Looking for some reading material?
On this page is a list of popular books that are:
- about or strongly related to human evolution
- written for an adult audience
- published within the last 10 years
- recommended by a Human Origins Program staff member, research associate, or research collaborator, or a Hall of Human Origins exhibit volunteer
Each book recommendation includes a short personalized review by the person who recommends it.
This page will be updated approximately once per year, and the books are listed in order of publication date beginning with the most recent.
This book is a fantastic compilation of up to date evidence, both genetic and archaeological, for migration of people into the Americas. Raff masterfully weaves this complex scientific information into a narrative about the earliest modern humans on these two continents, and conveys what we know - and don’t know - about this migration with deliberate sensitivity to the past and present Indigenous peoples from these areas, not shying away from calling out colonial practices.
- Briana Pobiner, Human Origins Program staff member
‘Discovering Us’ is a collection of short, compelling stories with many accompanying photographs about fifty great discoveries in human origins made by grantees of the Leakey Foundation, celebrating 50 years of the Leakey Foundation’s financial support of human origins research. It does not have an overarching narrative, but includes studies in the paleoanthropology-relevant fields of archaeology, paleontology, primatology, skeletal biology, modern human biology, and genetics from around the world. It makes a great introduction to the breadth of research being done in these areas, and has some information about the history of the Leakey Foundation in the front matter.
- Briana Pobiner, Human Origins Program staff member
Kermit Pattison's book focuses on the career of Tim White and the discovery and analysis of 'Ardi'. But in doing so he provides an excellent introduction to paleoanthropology, and to the many branches of science that provide the context for early hominins. A rare combination of 'page-turner' and fine introductory text-book. - Bernard Wood, Human Origins Program Research Associate
This is an extraordinary book which beautifully illustrates the scientific work behind the reconstruction of our evolutionary story. In this fascinating first-person account, Higham reveals new details about our species’ global expansion, captivating us with novel insights about who we met and mixed with along the way. - Michael Petraglia, Human Origins Program Research Associate
One hundred and fifty years after the publication of the first edition of The Descent of Man, Jeremy DeSilva has assembled a series of essays providing updated evidence that would have been available to Darwin if he was writing today. A few are also ‘report cards’ on some of Darwin’s most controversial interpretations and proposals. It is worth buying the book for the final two-page section of Agustín Fuentes’ chapter, entitled ‘Was Darwin Racist?’ - Bernard Wood, Human Origins Program Research Associate
Looking to learn about Neanderthals as makers of objects, I found this book has rich context to counter our many misunderstandings. The scope of Neanderthal adaptation to climate and geography, the range of foods enjoyed, vivid documentation about skills and intent as makers of objects, and indications of community and imagination satisfy as evidence of their humanity in life. Informative, clear about conjecture, it is a very engaging narrative. - Lynn Sures, Human Origins Program Research Associate
I consider this a must-read book for students interested in human evolution -- it is just the right combination of personal and scientific discovery, with enough detail about the fossils (and their importance) to satisfy even hardcore fossil nerds. Meave Leakey's polite British voice reads throughout the pages to explain how she got here, and how we got here as well. - Ashley Hammond, Human Origins Program Research Associate
The study of ancient human DNA has flowered with the development of complex analytical methods, both in the biological laboratory sciences and in the statistical/data analysis realm. These have provided an abundance of surprising information about how the global pattern of human populations that exists today has developed, with clues to episodic migrations and population replacements as well as commingling of communities over the last 12,000 years or so. However, these stories are not without challenge, both because the analytical methods are still rapidly developing and because the implications of the stories can be contrary to previously held beliefs. David Reich is eminently qualified to discuss both the promise and the limitations of this field of paleoanthropology. - Jurate Landwehr, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
Written by two academic anthropologists, this book is concise, and gives an extensive analysis of the genetic record, the biological and anthropologic evidence contributing to the development of warfare and peacefare in hominids and humans. The evidence and accompanying literature are rigorously scrutinized, and controversial topics are given fair, balanced consideration as far as the archaeological record will permit. There are extensive references, and although there are few figures, tables, and illustrations, all are engrammic. The authors write that emergent warfare was useful from time to time, but over the long term, emergent peacefare was more important for the advancement and survival of the human species. To paraphrase the authors, the essence of humanity is the power to transcend genes, the intellectual capacity to fathom this, and an ability to act constructively. My experiences attending to the scores of warriors wounded in recent armed conflicts has made understanding warfare and peacefare topics dearly close to my heart. Reading this book gave me valuable insights about humanity. The book raises a new perspective for answers on the fundamental question posed in the Hall of Human Origins, “What does it mean to be human?”.
- Walter Faillace, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
In “Evolution” Roberts provides a concise, but highly informative overview of the history of humanity. She begins with short overviews of geology, paleontology, evolution, and fossil reconstruction. She then summarizes each known hominin from Sahelanthropus all the way to modern humans. She finishes with a short discussion of the earliest human civilizations. This very readable and highly graphic book will appeal to everyone from the person who knows little about science, but is curious to a knowledgeable amateur scientist. - Mike Reid, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
I have taught with, recommended, and referred back to this little book for years. Few others ‘punch above their weight’ as much as this one does. The writing is light, it’s packed with thoughtful observations, and Gosden manages to convey at once both the broad sweep of the deep history of our species but also thoughtful considerations about how we actually work to perceive the past. Highly recommended. - Christian Tryon, Human Origins Program Research Associate
This well written and well illustrated book by Louise-Humphrey and Chris Stringer from the Natural History Museum of London is a good introduction to the fossil evidence for what is known about the evolution of the Hominin clade, going back 7 Million years. It is a useful alternative to the alas out-of-print (published 2010) volume by Rick Potts and Chris Sloan “What Does It Mean to Be Human?” - Jurate Landwehr, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer
This is my go-to recommendation whenever I get asked to suggest a book that includes a general overview of human evolution. Somehow Fuentes manages to include an amazing amount of detail and information about our evolutionary history in this book, from the Stone Age to today, while still writing a compelling and understandable narrative focused on the creativity of ancient humans. - Briana Pobiner, Human Origins Program staff member
As one of the pioneers of the use of ancient DNA to understand human evolution, Pääbo weaves personal anecdotes together with scientific information into a narrative about the technological pitfalls and scientific promise of ancient DNA, Neanderthals, and paleoanthropology in general. An enjoyable read. - Briana Pobiner, Human Origins Program staff member
John Gurche, the author, takes us through the major milestones of the past 7 million years, from Sahelanthropus tchadensis to us. His artwork allows us to see and understand the physical developments of our distantly remote cousins. - David Wrausmann, Hall of Human Origins Exhibit Volunteer