Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

by Nicholas Wade

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Nicholas Wade’s articles are a major reason why the science section has become the most popular, nationwide, in the New York Times. In his groundbreaking Before the Dawn, Wade reveals humanity’s origins as never before—a journey made possible only recently by genetic science, whose incredible findings have answered such questions as: What was the first human language like? How large were the first societies, and how warlike were they? When did our ancestors first leave Africa, and by what route did they leave? By eloquently solving these and numerous other mysteries, Wade offers nothing less than a uniquely complete retelling of a story that began 500 centuries ago.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101052839
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/27/2007
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 461,828
File size: 1 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Nicholas Wade received a BA in natural sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He was the deputy editor of Nature magazine in London and then became that journal’s Washington correspondent. He joined Science magazine in Washington as a reporter and later moved to The New York Times, where he has been an editorial writer, concentrating on issues of defense, space, science, medicine, technology, genetics, molecular biology, the environment, and public policy, a science reporter, and a science editor.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Meaty, well-written. (Kirkus Reviews)

Impeccable, fearless, responsible and absorbing . . . Bound to be the gold standard in the field for a very long time. (Lionel Tiger, Rutgers University)

Timely and informative. (The New York Times Book Review)

By far the best book I have ever read on humanity’s deep history. (E. O. Wilson)

