WALKING WITH CAVEMEN

John Lynch, Photographer
John Lynch, Photographer . DK $35 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7894-9775-8
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"What is it that makes us human?" asks Lynch, head of the BBC Science Unit. Published to correspond with a Discovery Channel series of the same name, Lynch's coffee-table exploration of the origins of man runs through the record of the species, exploring how our ancestors mated, ate and defended themselves. Full-page educational spreads explain "What a tooth can tell" and "The birth of bigger brains." Chapters are divided chronologically, beginning 3.5 million years ago, with "First Steps," and travel in time, through "A Hominid Explosion," "Missing Link" and "Extinction." Present-tense writing puts a reader in the grassy plains with these creatures, hunting with them and experiencing humiliation with them: "The young male and his friend know they have made fools of themselves and, as they extract themselves from the mud and dust and slope back towards the group, the old female gesticulates, and barks strange nasal sounds at them." A mixture of imagined anecdote and explanation brings these ancestors to life, as do lifelike Land of the Lost–looking re-creations of each being in the difficult stages of human development. The voyage here is constantly guided ("To find out, we need to leave afarensis and travel further back in time: another four million years"), to the point where the handholding becomes obtrusive. But the main attraction here is the pictures: stills from the series that use Planet of the Apes–style make-up to bring prehistory to life, along with stock-seeming geological and savanna shots. It's all familiar, but competently executed. (Apr.)

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