Friday, May 6, 2011

Reading update, or it's about damn time...finished reading "Java Man"

Yeah. I know. It's been awhile. I've been busy, and I've been having computer issues. But I've been reading.

The most recent book I've completed reading is Java Man: How Two Geologists' Dramatic Discoveries Changed Our Understanding of The Evolutionary Path to Modern Humans, by Carl C. Swisher III, Garniss H. Curtis, and Roger Lewin (Scribner, 2000; 256 pages). It's tempting to say that the title is longer than the book, but I won't, because it was a good book that I picked up to read as part of research for a writing project I'm working on but ended up enjoying much more than I'd expected.

Now, I wasn't surprised that I enjoyed it because of the subject matter. This is anthropology, from a geological point of view, which is right up my alley. Rather, I was worried that too many authors would spoil the narrative. But aside from a little difficulty at times in sorting out whose experiences were being discussed when, the multiple-author issue did not get in the way at all.

The thing that bothered me most about the book is that in the end, it turned into a partisan screed against the Multiregional model of human evolution. That the authors took the position that Out of Africa is the correct model for the evolution of modern humans was not the issue, and was not surprising, since most of the evidence currently points in that direction. Most paleoanthropologists agree that the Multiregionalists hold an untenable position. And that's fine. But the approach taken by the authors seemed to me to be needlessly strident, with more than a bit of "we're right and they're wrong" chest-pounding. Also not surprising, considering the amount of contention in the discipline. But I found their characterization of the advocates of Multiregionalism to be, well, more personal than they really needed to be. It is the science that should be questioned, not the scientists personally. Ad hominem attacks, anyone?

Still, that is really a small quibble about a book that presents interesting information in a way that is readable and that is understandable to the layperson. If you are interested at all in the evolution of humans, you will want to read Java Man.

Meanwhile, I've sort of started reading The Language Instinct, by Steven Pinker. I'm having a bit of trouble getting into it, but I aim to give it a fair try, as it is something else I need to read as research. Meanwhile, I gave up on Steve Berry's The Paris Vendetta, mostly because I had to take it back to the library. I might give it another try at some point, because it seemed to be going in some interesting directions.

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