The Book of Humans Book Summary - The Book of Humans Book explained in key points
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The Book of Humans summary

Adam Rutherford

A Brief History of Culture, Sex, War and the Evolution of Us

4.3 (220 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

"The Book of Humans" by Adam Rutherford explores what it means to be human in the age of genetic mapping. Rutherford unpacks the past, present, and future of our species, challenging long-held beliefs about race, identity, and intelligence.

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    The Book of Humans
    Summary of 7 key ideas

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    Key idea 1 of 7

    Animals use tools. But human tools are far more advanced.

    What makes you human? Is it the fact that you can call up a friend and communicate in a shared and highly complex language? Is it the fact that you can learn how to use – or even make – a computer? Or is it that you, unlike any other animal, can produce and discuss art?

    We humans like to think of ourselves as kings among animals, but the same evolutionary processes that made us also made them. Animals have sex, just like us. They build social structures, just like us. They even use tools in some very “human” ways. Much as we hate to admit it, we humans simply aren’t all that special.

    And yet at the same time – we are. No other species has cognitive powers as sophisticated as ours; no other has a language or culture as complex as ours. There’s a paradox at the heart of our existence: we are simultaneously animals and extraordinary among animals.

    The key message here is: Animals use tools. But human tools are far more advanced.

    A tool is something external to an animal’s body used to extend its power. A tool can be a found object, a modified object, or something entirely manufactured – in other words, a technology. A barrette is a tool for clipping back hair. A computer is a tool for conducting arithmetic operations. 

    For a long time, scientists believed we were the only animals to use tools. Now we know that’s not true.

    Chimpanzees, for example, use sticks to hunt termites. Orangutans use them to fish rivers, and gorillas use them to test the depths of waters they need to ford.

    Yet despite an impressive range of tool use in the animal kingdom, the prevalence of tool use is low: only 1 percent of all species use them. Technology, in other words, is relatively rare. And no other animal’s technologies are nearly as complex as ours. That’s partly because few other animals have brains as big as ours. But it’s also because no other animal is as dexterous as we are. You’re not likely to see a dolphin crafting a violin, despite its densely packed neocortex. Flippers, alas, are not as nimble as fingers.

    But, flippers notwithstanding, dolphins and their creative tool use do have a lot to teach us. And that’s what we’ll explore in the next blink.

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    What is The Book of Humans about?

    The Book of Humans (2018) is an accessible tour of evolutionary history. It illuminates both the many qualities we share with animals and the many others that set us apart. Incorporating the latest scientific discoveries from genetics and archaeology, it provides a thrilling compendium of the rich variety of life on Earth.

    The Book of Humans Review

    The Book of Humans by Adam Rutherford (2018) explores the fascinating story of human beings and why they are the way they are. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It offers a thought-provoking exploration of human evolution, genetics, and behavior, providing readers with a deeper understanding of their own nature.
    • The book presents compelling scientific evidence and expert insights, challenging common misconceptions and shedding light on the complexity of human existence.
    • With its engaging and accessible style, it appeals to both science enthusiasts and general readers, ensuring that the exploration of humanity is never dull.

    Who should read The Book of Humans?

    • People seeking a primer on evolutionary biology
    • Darwin enthusiasts
    • Animal lovers

    About the Author

    Adam Rutherford is a science writer, podcaster, and broadcaster. A regular BBC personality and frequent contributor to the Guardian, he is also the author of several books on human evolution. He holds a doctorate in genetics from University College London and is a popular speaker among both academic and lay audiences.

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    The Book of Humans FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Book of Humans?

    The main message of The Book of Humans is to explore the complexities of being human and our place in the natural world.

    How long does it take to read The Book of Humans?

    The reading time for The Book of Humans varies depending on the reader's pace. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Book of Humans a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Book of Humans is a fascinating read that offers unique insights into what it means to be human. It's definitely worth reading!

    Who is the author of The Book of Humans?

    The author of The Book of Humans is Adam Rutherford.

    What to read after The Book of Humans?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Book of Humans, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Transcendence by Gaia Vince
    • A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by Adam Rutherford
    • Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich
    • Cosmosapiens by John Hands
    • Genome by Matt Ridley
    • Eve by Cat Bohannon
    • A History of God by Karen Armstrong
    • Scarcity Brain by Michael Easter