The Making of Man

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CARNEGIE MEDAL WINNER – 1960

The Making of Man

by Ian Wolfram Cornwall

Age: 10+

Interests: science, biology, evolution

Littlehampton: 1960

61 pages

A scientific look at the evolutionary lineage of homo sapiens.

I review this book because it is on the Carnegie winner list, and not because I think many readers out there will ever come across a copy of it. It is most certainly out of print, and even more certainly out of date in regards to the latest archeological finds and conclusions. Similar to the last Carnegie winner I reviewed, A Valley Grows Up (1953 winner), this is an accomplished but dry nonfiction, textbook-style offering.

As dry as it is however, the author’s approach is a good one. He takes an in-depth look at the specific species that seem to have been precursors to our own: beginning with shrews, lemurs, tarsiers, monkeys, small apes, great apes, and also includes various extinct offshoots along the way. After this, he presents the skulls of the various stages of human development – Neanderthal, Cro-Magnon, etc – and artist’s renderings of the appearance of each of these. Each archeological find is put into context, and there is a great detail of analysis about the placing of eyes, size of brain cavity, development of feet and hands, and the changing jawbone and shape of teeth to accommodate different diets. The author tries his best to steer clear of easy assumptions about these early people. Here he speaks about the Neanderthal:

“…it would be dangerous to assume that the adaptation of his intelligence to his way of life was much inferior to ours – indeed he may well have enjoyed acuter sense-impressions than we do… we should not… underestimate his mental abilities.” (p. 54)

Also, while talking about the Egyptian civilization, he points out that at that time “we, in the West” (Western Europe) “were still savages”. (page 60)

What is truly a sign of the times in which it was written, namely the Cold War, is the fatalistic, even weary, tone at the end of the book.

“Man now stands alone indeed, on a pinnacle of his own contriving, from which it would be only too easy for him to fall.” (page 61)

He goes on to say that we cannot know what will take our place should we become extinct, simply ending the book:  “They will be different. That is all we know.” (page 61).

If you do come across this book in an old bookstore or archive, it is interesting enough for enthusiasts of the topic, but a little too dated for today’s young readers.

 

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.