SCIENCE BOOKS AND FILMS, 1986

Review of Not from the Apes, by Björn Kurtén

KURTÉN, BJÖRN. Not from the Apes: A History of Man's Origin and Evolution. NY: Columbia University Press, 1984. xv + 183pp. $9.95 (paper). 84-1842. ISMB 0-231-05815-2 (paper). Glossary; Index; C.I.P.

YA-P NR    This is a reprint of the original Vintage edition with a new preface by the author. When it appeared in 1972, this book was negatively reviewed as a provocative and unsubstantiated popularization of human evolution because it failed to adequately consider evidence from comparative anatomy and serology and incorrectly used evidence from comparative behavioral studies and the fossil record. Time proves these criticisms to be sage. Of seven arguments Kurten sought to develop, only two, centered on man's transition from an arboreal rain forest adaptation to a bipedal, savanna adaptation, squared with the evidence available in 1970. This situation remains unchanged. Indeed, in retrospect, the principal contribution of this work was to focus attention on the savanna as an array of adaptive niches capable of supporting a hominid radiation rather than a refuge for further hominid evolution. Today, Not form the Apes is rapidly becoming a footnote in courses on the history of evolutionary thought and theory in anthropology. It is also sometimes used as a straw man to sharpen the critical skills of undergraduates who are studying human evolution. Its republication in 1984 demonstrates the continuing public demand for brash, popularly written accounts of human evolution.

by Charles M. Nelson, University of Massachusetts
Concurring remarks provided by Jon Marks, University of California, Davis.

©1986 American Association for the Advancement of Science