The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings Of Human Evolution

Paperback | April 29, 2015

byHenry Gee

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The idea of a missing link between humanity and our animal ancestors predates evolution and popular science and actually has religious roots in the deist concept of the Great Chain of Being. Yet, the metaphor has lodged itself in the contemporary imagination, and new fossil discoveries are often hailed in headlines as revealing the elusive transitional step, the moment when we stopped being “animal” and started being “human.” In The Accidental Species, Henry Gee, longtime paleontology editor at Nature, takes aim at this misleading notion, arguing that it reflects a profound misunderstanding of how evolution works and, when applied to the evolution of our own species, supports mistaken ideas about our own place in the universe.
 
Gee presents a robust and stark challenge to our tendency to see ourselves as the acme of creation. Far from being a quirk of religious fundamentalism, human exceptionalism, Gee argues, is an error that also infects scientific thought. Touring the many features of human beings that have recurrently been used to distinguish us from the rest of the animal world, Gee shows that our evolutionary outcome is one possibility among many, one that owes more to chance than to an organized progression to supremacy. He starts with bipedality, which he shows could have arisen entirely by accident, as a by-product of sexual selection, moves on to technology, large brain size, intelligence, language, and, finally, sentience. He reveals each of these attributes to be alive and well throughout the animal world—they are not, indeed, unique to our species.

The Accidental Species combines Gee’s firsthand experience on the editorial side of many incredible paleontological findings with healthy skepticism and humor to create a book that aims to overturn popular thinking on human evolution—the key is not what’s missing, but how we’re linked.

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The idea of a missing link between humanity and our animal ancestors predates evolution and popular science and actually has religious roots in the deist concept of the Great Chain of Being. Yet, the metaphor has lodged itself in the contemporary imagination, and new fossil discoveries are often hailed in headlines as revealing the elu...

Henry Gee is a senior editor at Nature and the author of such books as Jacob’s Ladder, In Search of Deep Time, The Science of Middle-earth, and A Field Guide to Dinosaurs, the last with Luis V. Rey. He lives in Cromer, Norfolk, England, with his family and numerous pets.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:217 pages, 9 × 6 × 0.7 inPublished:April 29, 2015Publisher:University Of Chicago PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:022627120X

ISBN - 13:9780226271200

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Table of Contents

Preface            No More Missing Links

One                  An Unexpected Party
Two                  All about Evolution   
Three               Losing It                     
Four                 The Beowulf Effect    
Five                  Shadows of the Past 
Six                    The Human Error     
Seven              The Way We Walk    
Eight                The Dog and the Atlatl                             
Nine                 A Cleverness of Crows                             
Ten                   The Things We Say   
Eleven             The Way We Think   

Afterword        The Tangled Bank

Notes
Index

Editorial Reviews

“Paleontologist and science writer/editor Gee has written a slim and engaging polemic against ‘human exceptionalism,’ which he takes generally to mean the idea that human evolution is goal-directed and we are its culmination. . . . A very readable book by a knowledgeable author.”