challenged many assumptions about human evolution—how we started walking upright, how we evolved our nimble hands, and, most significantly, whether we were descended from an ancestor that resembled today's chimpanzee—and repudiated a half-century of paleoanthropological orthodoxy.

Fossil Men is the first full-length exploration of Ardi, the fossil men who found her, and her impact on what we know about the origins of the human species. It is a scientific detective story played out in anatomy and the natural history of the human body. Kermit Pattison brings into focus a cast of eccentric, obsessive scientists, including one of the world's greatest fossil hunters, Tim White—an exacting and unforgiving fossil hunter whose virtuoso skills in the field were matched only by his propensity for making enemies; Gen Suwa, a Japanese savant who sometimes didn't bother going home at night to devote more hours to science; Owen Lovejoy, a onetime creationist-turned-paleoanthropologist; Berhane Asfaw, who survived imprisonment and torture to become Ethiopia's most senior paleoanthropologist and who fought for African scientists to gain equal footing in the study of human origins; and the Leakeys, for decades the most famous family in paleoanthropology.

An intriguing tale of scientific discovery, obsession and rivalry that moves from the sun-baked desert of Africa and a nation caught in a brutal civil war, to modern high-tech labs and academic lecture halls, Fossil Men is popular science at its best, and a must read for fans of Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, and Edward O. Wilson.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"[E]ntertaining...Pattison delivers a gripping and reasonably balanced account of the predictably hostile reception, and this remains a controversial interpretation, although it has made some converts. Big personalities, simmering turmoil, and fascinating popular science." - Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Pattison doesn't neglect the academic backlash against this challenge to conventional wisdom...and makes vivid characters of the Ardi team. Though Pattison goes deep on the science, the abundance of detail gets to be a bit much. Nevertheless, those interested in human origins should check out this vivid and thorough study." - Publishers Weekly

"An exciting book, full of colorful personalities, momentous discoveries, and new ideas that challenge us to reconsider everything we believed about the evolution of humankind." - Booklist

"Compelling science centered on a polarizing personality, this is perfect for National Geographic readers who want to dig deep into the human evolutionary tree." - Library Journal

"Fossil Men is one of those rare books that can be a prism through which to view the world, exposing the fabric of the Earth and illuminating the Tree of Life. At the core of Kermit Pattison's rip-roaring tale is the prickly, obsessive, brilliant American paleonaut, Tim White, who braves revolutions, tribal warfare, and bitter scientific rivals to unearth ancient bones, without which there would be no pre-history, no civilization, no humanity." - Peter Nichols, New York Times bestselling author of The Rocks and Evolution's Captain

"Fossil Men is a wonderful mix of history, science and politics, full of pathos and insight in equal measure. This book should be required reading for all those who care about how science may help answer the question of who we are as humans. A monumental achievement!" - Hasok Chang, Professor of History and Philosophy of Science, University of Cambridge

This information about Fossil Men shown above was first featured in "The BookBrowse Review" - BookBrowse's membership magazine, and in our weekly "Publishing This Week" newsletter. In most cases, the reviews are necessarily limited to those that were available to us ahead of publication. If you are the publisher or author and feel that the reviews shown do not properly reflect the range of media opinion now available, please send us a message with the mainstream media reviews that you would like to see added.

Any "Author Information" displayed below reflects the author's biography at the time this particular book was published.

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Author Information

Kermit Pattison

Kermit Pattison is a journalist whose work has appeared in the New York Times, GQ, Fast Company, and Inc., among many other publications. He spent more a decade doing research for Fossil Men, a large portion of which was spent in the field in Ethiopia with the team that discovered Ardi. This is his first book. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

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