Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Not keeping up...

Time gets away from me sometimes...

I finished reading Lucy's Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins (2009, Harmony Books; 309 pages), by Donald C. Johanson and Kate Wong, a few days ago and haven't yet written about it. It's the third book, after Lucy and Lucy's Child, chronicling Johanson's discoveries of early hominid fossils in East Africa, mostly in Ethiopia but at Olduvai Gorge as well. I read it as part of research for a writing project, but I enjoyed it as a good read as much as I did because I'm interested in the subjects of paleoanthropology and human evolution.

Only the first half of the book chronicles Johanson's experiences in the field, and some of that is recap of the first two books, in which he talked about discovering the partial skeleton of a hominid individual that came to be known as "Lucy" and others of her species. The rest of the books looks at the history of other fossil hominid finds in Africa, in Asia and in Europe, hominids that lived both before and after the lifespan of Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, which lived from about 3.9 to 3 million years ago. All of this comes with Johanson's commentary and his assessment of what those finds mean within the history of human evolution.

It is a good book, but it is also an example of the contentious nature of paleoanthropology, where discoverers of different species will vociferously advocate that their fossil is on the direct line of human evolution and the species others have discovered might be cousins of ours but probably not direct ancestors. As long as you read it from the perspective that Johanson is advocating for the species he discovered and realize that this might color some of his assessments of other, there is good information here, presented in a readable manner. In other words, the information presented is good but it is probably a good idea to take Johanson's opinions about other finds and other paleoanthropologists as biased to a certain extent.

So, now I'm reading (and am more than halfway through) Hotel Transylvania (1978, St. Martin's Press; 252 pages), by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro. It's a re-read, but I first read it within a few years of its publication. I'm not sure I'm enjoying it as much this time around as I did the first time, but it is still holding my interest enough that I'm determined to finish the re-read.

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