It's time for a story of human evolution that goes beyond describing "ape-men" and talks about what women and children were doing.
In a few decades, a torrent of new evidence and ideas about human evolution has allowed scientists to piece together a more detailed understanding of what went on thousands and even millions of years ago. We now know much more about the problems our ancestors faced, the solutions they found, and the trade-offs they made. The drama of their experiences led to the humans we are today: an animal that relies on a complex culture. We are a species that can – and does – rapidly evolve cultural solutions as we face new problems, but the intricacies of our cultures mean that this often creates new challenges.
Our species' unique capacity for culture began to evolve millions of years ago, but it only really took off in the last few hundred thousand years. This capacity allowed our ancestors to survive and raise their difficult children during times of extreme climate chaos. Understanding how this has evolved can help us understand the cultural change and diversity that we experience today.
Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson, a husband-and-wife team based at the University of California, Davis, began their careers with training in biology. The two have spent years – together and individually – researching and collaborating with scholars from a wide range of disciplines to produce a deep history of humankind. In A Story of Us, they present this rich narrative and explain how the evolution of our genes relates to the evolution of our cultures. Newson and Richerson take readers through seven stages of human evolution, beginning seven million years ago with the apes that were the ancestors of humans and today's chimps and bonobos. The story ends in the present day and offers a glimpse into the future.
Chapter 1. Getting Beyond the Ape-Men
Chapter 2. Ape Ancestor (About 7 Million Years Ago)
Chapter 3. Apes that Walked Upright (About 3 Million Years Ago)
Chapter 4. Early Humans (About 1.5 Million Years Ago)
Chapter 5. Humans Like Us (About 100 Thousand Years Ago)
Chapter 6. Ice Age Humans (About 30,000 Years Ago)
Chapter 7. Building Today's World
Chapter 8. Another Transformation - Modern Times
Lesley Newson is a Research Associate at the University of California, Davis. Her first career was as a science communicator. She was a writer and producer of radio and television science programs for the BBC and has also written a number of books, including Devastation! the World's Worst Natural Disasters (DK Publishing, 1998) and All About People (Scholastic, 1995). In her mid-40s, her growing interest in human evolution caused her to try a career change. In 2002, she received a PhD for her investigation of potential evolutionary explanations for the recent rapid change in people's beliefs about childbearing. This work led to her meeting, collaborating with, and eventually marrying her co-author. She continues to study the evolution of modern culture today.
Peter J. Richerson is Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California, Davis. During his first career, he studied the ecology of lakes, but he also became increasingly interested in human evolution. Beginning in the 1970s, he and colleague Rob Boyd were among the scholars who laid the foundation of cultural evolutionary theory. This work has been hugely influential in the development of "dual-inheritance theory", which looks at how genes and culture co-evolve. His books with Rob Boyd include Culture and the Evolutionary Process (1985) and Not by Genes Alone (2005) (University of Chicago Press, 2005). His current research is focused on cultural evolution, the origins of tribal and larger-scale cooperation, and the origins of agriculture.
" [...] a smart and engaging book by two seasoned thinkers and scientific writers [...] The stories embedded in each chapter by Newson and Richerson are ingenious, appealing, and reflect the solid scholarly material presented simply and directly before and after any given story. All the pieces fit together nicely [...] enjoyably readable and profoundly informative about the power of cultural evolution."
"A Story of Us provides a thoroughly modern and refreshingly gender-balanced analysis of human evolution. Accurate and authoritative, with superb illustrations, and innovative use of storytelling to bring the science to life, Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson have produced an exceptional book. Readers are not only given an up-to-date precis of human evolution, but also treated to an expert analysis of the role of culture as a driver of evolutionary adaptation and a much-needed critique of 'human nature.'"
– Kevin Laland, author of Darwin's Unfinished Symphony: How Culture Made the Human Mind
"Jargon-free books about human origins are rare as hens' teeth. A Story of Us – an easily readable 'new look' by biologists Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson – is hence extremely welcome. It displays an expert command of recent developments in fields ranging from anatomy and behavior through fossils to genetics, providing an engaging account of our evolution over the past 7 million years. The focus on social behavior and cooperation offsets past over-emphasis on competitiveness and aggression. It's also refreshing to see proper inclusion of women and youngsters, typically pale background figures in previous accounts."
– Robert D. Martin, Emeritus Curator of Biological Anthropology, The Field Museum in Chicago and Academic Guest, Institute for Evolutionary Medicine, University of Zürich
"A Story of Us hits all the right notes in imagining what life was like at seven major stopping-points of the human journey from our ape ancestors. Original, colorful and well-informed, Newson and Richerson's time machine is a beautifully conceived introduction to the evolutionary science of us."
– Richard Wrangham, Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology, Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
"In this highly original approach to telling the seven-million-year human story, Newson and Richerson bring our ancient ancestors back to life, showing us that the key to being human is not just having a larger brain: it is having highly interconnected minds that generate and share cultural adaptations. No Homo sapiens is an island. I loved reading this book, because it really is the 'story of us.'"
– Jonathan Haidt, Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, New York University–Stern School of Business and author of The Righteous Mind
"With plainspoken erudition, Lesley Newson and Peter Richerson integrate narrative accounts and lucid descriptions to deftly guide the reader from the dawn of humanity, through dense thickets of scientific research, to the origins of agriculture, and into the modern age. A Story of Us provides a rich and accessible account of how humans evolved and why we are so different from other species."
– Joseph Henrich, Professor and Chair of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University and author of The WEIRDest People in the World: How the West Became Psychologically Peculiar and Particularly Prosperous
"A Story of Us is, without a doubt, the best current account of the evolutionary history of our species. The Newson-Richerson team skillfully blends engaging narrative with solid scientific review of recent exciting advances that illuminate the human origins."
– Peter Turchin, Project Leader of Social Complexity and Collapse at the Complexity Science Hub Vienna and author of Ultrasociety: How 10,000 Years of War Made Humans the Greatest Cooperators on Earth