Reading is easily one of my favorite activities. Outside of newspapers, magazines, and websites, I tend to read more novels than anything else. I like the immersion experience and the sense of accomplishment after finishing a well-written novel. However, I do enjoy nonfiction works, and I gravitate toward works on history, religion, and natural science. I am also fascinated by human origins, evolution, and anthropology. There are a few books I can recall that truly had a life-altering effect on my way of thinking. One of those was Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by the late Carl Sagan and co-authored by Ann Druyan.
First published in 1992, this book is an exploration of who we are and how human beings have been shaped by the development of the planet over millions of years. The authors explore origins of traits central to our current predicament: sex and violence, love and altruism, hierarchy, consciousness, language, technology, and morality. It is easily the best book on human origins and anthropology for the lay-reader that I have ever read. I’m sure some scholars in the field are still not fond of Sagan’s work, but he really did a good job of making science accessible and fascinating for the rest of us. For that effort and accomplishment, I am grateful.