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Before the Dawn 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The book tells a fascinating story of modern man's development and capabilities which likely enabled our successful escape from the confines of eastern Africa into other parts of the world. Nicholas Wade, an excellent and entertaining science writer, brings together paleontological evidence and research from the study of the human genome to create a plausible story of the modern man's emergence as a globally dominant species. He cleverly creates a timeline of the major evolutionary features which have enabled our species to expand into Asia, then Europe, and finally the Americas from our ancestral home in east Africa. What's striking is the continual evolution of our species and its adaptability to take advantage of changing climatic conditions of the past 50 thousand years and more. Wade explains the evidence behind modern man's developing complex speech syntax as a strategic advantage to overcome entrenched tribes of Neanderthal in Europe and Homo Erectus in Asia. His story covers modern man's evolutionary changes to adapt to dramatic climate swings of the last ice age maximum and subsequent interglacial warming. He also presents a clever hypothesis for man's domestication of the wolf as a necessary part of his continuing expansion into new territory. If you've ever wondered how we've evolved from our shared ancestry with gorillas and chimpanzees to our current status as a species which is capable of unlocking the secrets and resources of planet earth, you'll find this book a fascinating and entertaining read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
For those with interest in human evolution and where modern society came from, Wade makes us comfortable with some of the technical terms while painting the big story of how deep human history is currently understood. He is balanced in presenting both sides of still-controversial debates. Much emphasis on new DNA data.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was thoroughly absorbed by Before the Dawn. Wade tells a detailed story of prehistoric humans and makes it fascinating. The DNA evidence combined with archeology reveals the dates for when we lost our 'pelts', started wearing clothes, domesticated dogs, developed language and became farmers. The author has a theory for why we are hard-wired to be religious beings. My science-minded uncle is reading it, now, enthusiastically. If the Jefferson/Hemmings DNA issue was not portrayed accurately, that is unfortunate. As I understand it, the DNA evidence did show that someone 'in Jefferson's immediate family' was the father of Sally Hemming's child, not necessarily Jefferson. But, this constitutes a fairly minor criticism of the book. I recommend it for all curious science geeks.
LDAJr More than 1 year ago
Nothing quite like a talented science writer to extract a good story from scientific discoveries; Nicholas Wade has made a difficult subject understandable.
Tunguz More than 1 year ago
History can be a very fascinating subject, and one can easily spend a whole lifetime exploring different historical periods and events. However, the recorded history can take us back only to roughly the beginning of the fourth millennium BC. Most of human history lies well before that date, and it has long been supposed that we'll never get a complete picture of the earliest epochs of our species. That is still the case insofar as particular events and individuals are concerned, but in recent years we've been getting an increasingly detailed and fascinating picture of that "pre-historic" age. A variety of new research techniques and tools have come of age, and they are employed to shed more and more light on pre-historic events from a variety of different angles. Evolutionary psychology, DNA analysis, and linguistic analysis are some of the tools that have augmented our knowledge of the past as they have gone well beyond what we've been able to glean from just archeology. All of these tools and the remarkable discoveries that they elicited are described in "Before the Dawn." The book reads like a cross between a popular science book and a historical novel. At every turn of page there is a new twist to the story, and some of the insights are quite remarkable and unexpected. On an occasion one gets a sense that some of the tales have been oversold as compared to the available evidence, but overall the book is based on solid scholarship and multiple sources of evidence that mutually support the same conclusions. If you are interested in the early human history, I could not recommend a better book to read as an introduction to this exciting subject that promises to reveal even more surprising insights in the upcoming decades.
OLochlain More than 1 year ago
Before the Dawn is a great, educational book for aspiring scientists and curious homebodies alike. For a book centered on science and despite relying on genetic research for evidence as heavily as it did,it was a notably easy read, accessible and understandable. I have done previous research on the topic, but the author introduced branches of thought and provided a summary of recent research comprehensivly enough to make the overall picture, the current theory of the origins of modern man, clear. I would absolutely recommend this book. Even readers without previous knowledge of genetics will be able to read and enjoy this book, and ultimately, they will better understand how man first emmerged from Africa to populate and reshape the Earth.
taciii More than 1 year ago
Just purchased my second copy in case my loaned original doesn't return. I was fascinated by the progression of information that was unfolded as the human genome was traced back to Africa (not the country) to explain our evolution. Genome changes were then melded with archeological records to show the spread of humanity. That said, I have to admit that I'd not followed the genome based story of evolution and was thoroughly fascinated by the information. I followed up by reading Darwin for the first time, as interesting but much drier. I really enjoyed this book.
DrCSC More than 1 year ago
Information given was well supported and of various professional opinions. I enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was a little intimidated by the scientic jargon and seemingly overwhelming amount of facts that this book contains, but found myself drawn in to this most amazing discussion of human history that I have ever encountered. Laid out in a step-by-step, linear fashion, this book leads you through the various opinions, the timeline and reasoning behind those opinions, and the current opinion based on current evidence, leaving open room for the next new discovery. I have a much better "feeling" for where I came from and why.
Nate on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In my experience, it has been hard to find good, popular books about the evolution of human beings. The most interesting books I¿ve found on the subject are Jared Diamond¿s ¿The Third Chimpanzee¿ and ¿Guns, Germs and Steel.¿ Nicholas Wade¿s new book ¿Before the Dawn¿ is an excellent addition to that short list, bringing us up to speed on what scientists are currently saying about human origins and prehistory. Reporting on a wide range of research, including paleo-anthropology, genetics, and historical linguistics, Wade provides us with a comprehensive story of how our ancestors became anatomically, and then behaviorally, human. What seems to be different about Wade¿s account of prehistory is his pervasive use of genetic research as the final arbiter when there is a conflict among scientific disciplines. The conclusions drawn by paleo-anthropologists and historical linguists are either confirmed by a genetic line of reasoning, or called into question. As a result, Wade flirts with controversy by suggesting that the emergence of art in the caves of France and Spain, some 32,000 years ago, was probably the result of genetic influences, implying that distinct human characteristics, such as art and cognitive capacities, have evolved in distinct population regions. This is the kind of reasoning that ¿Guns, Germs and Steel¿ was trying to remedy. However, Wade offers the qualification that, although distinctly human qualities may have developed in one population at an earlier date, these characteristics, which truly are universal, have evolved convergently. This is a common idea in evolution, one good example being the wing. Insects, birds, pterosaurs, and bats have all received the anatomy of the wing through 4 distinct lineages. In other words, evolution has hit upon the idea of wings four different, independent times. Humans, according to Wade¿s line of reasoning, may have evolved the capacity for art and culture through selective pressures at the local level, when anatomically modern humans had already left Africa and occupied the Eurasian and Australian continents.Another point of divergence between Wade