A Story of Us: A New Look at Human Evolution

Lesley Newson; Peter Richerson

My review 2022-01-30

Weaving together many strands of knowledge from current science, this books attempts to describe the main evolutionary steps from the most recent common ancestor of chimpanzees and us (Homo sapiens). The authors describe the evidence and the controversies that surround some of the explanatory theories. To illustrate the main stages in the process that eventually brought forth modern humans, the authors also include short fictional stories of events in the lives of some of our ancestors.

The book emphasizes the role of women and the relationships between women in the families and groups of humans and their predecessors. In older literature, the role of cooperation between males in hunting and conflict has often been the focus. Here, the roles of different generations of women in the family and in human groups is described as a major force in the evolution, in some epochs being the main force. I find this aspect of the book to be both convincing and fascinating.

The book continuously stresses the importance of culture in our evolution. Human nature is to be cultural. Indeed, in the epilogue of the book, the authors go as far as saying that the idea of "human nature" should be abandoned, since culture has become so important for us that we with its help are active participants in the evolution of our behavior. I do not agree that the idea of "human nature" should be scrapped. I think the idea of "human nature" is still important, since without it we cannot explain e.g. why we are so hyper-cooperative as compared to all our closest evolutionary relatives. But I do agree that the currently widespread idea of "human nature" as a single, discrete, well-defined entity must be thoroughly updated.

I found this to be one of the best recent synthesis of the story of us humans that I have read. I can strongly recommend it.