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I’ve probably listened to about 15 books dealing with the history of humanity. One thing they pretty much all have in common is that they generally have some kind of hypothesis, or central idea, that they are trying to support. Some kind of new angle or perspective to help us to think about humanity in a new way.
This book claims to do this, but I don’t think it succeeds. Its central idea is a ‘new synthesis’ upholding the idea that human creativity is the crucial factor defining who and what we are. But really, isn’t this just another way of saying that we are big-brained, clever, cooperative creatures who have exploited the ‘intelligence’ niche in the World? I think it is. We all know that this is what we’ve done, and this author doesn’t add anything new to our thinking on this.
It’s an enjoyable enough book, retelling the story of hominids and hominins and tool-making and becoming successful at hunting, despite our lack of any fearsome body parts such as sharp claws or fangs, and our mastery of fire. I’m pretty easy to please on this front. I love going back to the savanna and imagining how our ancestors used their wits to survive in a harsh unforgiving world.
But there is no new theory in this book. And the final chapter, in which the author dishes out a load of advice on how we should live our lives, based on his now-proven hypothesis, verges on the irritating. But go ahead and listen to it. It isn’t bad, and it’s educational and entertaining, it just doesn’t, in my opinion, contain the new theory which the author claims will better explain the human journey.
10 of 12 people found this review helpful
I enjoyed the substance of the book, and appreciated some ideas that had not previously been 'front and centre' in my thinking. Specifically, the idea that animals create 'niches' for themselves, modifying the environment in a way that feeds back as selection pressure on future generations, particularly as the human 'niche' expanded to include toolmaking, language, domestication of the food supply, and eventually cities. The narrator was extremely irritating - he often uses a staccato presentation that separates words into separate units, providing (often) unwarranted emphasis. In addition, he tends to commence sentences loudly, and then trail off at the end into a soft, muffled, poorly projected articulation of what is often the crux of the thought, leaving you struggling to understand the point of the sentence or paragraph. I often lost the thread of the story as I took time to realise he had said 'beads' and not 'bees', or 'Balinese' and not 'Bolognese', or 'forager' and not 'forger'. In the end I spent far too much time being irritated, trying to decipher the narrator's performance, and too little time concentrating on the author's thoughts.