Book Review: Lucy – The Beginnings of Humankind

Book Review

The story of life without God is incredible. When you believe a deity created everything, including you, and placed you on this earth, at the time and place you find yourself in, you don’t need to ask any more questions. God is an easy answer. Remove God, and you are left with the incomprehensible reality of life emerging from nothing and then that explodes in the vastness of time as it makes its way to such an array of different species, and then Homo Sapiens emerge, modern man’s time dawns and works its way to you, reading this on a screen today.

When I was a believer, I used to have a list of answers to life existential questions. But now I don’t believe, and I just have questions. I think that’s a big part of life without God. It’s interesting to me that people who still believe in God when I tell them I don’t believe in God, want to know my answers now as if I have a new list and everything is sussed out. All I can offer is my wonder and awe.

I picked this book on Lucy up after talking to Rebekah from The Curious Atheist Blog, she read it, reviewed it and it sounded awesome. She was bang on the money.

This book chronicles the story of palaeoanthropology and its search for the beginnings of humankind. It tracks the journey that different paleoanthropologist’s took in discovering the different sorts of biped/erect walking Hominini that went before us (from the time of Charles Darwin). There are a whole host of different sorts of biped Hominini that Mr Johanson talks about throughout the book, I won’t do it a disservice by trying to explain it in a paragraph or two. What I will note is that a lot has changed since 1981 when the book was written, but it is still a very important book as it talks about a very important find: Lucy.

Lucy is 3-3.5 million years old; she was about three and a half feet tall; she had a tiny brain and seems to have died at what we could consider young, at the side of a lake. She walked erect, is an incredibly intact specimen and because of this, we can see that she holds many similarities to us.

This book does a brilliant job of explaining what the culture within Palaeoanthropology was like at the time Mr Johanson discovered Lucy. It talks about the already well-accepted beliefs around human evolution and it explains how Lucy, although very different from ourselves, was a massive key to open up a whole new understanding about how we evolved and how we should look at the other Hominini that we had discovered during a couple of hundreds of years since Darwin and before we found Lucy herself.

Towards the end of the book, Mr Johanson talks about the problem of having an erect walking Hominini, without a large brain. It was commonly attested that our brains developed with the ability to walk on two legs because this freed up our hands to use tools. Lucy blows this out of the water, her brain is tiny in comparison to modern man, and yet she defiantly walked erect. We don’t have any evidence to show that 3-3.5 million years ago Hominini used tools either. Now, I won’t spoil the journey that the book holds as it explains why Hominini walked erect before their brains developed, but it is a fascinating explanation and was honestly my favourite part of this book (section 4 – for those who want to read it).

My big take away from this book was the importance of evidence, accurate dating and how hard it is to make changes within science. I have the utmost respect for those seeking professions in fields such as Palaeoanthropology. As we find more and more fossils, we discover more and more information out about the past. The shifts what we currently understand to be the best explanation of how or why something is or was. Take the Hominini family tree as an example.

You start with humans, and then work your way backwards: where did we come from, how did we evolve, why did we evolve in the way we did? So, you look at the fossil records and begin to try to piece together the best explanation, with the best evidence, with the clearest dating possible. But as we find more fossils and date them more accurately, we change the tree and realise there are subcategories that we thought where along the main trunk or things we thought were branches that suddenly become needed in the main trunk to make sense to things.

It is very complicated, and you have a vast amount of pressure to find evidence, to expand the evidence and to fit the evidence within a scientific model. Mr Johanson explains this fantastically well within this book and really does helps the reader to see how much of a huge change Lucy was to our understanding of our past.

You can’t get this book on kindle, sadly. But I managed to pick it up from £3.49 from an Amazon seller – who turned out to be Oxfam (see the sticker in the picture).

If you want to know more about humanities origins, if you want to be awe-filled and marvel at how life has changed over millions of years, I would highly recommend this book to anyone. Lucy is incredible, as a story, as a Hominini and as a discovery. She has honestly changed the way I look at myself and this world, and for that, I thank her and Mr Johanson.

_End of Blog Blurb_

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. It has taken me a few years to get to a place where I am able to share my loss of faith and to start writing about the journey that I am still on for you all. I hope you find it useful.

Podcast: If you like what you read then you could always check out the podcast ‘When Belief Dies’, it is available on all major podcasting platforms or you can listen via YouTube. Dave and I upload and publish via Anchor FM each Wednesday at 7 am.

Grammar, spelling, capitalisation and punctuation: I am massively dyslexic. It has taken me years to get to the level I am currently at with writing and I have done this mainly through reading. I want to be better and ask you, reader, to please forgive any errors in my writing. I hope you notice improvement upon improvement over the coming years.

Time Frame: This blog is roughly six to nine months behind where I currently am at in my journey out of religion. It’s important to remember that when reading and commenting.

If you want to connect with me, then you can get in touch via any of the social media links that can be found at the top of the page. If you want to get every post straight to your inbox then you can do that by either following directly via WordPress or with your email address, whichever you prefer – the links are to the right.

I’ll see you back here at the same time next week 🙂


Farewell For Now When Belief Dies

It's time to stop, even though it breaks my heart. This episode serves as my reason why.   -Sam
  1. Farewell For Now
  2. When Belief Dies #100 – 'Psychedelics, Philosophy & God' with Peter Sjöstedt-Hughes
  3. When Belief Dies #99 – 'Open and Relational Theology' with Thomas Jay Oord
  4. When Belief Dies #98 – 'The Take Over' with Daniel Kelly & Roger Bretherton
  5. When Belief Dies #97 – 'The End?' with Daniel Kelly

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