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Publisher's Summary

A preeminent geneticist hunts the Neanderthal genome to answer the biggest question of them all: What does it mean to be human?
What can we learn from the genes of our closest evolutionary relatives? Neanderthal Man tells the story of geneticist Svante Pbo’s mission to answer that question, beginning with the study of DNA in Egyptian mummies in the early 1980s and culminating in his sequencing of the Neanderthal genome in 2009. From Pbo, we learn how Neanderthal genes offer a unique window into the lives of our hominin relatives and may hold the key to unlocking the mystery of why humans survived while Neanderthals went extinct. Drawing on genetic and fossil clues, Pbo explores what is known about the origin of modern humans and their relationship to the Neanderthals and describes the fierce debate surrounding the nature of the two species’ interactions.
A riveting story about a visionary researcher and the nature of scientific inquiry, Neanderthal Man offers rich insight into the fundamental question of who we are.
©2014 Svante Pääbo (P)2014 Audible Inc.
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By Mark on 08-29-15

Not really about Neanderthal man

I’m very interested in Neanderthal Man. I’ve always been intrigued by this species of hominin that appeared very well adapted to survival. They were solid, well-built folks who looked like they would be much better at toughing out an ice-age, without thermal underwear, than we puny humans. And yet they didn’t survive. We cunningly killed them off, somehow. Either by defeating them in battle or outcompeting them for resources; I’m not exactly sure how we managed it, and that is all part of the fascination.

But this book isn’t about that story. This book is in fact the autobiography of a Swedish scientist who painstakingly uncovered the Neanderthal genome by analysing samples from ancient Neanderthal bones – an incredibly difficult task. It’s a proper autobiography, with extra-marital affairs and sex on the beach, but its main focus is the epic scientific endeavour to find the genome, spread over many years and including countless tribulations and setbacks.

If I’d read the by-line of the book (‘in search of lost genomes’), then I’d probably have realised that it was not going to be about Neanderthals, how they lived, what they got up to, why they succumbed to extinction, but I didn’t. As it was, the story of the quest for the genome was still fascinating and well worth a listen.

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34 of 34 people found this review helpful


By Lisa Hurring on 12-20-14

Fascinating, well-balanced read

What made the experience of listening to Neanderthal Man the most enjoyable?

I absolutely loved this book. For a subject with great potential for being a very dry read - it is a play-by-play recount of a couple of decades work on sequencing archaic DNA, after all - I was glad to find it a very engaging, well paced, and extremely well-written read.

I have a science background and am well-read in this specific topic, but the author wrote the details of genetic research in a manner that lay persons too could readily follow, whilst not dumbing it down. The story of the unceasing struggles over the years to first find archaic DNA, and to then coax it to reveal its secrets using what were for many years extremely labour-intensive techniques, is an inspiring theme in itself for anyone working on an extended and challenging project. The staggered evolution of lab technology since the project's beginnings, and the impacts both positive and negative that these had on the research progress was a tale worth telling in its own right. Not much is visible in the public arena of the hard work and innumerable setbacks that scientific researchers go through behind the scenes, and it is easy I think for the public to imagine that 'they' just put a few pieces of bone into a machine, press a button, and suddenly a holographic image pops up of the decedent in question, glaring out at them with heavy Neanderthal frown and clutching his lower paleolithic spiked club. This book shares the true nature of genetic archaeology, politics, scandals and all.

Speaking of which, I also enjoyed the human aspects of the research project team. Hearing stories of the interpersonal dynamics at play both within the research team and between them and external bodies nicely rounded out the scientific aspects of the story. Some reviewers on Amazon did feel the more personal stories of the author's love life a bit unnecessary, but whilst surprised at the direction the book took I didn't mind those either; it was nice to hear more of the human being writing the story beyond his research prowess, especially since the book already had me hooked from the start.

Overall this is a great book that I'll certainly listen to again. Having read (i.e. listened to!) many other books on evolution, especially of humans, it was invaluable to hear the stories behind the genome sequencing I had heard so much of and have seen referenced so often in other books. The new information regarding Neanderthal lineage and that of related groups, such as the Denisovans, shed so much invaluable light on their history (and some big surprises too) that a book specifically discussing this research in depth is well worth the read for anyone interested in human origins.

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31 of 32 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

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By Elanor on 12-19-14

the best book ever!

What made the experience of listening to Neanderthal Man the most enjoyable?

Pääbo is not only brilliant but funny and I have listened to the book twice in the last day and looked through the paper book again. This book taught me a lot and even made me laugh a fair amount.

What does Dennis Holland bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

It was great to get to listen to the book also since I could write a report on the subject at the same time as refresh my knowledge on the subject. Really nice to be able to do other things, like eat Nutella and think, while learning more also.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

twice. I didn't even sleep.

Any additional comments?

You just can't help getting obsessed with this subject. You just want to learn more and more.

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1 of 1 people found this review helpful


By Louise on 01-08-17

Human endevour behind Neathandal science.

Great insight into the trials and tribulations of peacing togetger the genetic story we share with our big brained, successful and ultimately enigmatic ancestors .

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By Michele Cunningham on 05-30-16

Fascinating book

Being a retired molecular biologist I found this a very interesting book. However I would have preferred the narration by the author

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