Humans typically think of themselves as exceptional—the top of the food chain, above all other creatures on earth. But what does it really mean to be human? And are we really more unique than other animals? These are the questions tackled by science writer Adam Rutherford (A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived) in his latest book, Humanimal: How Homo sapiens Became Nature’s Most Paradoxical Creature.
Incorporating the latest genetic research with data gathered from other scientific fields including anthropology, molecular biology and ecology, Rutherford’s detailed book is fascinating and even enlightening, such as his revelation that a tidied-up Homo sapiens individual from 200,000 years ago would not look out of place today. Who knew? He discusses how culture has changed, not DNA, and writes about the different types of humanoids that were the basis for our current existence.
The book is divided into two parts. The first compares and contrasts humans and other animals, with one section devoted to the tools we use and the other to our sex lives. He explains the various neurological factors that set humans apart intellectually and provides some mind-blowing sexual statistics, such as: “Out of every thousand sexual acts that could result in a baby, only one actually does.” The second part explains why we are different from other animals, covering topics that range from recent genetic discoveries to cognitive development and sensory perception.
Rutherford writes with clarity, authority and humor. His research is thorough and so current that most readers will be wowed by all the new information he provides. It’s both humbling and reassuring to know that “all life on Earth is related by common ancestry, and that includes us.” And as Rutherford states, “the picture of how we came to be is only going to get more complicated as we continue to discover.” If that’s the case, I can’t wait to see what’s uncovered next.