Richard Leakey
Origins Reconsidered : In Search of What Makes Us Human

This is an excellent work that will put your mind into a time machine that ventures millions of years into the past. You will also grab a glimpse of what the future may hold if human actions affecting the population explosion and its ramifications on other species and the environment don't change.

One wonders after reading and seeing the abundant evidence surrounding the origins of homo sapiens how the majority of the world can still be creationist in belief. Refreshingly, Leakey presents the reader with the various scientific interpretations of the evidence rather than just his. Some of these conflict with Leakey's own, but he still allows the reader to see the full range of opinions. The divergent views in the scientific community show that the process of the scientific method works. There is no need for a fixed dogma to be clung to. The differing opinions deal with the numerous specifics. The overall scientific laws and well established theories (such as evolution) aren't in question.

Read this book, if for no other reason, to find out about your long lost cousins the boisei, robustus, etc. The multiregional model vs. Noah's Ark hypothesis of what has happened during the past million years is also very interesting.

For additional information on Turkana Boy (including photos and comparisons) see this site. For information on the zircon dating and other methods used to date the skeleton see: Brown F., Harris J., Leakey R.E., and Walker A.C. (1985): "Early Homo erectus skeleton from west lake Turkana, Kenya". Nature, 316:788-92.

from the publisher:
Leakey's personal account of his fossil hunting and landmark discoveries at Lake Turkana, his reassessment of human prehistory based on new evidence and analytic techniques, and his profound pondering of how we became "human" and what being "human" really means. 40 photos.

In Origins Reconsidered, Richard Leakey, one of the most respected and influential scientists of our time, takes us on a brilliant and provocative journey through human history. Beginning with his landmark discoveries at Lake Turkana, and including his fascinating reassessment of how we became "human" - and what, after all, being human really means - Leakey concludes with a glimpse of what our evolutionary future may hold.

In 1984, Richard Leakey and his "Hominid Gang" of fossil hunters discovered fragments of a boy's skull that were more than 1.5 million years old. They soon unearthed virtually the entire skeleton of what was dubbed the "Turkana Boy" and recognized as one of the most significant paleoanthropological discoveries of all time. But while his Turkana Boy caused a sensation in the media and throughout the world of science, Leakey himself was restless. Yes, the existing fossil record of our prehistory was impressive. But there were more elusive matters to consider. For Richard Leakey the most compelling question is no longer "How did we physically evolve?" It is, instead, "How did we become human?"

For this world-renowned paleoanthropologist it is a humbling reminder that no matter how complete the skeleton, how perfect the fossil, there is a gap in our knowledge. Our ancestors evolved from two-legged scavengers into creatures that create. They learned to make stone tools, to communicate, to build shelters, and to hunt for food. This realization sparked Leakey to return to his earlier work - especially his 1977 book, Origins - to poke holes in his previous beliefs and to reflect anew on what makes us who we are. As he gently admits, considerations like these are usually left to philosophers, not scientists. But again and again, he is faced with his own guiding principle: "The past is the key to our future."

In this seminal work, Leakey incorporates ideas from philosophy, anthropology, molecular biology, and even linguistics, to investigate not only how we evolved anatomically, but how we acquired the qualities that make us human - consciousness, creativity, and culture.

Table of Contents
Pt. 1. In Search of the Turkana Boy
1. To West Turkana
2. A Giant Lake
3. The Turkana Boy
Pt. 2. In Search of Beginnings
4. Of Myths and Molecules
5. Upright Apes and Family Relations
6. The Human Bush
7. The Black Skull
Pt. 3. In Search of Humanity
8. Human Origins
9. This Way Lies Humanity
10. A Pendulum Swings Too Far
11. The Human Milieu
Pt. 4. In Search of Modern Humans
12. The Mystery of Modern Humans
13. Mitochondrial Eve and Human Violence
Pt. 5. In Search of the Modern Human Mind
14. The Loom of Language
15. Evidence of Mind
16. Murder in a Zoo
17. Consciousness: Mirror on the Mind
18. Windows on Other Worlds
Pt. 6. In Search of the Future
19. Origins Reconsidered

On a related note see PBS's In Search of Human Origins, part 2, part 3.