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Lowly Origin:
Where, When, and Why Our Ancestors First Stood Up
Jonathan Kingdon

Paperback | 2004 | $46.00 | £38.95 | ISBN: 9780691120287
416 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 55 halftones. 16 line illus. 2 tables. 22 maps.
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Our ability to walk on two legs is not only a characteristic human trait but one of the things that made us human in the first place. Once our ancestors could walk on two legs, they began to do many of the things that apes cannot do: cross wide open spaces, manipulate complex tools, communicate with new signal systems, and light fires. Titled after the last two words of Darwin's Descent of Man and written by a leading scholar of human evolution, Lowly Origin is the first book to explain the sources and consequences of bipedalism to a broad audience. Along the way, it accounts for recent fossil discoveries that show us a still incomplete but much bushier family tree than most of us learned about in school.

Jonathan Kingdon uses the very latest findings from ecology, biogeography, and paleontology to build a new and up-to-date account of how four-legged apes became two-legged hominins. He describes what it took to get up onto two legs as well as the protracted consequences of that step--some of which led straight to modern humans and others to very different bipeds. This allows him to make sense of recently unearthed evidence suggesting that no fewer than twenty species of humans and hominins have lived and become extinct. Following the evolution of two-legged creatures from our earliest lowly forebears to the present, Kingdon concludes with future options for the last surviving biped.

A major new narrative of human evolution, Lowly Origin is the best available account of what it meant--and what it means--to walk on two feet.


"[A] remarkable new book. . . . [I]n Kingdon we find a primate who is unafraid to give the establishment a good hard shake, and whose keen powers of observation and reasoning make him impossible to summarily dismiss. . . . Indeed so packed with novel ideas is Lowly Origin that it presents us with a picture of human evolution quite unlike anything that has come before it."--Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books

"Lowly Origin is brimming with information, insight, experience and speculation about how we became human. . . . [A] comprehensive and evocative rendition of who we are and how we fit in to the natural world."--Donald Johanson, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Elegant and thoughtful. . . . Jonathan Kingdon commands a unique position at the interface of science and art . . . Whether or not [he] manages to convince you of his larger thesis, you will be provoked along the way by the many connections he makes. And just as important, Lowly Origin is a landmark for its thoroughness in integrating the story of human evolution (which he brings up to the present day) with that of the evolving landscapes and habitats of the African continent."--Ian Tattersall, Natural History

"Lowly Origin . . . provides much new food for thought for lay readers and specialists alike."--Osbjorn M. Pearson, Journal of Anthropological Research

"Naturalist-artist Kingdon is well known for his books on African mammals and his beautiful illustrations of them. . . . [This] book is well written and charmingly illustrated."--Choice

"Every so often . . . a new concept comes into being. In Lowly Origin, Jonathan Kingdon puts forward just such a new concept. . . . Lowly Origin is full of insights and displays the profound knowledge of African geography and ecology that is the hallmark of all Kingdon's work."--Peter Andrews, Times Literary Supplement

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File created: 7/11/2017

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