SCIENCES

First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human

Harper. Apr. 2021. 320p. ISBN 9780062938497. $27.99. NAT HIST
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Why, how, and when did human ancestors first walk on two feet? Why are humans so uniquely bipedal, at least among mammals? DeSilva (anthropology, Dartmouth Coll.; A Most Interesting Problem) tackles these issues in his latest work. Its scope includes the several-million-year prehistory of bipedal hominins. DeSilva has a gift for identifying important but often overlooked observations regarding bipedalism; for instance, he notes that humans are quite clumsy compared to four-legged mammals. He also discusses anatomical differences between human bipedalism and bird bipedalism. Readers will glean a solid framework of human origins, including the divergence of chimpanzee and hominin ancestors some six million years ago. He discusses various theories attempting to explain human bipedalism, such as the aquatic ape hypothesis. Other ideas, such as the ability to carry food with freed arms, offer plausible scenarios favoring bipedalism. While the subject of human evolution might seem daunting—especially discussions of the relationships between ape and hominin ancestors—DeSilva uses personable language and always keeps it interesting.
VERDICT DeSilva provides a scholarly yet accessible conversation on the origins of human bipedalism. A great introduction to human origins, anthropology, and primatology for general audiences. Includes recent discoveries that are updates to previous popular works.
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