Before the Dawn

This is a good book by Nick Wade which covers human prehistory as seen mostly from the study of genetics.

Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors is a book about human prehistory by New York Times Science section reporter Nicholas Wade.

This book explores human history from the development of speech to agriculture and settlements. Its focus is mainly on genetic information.

I liked the book as it is full of lots of interesting information about human prehistory. As a science reporter, Nick Wade is also good at writing science stories and hence keeps it interesting and accessible for the layman.

If I have any issue with Before the Dawn, it is that it should be thought of more as a series of articles than a book with a continuous flow through the chapters. Also, at a few places, it felt like the author was describing some current research which might or might not pan out in the way it is described. However, that is always a trade-off in such a book, whether to focus on the state of the art (which might be rejected later on) or write only about widely accepted ideas (which reduces the appeal of the book).

Overall, it is a book worth reading if you are interested in discovering about humanity’s origins and development.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

It is a book about magic and magical it is. Quite long but fun to read, Susanna Clarke has come up with a winner for her first novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell.

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell is a fantasy novel. It is about the quest of two English magicians, Strange and Norrell, to bring magic back to England.

It is a thick novel, about a thousand pages in the mass market paperback edition, but it is very enjoyable. I finished it in a few days as fast as I could.

This being Susanna Clarke’s first book, I look forward to reading more from her.

I recommend it highly.

UPDATE: Razib asks for more. So here is a whole seminar on the book.

The First Human

The First Human is a good and readable book about the search for the oldest hominin fossils. It describes the science, the fieldwork as well as the disputes in the field of paleoanthropology.

The First Human by Anne Gibbons is about the search for the oldest hominid (or is it hominin?) fossils. It focuses on paleontology and the search for the earliest fossils close to the divergence of humans from the common ancestors of humans and chimpanzees. As such, it describes the fossils and our current understanding of them and does not deal with other related topics of human origin like genetics (more on that later in my review of Before the Dawn).

I was afraid the book might just be a catalog of facts: This fossil was found there by X on this date and so on. But it is much more interesting due to the way Anne Gibbons writes and organizes the facts. It also describes the disputes and the politics of the discipline of paleoanthropology and it seems like this is an acrimonious field.

John Hawks who makes a very brief appearance in the book also has a review on his weblog.