The Strange Case of the Rickety Cossack: And Other Cautionary Tales from Human Evolution

Ian Tattersall. Palgrave Macmillan, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-137-27889-0
Paleoanthropologist Tattersall (Masters of the Planet), now retired from the American Museum of Natural History, attempts to accomplish two related goals in this relatively brief book: summarizing the history of his field and exploring the nature of epistemology within the discipline, highlighting the role he and the AMNH played in developing the field. The history he provides is abbreviated and does not add much to what has previously been written. Readers expecting a detailed survey of hominid fossils and their evolutionary relationship to one another will have to look elsewhere. Tattersall’s excursion into how paleoanthropologists work and think is far richer. He takes on a host of intellectual problems that have befuddled the field and thereby illuminates the nature of scientific progress. He explains that the Piltdown hoax taught scientists how important it is “to examine our preconceived beliefs,” and he focuses on the importance of using objective data rather than subjective impressions, even when the latter come from experts. When many of the early hypotheses of human evolution were formed, he asserts, “salesmanship was at a greater premium than rigorous reasoning.” Throughout, Tattersall reminds readers of the pitfalls of believing in human exceptionalism, noting that “we are no exception to Nature’s rules.” (June)
Reviewed on: 04/06/2015
Release date: 06/09/2015
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 256 pages - 978-1-4668-7943-0
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