An intellectual adventure

African Exodus

By Christopher Stringer and Robin McKie

Readers willing to look beyond the rather academic paperback style of publication will find in this book a great deal to contemplate that is not beyond their layperson’s understanding. The publisher’s choice of book size, cover illustration and paper type may deter some general readers, but the content of Stringer’s argument is comprehensible to anyone familiar with anthropology as a non-specialist.

As one of the main proponents of the Out of Africa theory of human origins, Stringer is well placed to make this argument. Indeed, one of the book’s chapters is a diary-like account of Stringer’s own journey around Europe as a young man to examine fossilised skulls held by museums. He’s hardly Indiana Jones, but African Exodus reads in part like an adventure – albeit intellectual – at times. Stringer repositions the opposing multiregional theory of our origins (the rise of Homo sapiens simultaneously in different parts of the world) and gradually unfolds the Out of Africa theory with such superior logic that the former idea is left in the wilderness.

The layperson may find it difficult to keep up with the various species and genera discussed in this book, and a general ‘best current thinking’ diagram at the beginning would not have gone amiss, but for the most part, McKie’s clear and concise prose keeps the interest up. Perhaps what I shall remember most of the book are the amazing facts it contains: for example, that there is greater genetic diversity between different people in Africa than there are between an African and, say, a European. Astonishing knowledge – this book’s full of it.

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