BEFORE THE DAWN: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

Editorial Review - Kirkus - Jane Doe

New York Times science reporter Wade looks at how new knowledge derived from studying the human genome is changing the way we view our species' past and present. The recent deciphering of our genetic inheritance provides a valuable research tool for studying human prehistory, the long, murky millennia between the separation of humanity from its closest primate kin and the springing up of cities in ... Read full review

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History can be a very fascinating subject, and one can easily spend a whole lifetime exploring different historical periods and events. However, the recorded history can take us back only to roughly the beginning of the fourth millennium BC. Most of human history lies well before that date, and it has long been supposed that we'll never get a complete picture of the earliest epochs of our species. That is still the case insofar as particular events and individuals are concerned, but in recent years we've been getting an increasingly detailed and fascinating picture of that "pre-historic" age. A variety of new research techniques and tools have come of age, and they are employed to shed more and more light on pre-historic events from a variety of different angles. Evolutionary psychology, DNA analysis, and linguistic analysis are some of the tools that have augmented our knowledge of the past as they have gone well beyond what we've been able to glean from just archeology. All of these tools and the remarkable discoveries that they elicited are described in "Before the Dawn." The book reads like a cross between a popular science book and a historical novel. At every turn of page there is a new twist to the story, and some of the insights are quite remarkable and unexpected. On an occasion one gets a sense that some of the tales have been oversold as compared to the available evidence, but overall the book is based on solid scholarship and multiple sources of evidence that mutually support the same conclusions. If you are interested in the early human history, I could not recommend a better book to read as an introduction to this exciting subject that promises to reveal even more surprising insights in the upcoming decades. 

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