cover image Life as Told by a Sapiens to a Neanderthal

Life as Told by a Sapiens to a Neanderthal

Juan José Millás and Juan Luis Arsuaga, trans. from the Spanish by Thomas Bunstead and Daniel Hahn. Scribe US, $18 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-957363-06-6

Novelist Millás (From the Shadows) and paleontologist Arsuaga combine forces in this introspective and playful exploration of human prehistory and evolution. Millás, the “Neanderthal” of the title, provides the humor, scene-setting, and wordplay, while “Sapiens” Arsuaga, the director of the Museum of Human Evolution, details such complex evolutionary concepts as bipedal locomotion, dietary adaptation, domestication, and social complexity. On their travels through Spain, the pair uncover living connections between past and present and explore what defines humanity. A trip to a Madrid playground, for example, leads to a discussion of 16th-century anatomist Andreas Vesalius and the “utter marvel that is bipedalism,” while a visit to see a 14,000-year-old cave painting reveals how “clever” and “incredibly vain” prehistoric humans were: “They spent the whole day painting their bodies, decorating themselves to look good,” says Arsuaga. “To my mind, this represents a collective mood; if people are depressed, they let themselves go.” Attention is also paid to local cuisine and landmarks, adding to the book’s travelogue feel. Erudite yet fun, this is an illuminating trip into the past. (Oct.)