The science-adventure story of the team who discovered the 'Ardi' skeleton, a human more than a million years older than the famous Lucy, and their 20-year quest to redefine our understanding of human evolution.
... 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.