Meave Leakey's thrilling, high-stakes memoir – written with her daughter Samira – encapsulates her distinguished life and career on the front lines of the hunt for our human origins, a quest made all the more notable by her stature as a woman in a highly competitive, male-dominated field.
In The Sediments of Time, preeminent palaeoanthropologist Meave Leakey brings us along on her remarkable journey to reveal the diversity of our early pre-human ancestors and how past climate change drove their evolution. She offers a fresh account of our past, as recent breakthroughs have allowed new analysis of her team's fossil findings and vastly expanded our understanding of our ancestors.
Meave's own personal story is replete with drama, from thrilling discoveries on the shores of Lake Turkana to run-ins with armed herders and every manner of wildlife, to raising her children and supporting her renowned palaeoanthropologist husband Richard Leakey's ambitions amidst social and political strife in Kenya. When Richard needs a kidney, Meave provides him with hers, and when he asks her to assume the reins of their field expeditions after he loses both legs in a plane crash, the result of likely sabotage, Meave steps in.
The Sediments of Time is the summation of a lifetime of Meave Leakey's efforts; it is a compelling picture of our human origins and climate change, as well as a high-stakes story of ambition, struggle, and hope.
Meave Leakey currently coheads the significant field efforts in northern Kenya, started nearly a century ago by Louis and Mary Leakey, seeking the fossil records to the roots of humankind. She has worked at the National Museums of Kenya since 1969, including the head of the palaeontology department, and is research professor at Stony Brook University, New York. She is the recipient of several honorary degrees, has been elected an honorary fellow of the Geological Society of London, inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC, was a National Geographic Explorer in Residence, served as a fellow of the African Academy of Sciences, and received the National Geographic Society Hubbard Medal, among many other accolades and achievements. She is also an author of numerous groundbreaking scientific publications in prestigious journals and of several monographs documenting her research.
Samira Leakey obtained a BA in politics with First-Class Honours from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and a master’s in public administration from Princeton University. Samira worked at the World Bank in Washington, DC, and now lives in Nairobi with her daughter.
"A fascinating glimpse into our origins. Meave Leakey is a great storyteller, and she presents new information about the far off time when we emerged from our ape-like ancestors to start the long journey that has led to our becoming the dominant species on Earth. That story, woven into her own journey of research and discovery, gives us a book that is informative and captivating, one that you will not forget."
– Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute
"An exciting and richly informative scientist's autobiography [...] This major work of scientific dedication and original insight illuminates both our distant past and our current, serious, human-caused planetary challenges."
– Booklist, starred review
"Attentive readers of Meave Leakey's masterful memoir, The Sediments of Time, will learn a few details about her personal life [...] But the main and most illuminating parts of [the book] are about the tedious, painstaking years spent hunting for the fossilized remains of our species' precursors. Drawing on field notes, interviews, and research papers, Meave recounts the work that led to some of her and her team's greatest discoveries [...] Meave and her cowriter, her youngest daughter Samira Leakey, write clearly and compellingly about what these discoveries mean [...] A thrilling account."
– BookPage, starred review
"An engaging memoir [...] A marvelous account of what it is like for a celebrated scientist to take on some of the most vital and vexing questions regarding human origins and to come up with biocultural answers."
"Meave describes a life that many readers will envy. Her discoveries, often after numbingly tedious work in a brutal climate, added new species to our family tree, teased out more information about existing ancestors, and increased our knowledge of how evolution, geology, and climate change gave rise to modern humans. She is not shy about explaining all this [...] An illuminating memoir of an impressive scientist."
– Kirkus Reviews
"Fossils, hyaenas, and eccentric scientists almost literally jump off the page in Meave Leakey's exuberant memoir. This riveting read takes you on the unplanned but glorious adventure that has been Meave's life of discovery. Her love of learning and quest for knowledge about our origins inspire every page and will set your mind alight!"
– Nina G. Jablonski, PhD, Penn State University, Author of Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color
"Meave Leakey confronts extraordinary challenges that ultimately yield unimaginably rich rewards. The Sediments of Time offers everything for everyone: exciting fossil finds, courageous expeditions, seminal paleoanthropological contributions to science, and convincing scientific evidence to support climate change. Meave has labored five decades filling the gaps in Homo sapien's 3-million-year journey of evolution. She also verifies global climate change by analyzing fossil teeth, 800,000-year-old ocean floor ice cores, and Milankovitch's sun-earth alignment to explain global glaciation and torrid periods. She is a researcher extraordinaire."
– Gilbert Grosvenor, former president and chairman of the National Geographic Society
"Involved for five decades in collecting, describing and interpreting an extraordinary range of fossils critical to understanding human evolution, Meave Leakey and her daughter Samira present us here with a welcome and accomplished example of accessible science writing in this engaging and deeply informed book."
– David Pilbeam, PhD, Henry Ford II Research Professor of Human Evolution, Harvard University
"A fascinating memoir and whirlwind tour of research into human origins by one of the preeminent explorers of our age; an inspiration for new generations of researchers and the wider public alike."
– Fred Spoor, PhD, Natural History Museum, U.K.
"Meave Leakey has long been recognized as one of the world's leading paleoanthropologists. In this memoir, Meave recounts her East African field expeditions and shares broad insights into anatomy, geology, paleontology, botany, language, and human behavior. Her contributions to solving some the puzzles of human evolution illustrate how field and laboratory work, analytical studies, and long-term collaborations work together to shape scientific knowledge. Hers is a remarkable and inspiring life story."
– Thure Cerling, PhD, Francis Brown Presidential Chair, University of Utah