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Publisher's Summary

Based on a groundbreaking synthesis of recent scientific findings, critically acclaimed New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade tells a bold and provocative new story of the history of our ancient ancestors and the evolution of human nature.

Just in the last three years, a flood of new scientific findings, driven by revelations discovered in the human genome, has provided compelling new answers to many long-standing mysteries about our most ancient ancestors, the people who first evolved in Africa and then went on to colonize the whole world. Nicholas Wade weaves this host of news-making findings together for the first time into an intriguing new history of the human story before the dawn of civilization.

Sure to stimulate lively controversy, he makes the case for novel arguments about many hotly debated issues such as the evolution of language and race and the genetic roots of human nature, and reveals that human evolution has continued even to today.

In wonderfully lively and lucid prose, Wade reveals the answers that researchers have ingeniously developed to so many puzzles: When did language emerge? When and why did we start to wear clothing? How did our ancestors break out of Africa and defeat the more physically powerful Neanderthals who stood in their way? Why did the different races evolve, and why did we come to speak so many different languages? When did we learn to live with animals and where and when did we domesticate man's first animal companions, dogs? How did human nature change during the 35,000 years between the emergence of fully modern humans and the first settlements?

This will be the most talked about science book of the season.

©2006 Nicholas Wade (P)2006 Tantor Media Inc

Critic Reviews

"Wade presents the science skillfully, with detail and complexity and without compromising clarity." (Booklist)
"This is highly recommended for readers interested in how DNA analysis is rewriting the history of mankind." (Publishers Weekly)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Albert
  • Hilo, HI, USA
  • 06-15-07

Amazing information

I cannot stop talking about this book and what I learned from it about our human origins. Now I have all my friends reading it.

Sure, sometimes the books gets a bit technical, but hey the topic IS technical. Using our DNA to reveal our history is the ultimate technical tour de force. What a stunning history it is!

Man (about 150 of us) sneaking out of Africa and fighting off, perhaps eventually killing off Neanderathal AND Homo Erectus. This beats any tale Hollywood has cooked up.

How we got to Australia, New Zealand, Tierra del Fuego all such different stories!!!

The concept of genetic drift and how it is as important as Darwin's "survival of the fittest".

What alleles tell us over time and the fact that in mammals, all mtDNA (mitochonrial DNA)is inherited solely from the mother. Every male inherits his father's y chromosome so lineage can be traced for many many generations whether you know the names on your family tree or not!

Why civilization as we know it did not get started until 15,000 years ago even though we left Africa 50,000 year ago!

Why some of us can drink milk as adults and others, like me, get very sick when we do.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is how we are still evolving today.

And of course, as soon as I finished the book I sent for a genetic testing kit. I just have to know for sure where I really came from.

I have to say that this is the most informative book I have ever read. My only real issue is whether it is a work of history or genetics, but of course it is really both...

59 of 60 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Eduardo
  • Aberdeen, SD, USA
  • 06-29-07

A saga of epic proportions

Stunning, a masterpiece. A very accessible account of vast breadth and not unappreciable depth. This riveting piece of work reads like a thriller. Wade succesfully summarizes a huge body of data from multiple scientific disciplines, honestly admitting when current knowlege is lacking or still incomplete. This book should be read by "non-believers" in the evolution of the human species.

33 of 34 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

A lucid synthesis, comprehensive, authoritative

Wade brings together all the most recent scientific information on "the human revolution," the emergence of fully modern humans some 50,000 years ago. He integrates findings from genetics, paleo-anthropology, geography, evolutionary psychology, and linguistics.

E. O. Wilson and Lionel Tiger both rightly identify this book as the currently best available synthesis of information in the field.

"Before the Dawn is by far the best book I have ever read on humanity's deep history. With courage and balance, Wade has pulled together the explosion of discoveries now ongoing in diverse fields of biology and the social sciences on the origin of our species, and he explains a large part of what is necessary to comprehend the human condition." E. O. Wilson.

"Into the turmoiled and sultry fray of controversy about human evolution and human nature, Nicholas Wade has delivered an impeccable, fearless, responsible, and absorbing account of the real story. . . . Bound to be the gold standard in the field for a very long time." Lionel Tiger.

Wade decisively puts to rest the fallacies promulgated in narrow-school EP about the monolithic EEA and the cessation of human evolution over the past 50,000 years or so.

Wade is always judicious and measured, never harshly polemical, but he directly confronts the chief alternatives to his views on the ongoing process of evolutionary change. He takes up Jared Diamond's geographical thesis and lightly touches the central weaknesses in Diamond's arguments.

