Book Review:An Introduction to Human Evolution

The book reviewed here is ‘Human Evolution:A Very Short Introduction (Unabridged)’ by Bernard Wood and narrated by Gayle Hendrix. Hendrix narrates clearly and slowly conveying a relaxed approach to the interesting material in the book. I was impressed by the very clear objectives outlined in this audiobook which are obviously very helpful but not ubiquitous.

Wood starts with a brief look at the ancient Greek and Roman understanding of human origins together with later developments in the rennaissance. What I found particularly interesting was the discussion of Vesalius the anatomist. Vesalius wrote a textbook on human anatomy which became very influential although it was intriguing to hear that at the time other anatomists were diversifying their study of anatomy into humans, dogs and monkeys as opposed to focusing on human anatomy alone. Wood goes on to outline some of the methods that are used to date samples – direct and indirect methods. The direct methods use radioisotope dating methods, something which I have understood rather crudely. Here however Wood explains the pragmatics of this approach and I got an impression of how a palaeoanthropologist might begin to approach an excavation. With indirect methods use is made of identifying similar remains of animals and plant fauna and  at sites. The resulting impression was that these approaches involved attention to the tiniest of details and that a wide knowledge base and multiple methodologies are used to derive conclusions. Wood takes the listener through the fossil record looking at candidate hominin species and then working through early and later hominins. He succinctly conveys the controversies in a number of  areas and I was left with a better understanding of the subject while at the same time appreciating that it is a very complex area of study.

I thought this was a very good introduction to human evolution. I struggled at times in trying to follow the thread as I was focusing on the abundance of terms new to me with rather long names. However I would prefer this to having too little detail as it’s not too much trouble to listen to the book again. Wood covers a vast amount of material and succinctly places the listener into the world of the palaeoanthropologist. Human evolution is relevant to the emerging area of evolutionary psychiatry although it is too early to say what impact this area of study will have on the theoretical underpinnings of psychiatry.


Bernard Wood. Human Evolution: A Very Short Introduction (Unabridged). Audible Inc. 2009. Narrated by Gayle Hendrix.


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