• Fossil Men

  • The Quest for the Oldest Skeleton and the Origins of Humankind
  • By: Kermit Pattison
  • Narrated by: Roger Wayne
  • Length: 15 hrs and 21 mins
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars (423 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A behind-the-scenes account of the discovery of the oldest skeleton of a human ancestor, named "Ardi"—a find that shook the world of paleoanthropology and radically altered our understanding of human evolution.

In 1994, a team led by fossil-hunting legend Tim White—"the Steve Jobs of paleoanthropology"—uncovered the bones of a human ancestor in Ethiopia's Afar region. Radiometric dating of nearby rocks indicated the skeleton, classified as Ardipithecus ramidus, was 4.4 million years old, more than a million years older than "Lucy," then the oldest known human ancestor. The findings challenged many assumptions about human evolution—how we started walking upright, how we evolved our nimble hands, and, most significantly, whether we were descended from an ancestor that resembled today's chimpanzee—and repudiated a half-century of paleoanthropological orthodoxy.

Fossil Men is the first full-length exploration of Ardi, the fossil men who found her, and her impact on what we know about the origins of the human species. It is a scientific detective story played out in anatomy and the natural history of the human body. Kermit Pattison brings into focus a cast of eccentric, obsessive scientists, including one of the world's greatest fossil hunters, Tim White—an exacting and unforgiving fossil hunter whose virtuoso skills in the field were matched only by his propensity for making enemies; Gen Suwa, a Japanese savant who sometimes didn't bother going home at night to devote more hours to science; Owen Lovejoy, a onetime creationist-turned-paleoanthropologist; Berhane Asfaw, who survived imprisonment and torture to become Ethiopia's most senior paleoanthropologist and who fought for African scientists to gain equal footing in the study of human origins; and the Leakeys, for decades the most famous family in paleoanthropology.

An intriguing tale of scientific discovery, obsession and rivalry that moves from the sun-baked desert of Africa and a nation caught in a brutal civil war, to modern high-tech labs and academic lecture halls, Fossil Men is popular science at its best, and a must-listen for fans of Jared Diamond, Richard Dawkins, and Edward O. Wilson.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2020 Kermit Pattison (P)2020 HarperAudio

What listeners say about Fossil Men

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Oh narrator

I would wager that Tim White or Owen Lovejoy could not listen to the end of the audio version with a single hair on their heads intact. The slaughter of pronunciation of anatomical and scientific terms was exhausting. Not the narrator (actor) fault. The audiobook publisher should review scientific term pronunciation beforehand with the narrator. Excellent story.

72 people found this helpful

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Exceptionally Researched and Very Well Written

I have always been fascinated by physical anthropology so this book was an easy selection. The author shared his meticulous research in an engaging style that opened my eyes to the incredible dedication of field scientists in this field. I mistakenly believed that scientists freely shared their discoveries, in a selfless desire to help others in a common pursuit. Not so in anthropology. Glad I chose a different field of science. Great science book for those that are interested in important historical discoveries and current views on the evolution of our species.

35 people found this helpful

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really good

A number of things surprised me about this book. How crazy competition is, and how petty and valley girl certain authoritys can be at times. I found it fascinating. After watching the interview on JRE, I had to get the book and it wasn't disappointing. Kinda dry at times, but worth finishing. definitely should be on your wish list

35 people found this helpful

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Intriguing!

I am a scientist (not anthropologist) and compliment both the author and the narrator for deep digging (pun intended) into the both science and the scientists. This is a marvelous treatise - at least for nerds like me.

4 people found this helpful

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A reminder of why I don’t work in academia

A very good summary of the search for the fossils of ancient human ancestors during the last 40 years. I would have preferred less time spent on the rivalry between scientists. Instead I was hoping for a deeper dive into the science. The descriptions of the science was sometimes cursory while the political rivalry between labs was described exhaustively.

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a must read for any interested in the subject

It is a great sadness that the world of paleatology is also bedevilled by politics. The history of mankind and in fact all living creatures belongs to us all and should not be under the control of countries that are cursed with bribery and corruption and fossils vulnerable to destruction by war and vandalism. Just because a fossil is found in a particular country should make it that country's property.

This book also provides one of the most insightful discussions on homo erectus I have read. The author is fair and as unbiased as I think is reasonable for the subject matter.

What I enjoyed most is the in-depth discussion about broader and more plausible picture of the development of man and ape.

I think it must be one of the more up-to-date books on the discovery and examination of fossils.

3 people found this helpful

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Absolutely fabulous, but probably better read than heard

I am a retired veterinarian and fascinated by evolutionary biology, so I grabbed this book when it came up as a Daily Deal. I hadn’t a clue other than the title, which I realized is a pun on “fossil men” being used to describe both archaic hominids and the researchers who hunt for their remains. The scope of the book is broad and covers both subjects in detail. The accompanying PDF is excellent.

You can read it to learn about how the scientific process works to incorporate discoveries that may destroy long-cherished hypotheses. Or to learn about how the egos and pre-existing beliefs of academics can both further and inhibit progress in understanding the evolution of man. Or how the fluctuating politics of Ethiopia affected researchers. For me, the best part was the level of detail covering the process of determining whether Ardi was an ape or a humanoid. Because I am familiar with bones and the significance of the bumps on them, I really appreciated the expertise of the geniuses who examined her and the author’s excellence in explaining their conclusions. At first I felt frustrated by the discussion of academics and their disagreements when I really wanted more about the fossils, but I came to realize how important academic rivalries have been to the public’s understanding of Ardi.

The book’s easy-reading narrative style makes a textbook amount of information quite palatable. My only quibble with the narrator, who does a great job otherwise, is the mispronunciation of place names and anatomical terms. The book mentions more than a dozen researchers including paleoanthropologists, osteologists, anatomists, illustrators and computer modelers, but focuses primarily on UC Berkeley scholar Tim White and his team exploring the middle Awash region of Ethiopia.

It took me about a week to listen to it because I needed to ponder and absorb the information before moving on. I may even listen again. Reading would make it much easier to keep track of the names of various people to remember who they are when they come up again, sometimes mentioned only as first names.

This very well-written book is a must-read for anyone interested in human evolution.


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FABULOUS INSIGHT INTO THE HIDDEN WARS AMONG PALEONTOLOGISTS

Lous Leakey and the famous Leakey family; you know about them right? Do you know about Tim White? Remember the Time-Life books on anthropology with it’s famous image of the various hominids, (or hominin if you prefer) in purported chronological order of evolution? For those of us that do, or those of that were ever interested or curious in Anthropology (no Paleontology) this is the fascinating update now 4.5 million years into our past, with all the infighting, speculation, honesty and dishonesty of the discipline.

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Most memorable

In the years that I have been using Audible this book captivated me the most. It's hit and miss even if you read the reviews, due to personal tase. The real life characters were so well developed and described, locations as well were made so interesting that I was looking at maps to see where all of this was happening. I loved this book so much. It was fun to read and an incredible lesson in fossil history as well.

2 people found this helpful

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Pretty good

Lots of good science about an interesting topic. But the author includes irrelevant side stories and too much information. Would have been a better story with some heavy editing.

2 people found this helpful

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Profile Image for Ram Dayal
  • Ram Dayal
  • 08-06-21

This is not a book about the science...

...but about the scientists and their petty politics. It gets pretty dreary after a point. Politics is politics whether in academia or the corporate world, and there's nothing new to see there.
Still searching for a proper book about the science itself