Becoming Human


February 05, 2003

Teaser: By Ian Tattersall, Paperback: 272 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 0.76 x 7.94 x 5.29; illustrations: 2 b/w, Publisher: Harvest Books; ISBN: 0156006537; (July 1999), List Price: $14.00

Hardcover: 272 pages; Dimensions (in inches): 1.12 x 9.34 x 6.31; illustrations: 2 b/w, Publisher: Harcourt Brace; ISBN: 0151003408; (March 23, 1998), List Price: $27.00

No one writing today has a deeper and more nuanced understanding of implications of the emergence of modern humans than Ian Tattersall. The story of our physical evolution in most likely an isolated population in east Africa some 175,000 years ago and our behavioral beginnings some 40,000 years ago has been told many times. None of these accounts, however, has more pungently drawn our attention to the paradox of reconciling the entirely mundane evolutionary processes that produced anatomically modern humans (in the sense that they are the same ones that have produced all life on Earth) with the entirely unprecedented appearance of behaviorally modern humans.

Talking chimpanzees aside, while there is certainly a physical continuum that can be traced from the most primitive bacteria through our closest relatives, the apes, to us, mentally, in all its ramifications, there is an unbridgeable divide between us and the rest of life. We are the same, yet different. Evolutionary biologists and anthropologists seem to be divided between those who see humans as slaves to their evolutionary roots and those who imagine humans are untethered by any evolutionary restraints.

Tattersall is one of those rare thinkers who is able to encompass in one moral vision all the terribleness of human behavior and the seemingly open-ended promise of human creativity. We aren't outside of nature, neither are we all powerfully in control of nature. Tattersall rightfully declines to predict what the future holds for humankind. He wisely counsels we must not only embrace, but also seek to understand our uniqueness. To read Ian Tattersall is to sit at the foot of a master.


Peter Nevraumont

Peter N. Nevraumont is publisher of Nevraumont Publishing Company where he has produced books by many prominent scientists, including Donald Johanson, Niles Eldredge, Ian Tattersall, Lynn Margulis, and R. McNeill Alexander.

Prior to that he was a reporter for Women's Wear Daily (now W), an editor at Macmillan Publishing, Managing Editor of the Columbia University Forum, an assistant producer at Universal Pictures, National Director of Advertising and Promotion at Films Incorporated, and Vice President at Ruby Street.

Peter lives in the Wall Street area of New York with his wife, Ann Perrini.