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This list was incredibly hard to narrow down to just 5 books – there are 20 more in the runners up, and each one of them is heartily recommended. Check them out. The books here cover all aspects of human and primate biology: evolution, sociality, archaeology, linguistics, race, there is something for everyone.
I found this book to be a very readable and easy account of human evolution, perfect for school students, teachers, and undergraduates. The story of human evolution is constantly changing, but the book contains the latest generalisations that can be made with certainty. I am personally satisfied that it emphasises the importance of childhood in human evolution. At times it comes with a dose of speculation, but these are easily-spotted and do not really detract from this great book. Fully recommended for anyone looking for a reliable non-academic look at human evolution.
A textbook very usefully summarising everything we know about the skeletons of primates and their diversity. One could wish for more on their muscular systems and other soft tissues, but then the book would become a true reference work, rather than a coursebook. As it is, this is a great reference for professors teaching a primate course, and for students wanting to specialise in primates.
Our knowledge about Neandertals changes every week, and major human evolution textbooks cannot devote enough space to provide proper coverage of the latest news on them. This textbook is devoted only to Neandertals, and so is the most useful reference on them currently out there. A major theme of the book may be controversial (I am not an anthropologist, so I cannot comment): Churchill attempts to explain why Neandertal populations had low population numbers despite their big evolutionary success by using energetics (how much food they got, how that food got passed around, how their biology and ecology was affected). No matter your stand o his energetics-based conclusions, the information in this book is top-notch, and their being placed together in a single volume is immensely useful.
It’s now common knowledge that culture and cultural traditions are not unique to humans, and the club of animals having culture will surely keep on growing as more natural populations are observed. As a veteran of such fieldwork on chimpanzees, Boesch writes all about our knowledge of chimpanzee culture, with occasional references to other primates and animals. This is very useful in establishing a comparative approach to the evolution of culture, since studying the evolution of culture using just humans is the very definition of pointlessness. You will also gain a whole new level of appreciation for chimpanzees through this book.
Language may not be unique to humans, but not even I can deny that the complexity of human language is on a whole different level than that of other animals. This is a short and sweet introduction to how human language evolved, encompassing all the various threads involved in this research, from human evolution to brain evolution to linguistic evolution. Highly recommended for anyone – it is very readable for laymen, a useful reference for students, and easily modifiable into a course.
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