History of humanity shows conflict, innovation that led to dominance

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 15, 2012 

"Mankind: The Story of Us All" by Pamela D. Toler.

  • Nonfiction Mankind: The Story of Us All Pamela D. Toler Running Press, 448 pages

In “Mankind: The Story of Us All,” Pamela D. Toler introduces us to the connections, over time, that led to our domination of the planet. It’s a vast task that she does well.

A companion book to the History Channel’s television series “Mankind,” this book provides enough depth to help readers understand what is being said but not to leave them bored. From the start, Toler admits that even scientists are still in conflict about some basic facts.

“There may have been up to one hundred hominid species that coexisted in Africa between Lucy’s time (3.5 million years) and the arrival of modern humans around 150,000 BCE. We don’t know how they relate to each other, or which species we can call our direct ancestors, but after much controversy, anthropologists are in generational agreement about two groups of proto-humans with whom they think we have more direct familial connections.”

The first chapter, “Seeds of Change,” covers early man, the creation of tools and the development of hunting. The Neanderthals disappear from Europe while Homo sapiens take over.

The Ice Age arrives and humanity retreats into caves to survive – and to record their existence.

Toler writes, “Paintings and carvings created by Ice Age human give us our only clues about how these ancestors of ours thought. They are also the first examples we have of humans thinking symbolically. Symbolism is the basis of language and every other form of culture.”

In many cases, humanity’s movement is bound up with nature. The weather changes, the ice recedes. People move on, pushing up against other groups who also survived. Kingdom rise, conflicts ensue, slaughter happens. However, there’s more to “Mankind” than just chapters on war and power struggles. Innovations, such as the printing press, change the balance of power in countries as now books can be read by all.

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