♦ A probing look into what fossil evidence and other scientific discoveries tell us about our hominid predecessors.
Turner kicks off this overview of human evolutionary history with an amusing quip: “If evolution had a motto it would be Yeah. Good enough.” She then goes on to detail seven watershed moments, beginning with “Step One: We Stand Up.” Also covered are: the emergence of toolmaking; the development of larger and more complex brains; the migration of Homo erectus out of Africa; the shift from raw to cooked foods; the evolution of human language; and the advent of storytelling. Using a disarming narrative nonfiction style, the text clearly explains the significance of each anatomical or behavioral change and paints a fascinating picture of life on Earth during geological eras when big predators like Genyornis newtoni, the “Demon Ducks of Doom,” roamed the planet. Turner also presents scientifically grounded theories for why other ancient species of hominids died out. Gurche fleshes out the fossil record with uncommonly lifelike sketches and paintings of hominid faces and full-body figures in discreet poses. Also dispersed throughout the book are thought-provoking color photos of ancient human artifacts. Of particular note is a goose bumps–inducing gallery of prehistoric handprints on cave walls around the world, an image that powerfully brings vanished species into the human fold. The copious backmatter includes a dense, scholarly bibliography; notes on the “myth” of racial, or even species “purity”; and a brief run-through of forces other than natural selection that drive evolution.
Glints of fun light up a rock-solid dig into our Stone Age ancestry.
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review