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A preview of Masters of the Planet

NCSE is pleased to offer a free preview (PDF) of Ian Tattersall's Masters of the Planet: The Search for Our Human Origins (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). The excerpt consists of chapter 10, "Who Were the Neanderthals?" Tattertall writes, "Homo neanderthalensis occupies a very special place in the hominid pantheon because it was the first extinct hominid species to be discovered and named, back in the mid-nineteenth century. Largely as a result of this accident of history, the Neanderthals have always loomed very large in considerations of our own evolution — although it has for long been evident that they were not direct human precursors as was suggested early on, and there is fairly general agreement by now that they deserve recognition as a distinctive hominid species in their own right."

The reviewer for Nature described Masters of the Planet as "succinct and masterful," adding, "Tattersall takes us from 6 million years ago in Africa's Rift Valley to the present day. On the way, he brilliantly describes humanity's cousins and rivals, from apes to the other hominins that competed with H. sapiens as, tens of thousands of years ago, our ancestors made the cognitive leap to symbolic thought." And Nick Lane praised it as "a book full of wisdom: the distillation of a lifetime's experience combined with finely honed critical faculties. ... The best guide to human origins that I have ever read." Tattersall is a Curator in the Division of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History, where he co-curates the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins.