Humans are the only mammals to walk on two, rather than four, legs. From an evolutionary perspective, this is an illogical development, as it slows us down. But here we are, suggesting there must have been something tremendous to gain from bipedalism.
First Steps takes our ordinary, everyday walking experience and reveals how unusual and extraordinary it truly is. The seven-million-year-long journey through the origins of upright walking shows how it was in fact a gateway to many of the other attributes that make us human – from our technological skills and sociality to our thirst for exploration.
DeSilva uses early human evolution to explain the instinct that propels a crawling infant to toddle onto two feet, differences between how men and women tend to walk, physical costs of upright walking, including hernias, varicose veins and backache, and the challenges of childbirth imposed by a bipedal pelvis. And he theorises that upright walking may have laid the foundation for the traits of compassion, empathy and altruism that characterise our species today and helped us become the dominant species on this planet.
Jeremy DeSilva is an associate professor of anthropology at Dartmouth College and a palaeoanthropologist, specialising in the fossilised remains of the first apes (hominoids) and early human ancestors and extinct relatives (hominins). Through his particular anatomical expertise – the foot and leg – he has made major contributions, many featured in the international media, to our understanding of the origins and evolution of upright walking in the human lineage.
"A book that strides confidently across complex terrain, laying out what we know about how walking works, who started doing it and when [...] DeSilva is a genial companion on this stroll through the deep origins of walking [...] Illuminating"
– New York Times
"Before our ancestors thought symbolically, before they used fire, before they made stone tools, or even entered the open savanna, our ancestors walked upright. In one way or another, this odd locomotory style has underwritten the whole spectrum of our vaunted human uniquenesses, from our manual dexterity to our hairless bodies, and our large brains. In the modern world it even influences the way other people recognise us at a distance, and it is crucial to our individual viability. In this authoritative but charmingly discursive and accessible book, Jeremy DeSilva lucidly explains how and why."
– Ian Tattersall, author of Masters of the Planet and The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack
"Master anatomist and paleontologist Jeremy DeSilva makes no bones about the fact that when looking at fossils 'I let myself be emotional [...] Thus does this world expert and gifted story teller take us on a tour through the sprawling, complicated, saga of human origins. Drawing on his personal knowledge of topics ranging from sports medicine to childcare and his acquaintance with a host of colourful characters – whether lying inert in museum drawer, sitting behind microscopes or feuding with one other – DeSilva adds flesh and projects feelings onto the bones he studies, a tour de force of empathic understanding."
– Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, author of Mother Nature and Mothers and Others: The Evolutionary Origins of Mutual Understanding