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Book review: The Human Career, by Richard G. Klein

Klein describes his book as both a sourcebook and a textbook, "written with upper level undergraduates, graduate students, and professionals in mind". This might suggest that it would be pretty dry and not of much interest to a wider readership, but in fact I think it should appeal to anyone who has already read a number of popular accounts of human evolution and wants to understand the subject in more depth. Klein writes well and clearly. Technical terms are explained when first introduced and Klein has a pleasing tendency to use the vernacular when it seems appropriate, so that all the species in the family Hominidae appear in the text as 'people'.

In writing ... I have tried to steer a middle course between what I see as two extreme approaches - one in which the data are simply a springboard for stimulating speculation about what might have happened in the past, and another in which they are meaningless except to test and eliminate all but one competing explanation of what really happened. The difficulty with the first perspective is that it emphasizes imagination over validity. The difficulty with the second, whose roots lie in a perception of how the physical sciences have advanced, is that it assumes an unrealistic degree of control over data quality and quantity. [More]

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