... lively ... Pattison ably combines the adventure yarn with scientific minutiae, tracking the team’s findings, which ultimately refuted the theory that modern apes are close relics of a common human ancestor. Pattison doesn’t neglect the academic backlash against this challenge to conventional wisdom (one professor called them 'so far wrong as to be laughable') and makes vivid characters of the Ardi team. Though Pattison goes deep on the science, the abundance of detail gets to be a bit much. Nevertheless, those interested in human origins should check out this vivid and thorough study.
... a work of staggering depth that brings us into the search for the oldest human ... Pattison deftly weaves strands of science, sociology and political science into a compelling tale that stretches over decades. His discussions of scientific theories and phenomena are sophisticated enough for the expert yet clear and understandable to the novice ... He spent more than five years researching the book, including several trips to the dig sites. The amount of material he juggles is astounding, yet he never loses the thread. His prose is lively and accessible, bringing to life topics that could be insufferably dry and dense in the wrong hands ... Like any good mystery, Pattison’s tale is brimming with scoundrels, heroes, wrong turns and surprising twists. It’s an ambitious work that fully justifies the extraordinary effort that went into it, both by the fossil men and by the writer who chronicled their work.
... White is the star of Pattison’s book. He’s portrayed as a brilliant antihero, Indiana Jones meets Tony Soprano. Obsessed with the tiniest bumps on ancient bones, and peeved at anyone who interprets those bumps differently, he’s ruthless in his quest to find new fossils, no matter what war zone or swarm of poisonous pests might be in the way. Often vulgar, but charming and funny, he commands an army of loyal friends against tides of intellectual enemies ... In places, Fossil Men seems more reality television show than a work of popular science, as we follow an outrageous cast of White’s supporting characters ... The story lines border on the insane: There are civil wars, gunfights, at least one grenade rolling around the feet of the scientists as they drive into the desert and, sadly, a violent death ... Despite ample opportunity, Fossil Men never devolves into gonzo journalism. This is a function of Pattison’s uncanny ability to write evocatively about science. In this, he is every bit as good as the best scientist-writers. He describes the intricacies of the human wrist and foot with the skill of a poet. He breezes through the biomechanics of how chimps clamber and humans walk. And to my amazement, he explains in clear and compelling prose how scientists build family trees of ancient species.
If you have ever been interested in the origins of humankind, Fossil Men is a must-read. It’s a brilliant multi-layered account that showcases the history, politics, and the people who make it their business to search for our elusive ancestors. It is by far the most informative and insightful book I’ve read this year.
In Fossil Men, journalist Kermit Pattison recounts intriguing backstories of the Ardi scientists and how they came to challenge popular views of hominid evolution. Many incidents in the book show the courage and grit it took to find and excavate Ardi in Ethiopia’s remote Middle Awash area, where local nomadic groups are prone to shoot at outsiders. Pattison also examines how Ardi’s skeleton makes her a one-of-a-kind find ... The literary flow slows as Pattison probes the ins and outs of Ardi’s skeletal parts. But patient readers are rewarded with a vision of a somewhat apelike, somewhat monkeylike, somewhat humanlike creature, that, its discoverers argue, destroys the influential view that early hominids looked much like chimpanzees after having evolved from a knuckle-walking ancestor. For anyone interested in fossil hunting, evolutionary science and a hominid skeleton like no other, this book delivers.
In Fossil Men, Pattison weaves the multiple intrigues of science, politics, and personalities into a masterly structured tale. It’s no easy task to write compellingly of the sort of minute details that absorb those who study, say, the same tiny foot bone for years on end ... Through Pattison’s skillful rendering, readers get a sense of being in on the investigation and finally recognizing the clues in plain sight that begin to solve the mystery ... And this mystery is sprawling. In the quest to understand Ardi, scientists explore – and argue about – myriad theories that frame human evolution, from the idea that our ancestors evolved in savanna grasslands to the different possible reasons for why our predecessors started walking on two legs. Fossil Men shows the intricate science underlying these debates, from interpretations of carbon dating to genetic research ... In his recounting of the characters and science involved in Ardi’s discovery and the controversies that followed it, Pattison reveals the imperfect, all-too-human nature of science itself.
an exciting book, full of colorful personalities, momentous discoveries, and new ideas that challenge us to reconsider everything we believed about the evolution of humankind. Although the author doesn’t shy away from technical terminology, the book isn’t written for experts in the field; it’s for the lay reader with a healthy interest in the subject. Lucy became a best-seller, and Fossil Men may well follow in its footsteps.
... entertaining ... a satisfying education on the status of the human family tree over the past 5 million years, and the author provides detailed explanations of how anthropologists tease information from bones, teeth, and local geology. It’s a journalistic maxim that readers prefer personalities to events, and Pattison describes plenty of ambitious, media-savvy researchers whose often bitter hostility has stalled progress but makes for lively reading ...Pattison delivers a gripping and reasonably balanced account of the predictably hostile reception, and this remains a controversial interpretation, although it has made some converts ... Big personalities, simmering turmoil, and fascinating popular science.