Reviews for Last Lost World : Ice Ages, Human Origins, and the Invention of the Pleistocene

Booklist Reviews 2012 June #1
*Starred Review* Daughter-and-father historians of science pretty fully justify their profession in this brilliant explanation of the most recent geological epoch, which, depending on how current debate within the paleontological community--over such things as whether the Pleistocene-defining cycle of ice formation and melting is really over, and whether H. sapiens continues to evolve naturally--is resolved, may or may not have concluded with the rise of civilization and the proposed Holocene epoch. Their exposition is highly dialectical, for while the Pleistocene is a scientific concept collocating hard facts and materialist theories, it is fundamentally a cultural creation, a thing of the mind shaped by scientifically untestable assumptions about the importance of humanity in the story of Earth's development. Indeed, the Pynes point out, discussion of and contention over the Pleistocene seem to swirl around whether it is presented as a chronicle--a record of things--or as a narrative of related and directional events. So-called hard science, rejecting mind, rather favors the chronicle; history, embracing mind, the narrative. For science mavens of a philosophical bent, this may be the book of the year, a font of knowledge and, what's more and better, intellectual exercise. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Choice Reviews 2012 November
How has the world emerged from the Pleistocene into the current epoch, the Anthropocene? What and how have people learned about geologic changes, e.g., the extent of ice coverage and its times? This book is not a presentation of new discoveries and how they have altered people's understanding of the past. Rather, this father-and-daughter team, Lydia Pyne (Drexel) and Stephen Pyne (Arizona State), seek to show how both past and current investigators of human history are affected by the cultural and intellectual climates of the period in which they lived. They view interpretations of human ancestry, including artifacts, through a prism of the time of discovery. The rather short book contains about 15 pages of references and notes, but only five illustrations, none of which are pictures of early humans. Overall, the authors provide a useful perspective on how knowledge develops and is shaped by the times when discoveries are made. Readers will come away with perhaps a modified view of how humans and our ancestors formed today's world, but the book contains very limited substance about the major changes that took place over the last couple of million years. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers and lower- and upper-division undergraduates. General Readers; Lower-division Undergraduates; Upper-division Undergraduates. D. Bardack emeritus, University of Illinois at Chicago Copyright 2012 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 May #2
Lasting from about 3 million to 10,000 years ago, the Pleistocene is both a geological epoch and an idea, write science historians Stephen Pyne (Voyager: Exploration, Space, and the Third Great Age of Discovery, 2011, etc.) and his daughter Lydia, who proceed to deliver a perceptive account of both. The geological story opens as the unusually wet, warm and homogenized Earth of the Miocene and Pliocene epochs segued into a cooler, drier and more fragmented Pleistocene. Rising mountains and new land bridges (Panama, the Bering Strait) forced a realignment of planetary climate. Ice ages waxed and waned. Many hominid species wandered Africa; several wandered north, but by 50,000 years ago, all except ours had vanished. The idea of the Pleistocene began in the 17th century with the first natural philosophers ("scientist" was a 19th-century invention). Rocks and fossils had been known for millennia, but these men looked with a critical eye. By the 1700s it was obvious that the Earth was old. During the 1800s, this age lengthened and subdivisions proliferated as scientists deciphered sedimentary rock strata, precisely classified fossils, and uncovered the effects of glaciation. After 1900, they argued over African climate change and proliferating hominid species, reveling in a flood of new information from fossil discoveries, plate tectonics, deep ocean cores and vastly improved chemical and radiometric dating. The idea is still evolving. Readers with a good introduction to the subject under their belt--e.g., Ian Tattersall's Masters of the Planet (2012)--will be best prepared to absorb this rich but often dense flood of geologic, geographic, anthropologic and philosophical analyses of recent evolution. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 May #1

Stephen Pyne (history, Arizona State Univ.; Voice and Vision: A Guide to Writing History and Other Serious Nonfiction) and his daughter Lydia (lecturer, history of science, Drexel Univ.) reveal how Africa served as a continental refugium during the Pleistocene era. Least affected by ice, most adapted to hominids, Africa lost less than 25 percent of its megafauna. In contrast, South America, whose relatively recent link to North America helped trigger the Ice Ages, lost more than 85 percent. The world that resulted was shaped by climate and by the hominids that came out of Africa. The Pynes then hold a mirror to the history of scientific thought on the Pleistocene era. Influenced by the culture of their time, scientists created then discarded evolutionary tropes such as the great chain of being, the tree of life, the missing link, etc. Using examples from Plato to philosopher Karl Popper, they show how culture shapes science and our view of the world. VERDICT Written in clear, supple prose, this title will interest historians, anthropologists, and anyone fascinated by the Ice Ages, human evolution, and the history of science and culture.--Michal Strutin, Santa Clara Univ. Lib., CA

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 March #4

 Father and daughter historians Lydia Pyne (Drexel University) and Stephen Pyne (Year of the Fires) argue that, in the 19th century, with the development of the notion of the Pleistocene era--from 2.6 million years ago to about 10,000-12,000 years ago, toward the end of which Homo sapiens emerged--science split from the humanities because scientists became interested only in collecting data and not constructing narratives, which supply the meaning and moral purpose most people crave. Lydia Pyne, whose first-person account opens the book, lets her background in history color her approach to science. After a brief scientific account of the Pleistocene, the book launches into a historical and philosophical look at how we have articulated the meaning of this geological period. But the analysis fails due partly to academic writing ("The instinct, that is, is to turn evolutionary opportunism into narrative surety and to stiffen phylogenic uncertainty into the crisp lines of story"). But it's also hampered by a confusion between the intent of scientists and the human need for moral understanding of, for instance, what makes us human. This is a difficult book, not well suited to a general audience. (June)

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