In the end, Rutherford nearly runs out of candidates before plumping, somewhat desperately, for one last remaining attribute that he believes defines humanity: our intense social bonding and our desire to share ideas. This is the critical factor that separates Homo sapiens most conclusively from the rest of the animal kingdom, he argues. “Where we stand apart most significantly is in cultural accumulation and transmission. Many animals learn. Only humans teach.”... It is an interesting but scarcely revolutionary conclusion, though this should not detract from a book that is deftly outlined, concisely constructed and filled with intriguing observations and anecdotes. Rutherford is an engaging, witty writer. He is also a concise one. After several vast but worthy tomes about human nature that have been published recently, that makes this pithy homage to our species all the more welcome. An entertaining and blessedly succinct read.
His book sets out to examine ‘what makes us animals and what makes us their paragon’.
Physically, our bodies resemble those of the Homo sapiens who lived in Africa around 200,000 years ago. However, 45,000 years ago, a transition occurred, ‘as we jumped into a state of intellectual sophistication that we see in ourselves today’.As our understanding of the natural world advances, we find animals behaving in ways once considered uniquely human. Rutherford’s fascinating examples of unexpected traits we share with fellow creatures include rats, which suffer regret.
Dr Adam Rutherford, a British geneticist, half Guyanese, a contributor to The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas and a former editor of Nature, is well able to explicate scientific complexities, including the origin and development of man. He writes with intellectual authority and also, as a popular lecturer and broadcaster, expresses himself in a clear and persuasive manner with natural charm. The point of his new book, quite simply, is that ‘Humans are animals’. The genetic code of DNA is universal, he points out, shared with ‘bacteria and bonobos, orchids, oaks, bed bugs, barnacles, triceratops, Tyrannosaurus rex, eagles, egrets, yeast, slime moulds and ceps’. ‘All life on Earth is related by common ancestry, and that includes us.’...