He offers an incisive account of Robin Dunbar and Geoffrey Miller vs. Derek Bickerton and Richard Klein on the origin of language.

For comparison, Larson's book Evolution is just a pedestrian summary.

Highest recommendation.

21 of 22 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

fascinating account of genetic proof of evolution

this book provides a detailed and fascinating account of recently discovered genetic evidence that provides rich details and solid support for evolution. Although at times the style is necessarily dry and scientific,for the most part it is highly engrossing,entertaining and easy to listen to.

8 of 8 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Good, informative, but modern-biased

This is a very comprehensive attempt to discuss human evolution and prehistoric life. Its only weaknesses, and these are significant, are that: 1) The author approaches his subject as if modern homo sapiens were the crowning achievement toward which all evolution has teleologically been "aimed"; 2) There is no documentation of how the current "facts" have been arrived at (or even the considerable controversy in the field surrounding the accuracy some of the "facts"; and 3) Even given the scientific veracity of the "facts" asserted, the author draws some pretty specious (although enjoyable and appealing) conclusions. As a result, there is much mixing of bona fide scientific fact and imaginatiive interpretation. For those of us seeking facts, it is already far too easy, in the face of lack of evidence, to make up our own conclusions, and then begin to think of them as "facts". A book that aims to instruct, should be careful, in its attempt at dramatic entertainment, that the reader doesn't come away with the wrong interpretation of the so-called "facts".
Nevertheless, in its scope, it is admirable, bringing as it does to a large lay public, an important and stunning body of information painstakingly derived from scientific study that is almost entirely new during the last 50 yrs.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent overview of recent research

Good, new information put together in a comprehensible and listenable way.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful Book!

This book was so interesting. I just received DNA test results from National Geographic's Genographic Project run by Dr. Spencer Wells and this book puts all of the recent advances in genographic archeology into terms a layman can understand. The reader does a terrific job and has a pleasant and interesting voice. If you are interested in our distant ancestors and how we populated the world I totally recommend this book.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Bonnie
  • Bellmore, NY, United States
  • 09-01-07

History of humans through science

This was captivating for me. I admit it might be a bit droll for those who do not have a handle on biology and science. However I found the insights fascinating, and insightful. When we say we are all brothers and sisters this proves it. Showing that human kind came from just a few ancestors.

8 of 9 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Karin
  • Dublin, CA, United States
  • 01-17-12

Superb account of the origins of modern humans

I've been absolutely enthralled with this book, a seamless narrative that knits together the latest theories of human evolution and pre-history with the latest advances in genetics, paleontology, and archaeology. The narration is smooth (and I love the narrator's deep, trained voice), and the subject matter is both fresh and deeply fascinating.

The book starts with an account of how scientists were able to surmise the earliest date of fitted & sewn clothing by analyzing the DNA of the body louse, and continues on from there, covering topics as wide-ranging as social dynamics and warfare in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, to the genetic history of isolated populations like Icelanders and Ashkenazi Jews, from the first domestication of dogs to a long-running Russian experiment in domesticating silver foxes. Other topics discussed include efforts to find the proto-language of the first modern humans; race and genetics; warfare among chimpanzees as compared to warfare as practiced in prehistory; whether Celts were pushed into remote corners of the British Isles or assimilated into the general population after the Saxon conquest of England; and the origins of organized religion.

Thought-provoking and has certainly gotten me to rethink a few things.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Superb account of the origins of modern humans

I've been absolutely enthralled with this book, a seamless narrative that knits together the latest theories of human evolution and pre-history with the latest advances in genetics, paleontology, and archaeology. The narration is smooth (and I love the narrator's deep, trained voice), and the subject matter is both fresh and deeply fascinating.

The book starts with an account of how scientists were able to surmise the earliest date of fitted & sewn clothing by analyzing the DNA of the body louse, and continues on from there, covering topics as wide-ranging as social dynamics and warfare in prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, to the genetic history of isolated populations like Icelanders and Ashkenazi Jews, from the first domestication of dogs to a long-running Russian experiment in domesticating silver foxes. Other topics discussed include efforts to find the proto-language of the first modern humans; race and genetics; warfare among chimpanzees as compared to warfare as practiced in prehistory; whether Celts were pushed into remote corners of the British Isles or assimilated into the general population after the Saxon conquest of England; and the origins of organized religion.

Thought-provoking and has certainly gotten me to rethink a few things.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful