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

The Book of Humans summary

Adam Rutherford

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

Listen to the first key idea

Key idea 1 of 7
4.2 (186 ratings)
21 mins
7 key ideas
Audio & text

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.

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.

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.

Want to see all full key ideas from The Book of Humans?

Key ideas in The Book of Humans

More knowledge in less time
Read or listen
Read or listen
Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
Find your next read
Find your next read
Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
Shortcasts New
We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

Who should read The Book of Humans

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

Categories with The Book of Humans

What our members say

Sven O.

It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

Thi Viet Quynh N.

Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

Jonathan A.

Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

Renee D.

Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

Start growing with Blinkist now

25 Million
Downloads on all platforms
4.7 Stars
Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
Of Blinkist members create a better reading habit*
*Based on survey data from Blinkist customers
Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 5,500+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

Start your free trial