The Time Before History: 5 Million Years of Human Impact

Research Cooperative
18/04/17 08:29:52PM

Book review

Colin Tudge (1997) The Time Before History: 5 Million Years of Human Impact. Touchstone: New York.

I doubt that this book will ever be 'out of date'.

The author, a British science writer who has written extensively on biological evolution, conservation issues, and human history, considers not just the last 5 million years, but the next million, as a bonus so to speak. A bonus future that awaits us if we play our cards intelligently.

Perhaps his main message about evolution is that possibilities abound, but nothing can be assumed, other than the ultimate significance of extinction for any given lineage of life: after extinction, there is no future.

Another message of this book is that we have much to learn from our fellow mammals, past and present.

Tudge clearly loves our kind, in the specific sense and in the broadest possible sense: mammals are also us. He digs deeply into the details of animal and human evolution, but the book is a worthwhile read at many levels. My own self-interest and professional interest in human history made the later chapters more enjoyable, but I'm glad that I persisted reading it all, from start to finish.

The author is careful to remind the lagging reader of important connections between the earlier and later chapters. His method produces a sense of the weight and momentum of our devastating impacts on life around us.

The book is a plea for taking responsibility for our own actions, and a plea on behalf of the animals that still remain with us. These are moral imperatives that will never be out of date, as long as we live.

Peter J. Matthews (Kyoto, 18th April 2017)