and Diamond is the issue of human settlement. Diamond¿s book tells the very interesting story of the first domestication of grain in the Near East, which consequently lead to a settled way of life. Evidence now suggests that humans began sedentary village life as long as 18,000 years ago, much earlier than the first era of agriculture and stock rearing in the ninth and eighth millennia BC. Not surprisingly, Wade offers a genetic explanation for the origin of settlement. Apparently, it is commonly held that behaviorally modern people have existed for about 45,000 years, meaning that they displayed the basics of human behavior, art, religion, and presumably language, and have not evolved significantly since. Wade, on the other hand, espouses the opinions of biologists who think humans have continued to evolve in the past 45,000 years, and human settlement may therefore have been the result of some particular evolutionary adaptation.Wade goes on to offer a genetic explanation for racial development, a tack that has been highly criticized since mid-20th century, for good reason. Scientists do not currently study race as a biological phenomenon, but Wade cites recent medical studies that point to a biological basis for understanding the races. This book is sure to draw criticism simply because of its controversial content, but is a fascinating read for anyone interested in human evolution.
blackjack000 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What a fun read! The author takes on the subject of human development and makes it incredibly accessible and readable. The book is chocked full of illustrative examples. It takes a very scholarly subject, and brings it to the layman very well (without making me feel stupid).The explanation power of this book is amazing. It seems like what I've read in this book applies to so many different fields. Hardly a week goes by where I don't read something, and realize I already have an insight into that topic from reading this book.
seldombites on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
There isn't much I can say about the content that hasn't already been covered in the synopsis. I will state, however, that the author has a knack of explaining concepts in layman's terms without losing out on the technical details. I am enjoying this book very much and learning a lot from it. Unfortunately, it is due back at the library and cannot be renewed, so I will try to source a copy for purchase. The subject matter of this book is a bit too heavy to read in one sitting, but it would be good to have on my shelf to read bit by bit.
terbby on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is mandatory reading for anyone interested in knowing the insights brought to bear on human history by the modern science of genetics. The author accomplishes nothing less than a comprehensive review of previous knowledge in the light of recent developments. The subject is riveting: where did we come from? What is human nature? Are we changing? These questions and more are addressed and plausibly explained. To think that in these times, when DNA is a known scientific fact and the human genome has been completely decoded, there are people who doubt human evolution, is to wonder at the human capacity for self-deceit. Knowledge advances but the ignorant turn away.The tone of the book is relentlessly objective but still, several controversial subjects are addressed with conclusions that are perhaps surprising. For example, academics have refused for reasons of political correctness, to consider whether some human groups may be more intelligent than others, as a result of evolutionary processes. Read the book to learn an intriguing hypothesis. Another example: until recently respected historians denied that Thomas Jefferson had a second family with the slave Sally Hemmings; genetic analysis has shown there is a high probability that he did. And don't overlook the comment that another ice age is sure to follow (global warming notwithstanding?). We are presented other examples of cherished beliefs that fail to hold up in light of genetic analysis; and don't we all love it when the Emperor is shown to have no clothes?In the end the book is one of synthesis, not an original scientific work. The great value added to our understanding by this author is a clear, unbiased view of what is known, what may be surmised and what is false, in the light of modern scientific discoveries. We are provided the tools necessary to bring Darwin up to date. Like it or not it is clear that we are human animals, subject to all the same influences as the other beasts. Grant that we accept things we cannot change and change what we can improve.
GerryD8784 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From acclaimed New York Times science reporter Nicholas Wade, a lively narrative of the much more detailed story that can now be told about human pre-history ¿ the period from 50,000 to 3,500 BCE, when we began to talk, started to wear clothes and then left Africa to populate the rest of the world ¿ due to an explosion in the last five years of findings in a host of fields, including linguistics, archeology, and paleontology and genetics.
stevetempo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An outstanding summary and analysis of interdisciplinary efforts that uncovering our prehistory. I especially enjoyed the review of how scientists (geographers, geneticists, linguists, paleontologists, etc) are coordinating there efforts to uncover a emerging picture of our prehistory. Some of the background material regarding the history of language was a bit long and detailed (but I don't have a strong background in this area). I would read this book along with Jared Diamonds: Guns, Germs and Steel. They are excellent counterpoints.
millsge on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The subtitle of the book is quite apt as Mr. Wade really conveys the admiration and true affection he has for all of the "peoples" he describes, whether they be our direct ancestors or not. It is his feelings for these beings that turn the book into something more than a summary of the science our our evolution. In this sense, his work is very close to Bronowski's The Ascent of Man and, in a more perfect world, be required reading in every high school in the country (and in every church as well).
librisissimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Substance: I have seen a lot of the material already in news reports and periodicals, but found enough additional information to make the book worthwhile. The DNA connection to language families, archeology, and historical lineages is particularly interesting. I appreciated the explanation of the different roles of mutation and genetic drift in the modification of species.The largest lacunae are in the sections on the dawn of civilization (summarized on page 265), which are stated to be the innovation of pair-bonding (practiced only by humans, not chimps); the emergence of language (also unique to humans); the role of religion (useful only for material gain and subjugation of inferiors, according to the author); and the role of sedentism (creation of fixed settlements). Lots of hand-waving and post hoc ergo prompter hoc reasoning here.Style: As is common with "popular science", the material is not laid out in a fashion that actually presents evidence to persuade the reader, as opposed to blanket assertions (from the foot-noted sources), standard assumptions conducive to circularity (since the only machine of change allowed is evolution, the cause for everything is deduced to be evolution), and the conclusions drawn by the author.
jasonlf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The best, most up-to-date volume I've read on what recent genetic analysis tells us about human origins, pre-history, language, evolution over the last 10,000 years, and several other important questions. It begins with the story of how the origins of human clothing were dated -- by figuring out when hair lice and body lice diverged from each other. An excellent synthesis and well written.
neurodrew on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
sought out this book because the topic intrigued me, a new report on the pre-history of humankind based on evidence of DNA analysis. The idea is to survey differences in mitochondrial DNA and the Y-chromosome for accumulations of changes, trying to project back the variations to when the genome broke along a different path. The DNA data suggest that a single group of humans passed from Africa into Arabia about 50,000 years ago, moved along the Indian Ocean coast, and only gradually displaced Neanderthals from Europe. He also discusses evidence for races, geographically determined, and for language and social structure origins. Well written, very engrossing.
stevenwbucey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Excellent narrative of Man's recent pre-history through genetic research.
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