An Amazon Best Science Book of 2019 “A smooth, expert, and often startling history that emphasizes that no behavior separates us from other animals, but we remain an utterly unique species.”—Kirkus Reviews “Rutherford’s entertaining work offers a refreshing and perspective-altering view of the complex history of life on Earth.”—Publishers Weekly “Rutherford is an engaging, witty writer. He is also a concise one. After several vast but worthy tomes about human nature that have been published recently, that makes this pithy homage to our species all the more welcome. An entertaining and blessedly succinct read.”—Guardian “A kind of intellectual enema, exposing the popular myths about human exceptionalism.”—New Scientist “Looking at the latest evidence from behavioral science, genetics, and paleoanthropology, Rutherford explores the ways that humans do differ from other animals and whether we are indeed as special as we once believed. . . . Recommended.”—Scientific American “I love learning new, surprising facts, the kind that make children say ‘Did you know?’ Did you know there are Australian hawks who pick up burning sticks and transport them to start a fire, where they then eat roasted animals? . . . Highly stimulating, lots to think about, lots to learn. Very well-written. . . . Thoroughly recommended.”—Richard Dawkins “Fascinating. . . Enlightening. . . Rutherford writes with clarity, authority and humor. His research is thorough and so current that most readers will be wowed.”—Bookpage “Rutherford, a science journalist, draws on findings from molecular biology, anthropology, and linguistics, among other fields, to survey what makes humans simultaneously singular among and similar to other animals. The result is an engaging, entertaining, and highly accessible account. . . . the book as a whole will be enjoyable and thought provoking for readers of diverse interests and expertise.”—Choice “Rutherford . . . . is an amiable guide to this look at the ways in which we are members of the animal kingdom yet unequivocally at the head of the class, creaturewise.”—The Toronto Star “An energetic exploration of the animal kingdom reveals what humans share with other creatures, and what makes us different.”—Shelf Awareness “Engaging, accessible, and highly recommended.”—Library Journal “[Rutherford] writes with intellectual authority and also, as a popular lecturer and broadcaster, expresses himself in a clear and persuasive manner with natural charm.”—Spectator “I loved this book. An outstandingly clear and witty account that shows beyond doubt how much we are part of the animal world, and yet at the same time how different we have become.”—Henry Marsh, author of Do No Harm “This delightful and charming book will change the way you see yourself and your place in the natural world.”—Ed Yong, author of I Contain Multitudes “Adam Rutherford is a master storyteller. [Humanimal] is packed to the brim with intriguing tales, clever twists, and up-to-the-minute scientific discoveries, offering a completely new perspective on who we are and how we came to be.”—Hannah Fry, author of Hello World “Charming, compelling, and packed with information. I learned more about biology from this short book than I did from years of science lessons. Adam Rutherford has a knack for making complex ideas understandable—and also fun. Our species is a lot stranger than I’d ever realized, but a lot more normal, too. A weird and wonderful read.”—Peter Frankopan, author of The Silk Roads “I’ve learned more about myself and my species than I thought possible. A beautiful, compassionate book exploring not just human nature but also the human condition. I’m more in love with Adam Rutherford’s writing than ever.”—Angela Saini, author of Inferior “If teaching is what makes humans special, then Adam Rutherford is superhuman—the paragon of teachers, a truly gifted transmitter of knowledge: lucid, enlightening, witty, and delightful.”—Kate Fox, co-director of the Social Issues Research Centre “Adam Rutherford is a superb communicator who eruditely explores the borderlands of history, archaeology, genetics, and anthropology in this fascinating tour of our species.”—Dan Snow, host of the podcast Dan Snow’s History Hit “Adam Rutherford is a delightful, eclectic, hilarious, and often filthy guide to what we know about human genetics. But even more than that, there are parts of this book I wish were graven into the walls of public buildings and above the desk of anyone who writes about science. Next time someone tells you that men ’evolved‘ to behave in one way while women ’evolved‘ to behave differently, pull out your copy of [Humanimal] and set them right.”—Naomi Alderman, author of The Power
A lively exploration of "the epic meandering journey that every organism has made."
That humans are conscious, cultured, and much cleverer than any other animal—but an animal nevertheless—is no secret to popular science writers. A steady stream of books explains how we got that way, and readers will not regret choosing this cheerful addition to the genre from British science journalist Rutherford (A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes, 2017, etc.). Humans use tools, he explains, but many mammals and birds do the same. They are often no more than sticks poked into a hole to tease out food, but ingenious variations arise; many are adopted by others, becoming a rudimentary cultural element. In the author's native Britain, out of 1,000 sexual acts that could result in a baby, only one actually does, as he reports in a long section shooting down the belief that only humans have sex for pleasure. The author then steps back, admitting that one can never know why nonhumans engage in nonproductive intercourse, but innumerable creatures do so. Readers under the illusion that behavior like homosexuality, anal intercourse, and even necrophilia are "contrary to nature" will learn that the opposite is true. Rutherford also ably explores current conceptions and focus on cooperation through communication. Animals can deliver signals, and a few ancestors of Homo sapiens may have talked, but we took it to a new level. "We transmit information," writes the author, "not just via DNA down the generations, but in every direction, to people with whom we have no immediate biological ties. We log our knowledge and experience, and share them. It is in the teaching of others, the shaping of culture, and the telling of stories, that we created ourselves."
A smooth, expert, and often startling history that emphasizes that no behavior separates us from other animals, but we remain an utterly unique species.
British geneticist Rutherford (A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived) explores how humans resemble and differ from other living beings. Noting that the human genome has 23 pairs of chromosomes, only one pair fewer than other great apes, he presents a wide-ranging discussion of why, despite small genetic differences, human capabilities surged ahead of those of other creatures. In a section on the use of tools, for example, Rutherford considers how other animals can construct tools and use fire, abilities once thought to be unique to humans. He provides intriguing illustrations for his points, such as certain dolphins who use live sponges as nose guards when they go after prickly prey, and hawks who light twigs from wildfires so that they can spread the fire and draw prey out of hiding. In an amusing section on sex, he ponders why so little of it is actually for procreation. He also explores the human physical structures that enabled language and our development of consciousness and a sense of regret. Rutherford speculates in conclusion that our development of social culture is what may have made humans "the paragon of animals." VERDICT Engaging, accessible, and highly recommended.—Caren Nichter, Univ. of Tennessee at Martin