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John Gribbin and Jeremy Cherfas

The First Chimpanzee

The descent of humans from the apes is well known, but in The First Chimpanzee:In search of Human Origins the authors claim that the established view needs considerable modification. Firstly, they find the evidence for a split from chimpanzees and gorillas less than 5 million years ago so overwhelming that they wonder why anyone still argues for an earlier split of up to 20 million years ago. More speculatively, they claim that the last common ancestor might have had many human characteristics, such as walking upright, which the other apes have lost.

As the first claim is so certain (and so doesn't need much argument) and the second so speculative (the authors admit it might be wrong), this book isn't so much about trying to persuade the reader of their point of view as you might think. Rather, since it is aimed at a popular science readership, it gives an easy to read introduction to some of the techniques used in dating evolutionary progress, in particular the evidence from molecules such as DNA. There are also plenty of comments on the conservatism of the palaeontological establishment - the idea of a recent split is still being argued, and the idea of a human-like common ancestor seems to have been largely ignored, despite the fact that the authors put it forward about 20 years before.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews