Title: The Link: Uncovering our Earliest Ancestor
Author: Colin Tudge
No. of Pages: 250
First Released: 2009
Synopsis: Meet Ida, a perfectly fossilized early primate, older than the previously most famous primate fossil, Lucy, by forty-four million years. Ida is the most complete fossil ever found. Her astonishing preservation has the potential to completely revolutionize primate origins. For more than 100 years, humans have sought to uncover their ancestry in the evolutionary chain. Ida just may be one more link in the chain.
Comments and Critique: For those who like paleontology but are not be scientists in the field, this book offers a unique look into the study of paleontology, the search for fossils and just what fossil finds entail for the scientists involved. Mr. Tudge does a great job of setting the backdrop and explaining in fairly easy-to-understand terminology what this find means for scientists throughout the world. He takes roughly 150 of the 250 pages of the book to explain what the earth was like both before and after Ida was living, how early primates evolved, the truly unique nature of Ida’s final resting place, and how we can extrapolate from Ida’s era to our own. This background paves the way for the reader to understand the significance of Ida.
Even a layperson like me realizes that Ida is truly a one-in-a-million find. The pictures sprinkled throughout the book certainly highlight just how remarkable she is. Not only is the skeleton complete, but you can also see the outline of her fur as well as the fossilized remains of her stomach contents at the time of her death. Given the fact that most fossils are partial remains, this detail is both astonishing and slightly eerie.
Speaking of eerie, if one were to look solely at the cover without knowing anything else about the book, one would almost get the impression that it falls in the horror genre. I get what the publishers were trying to do with the cover illustration (that is one of Ida’s hands), but it still is a bit creepy to me to see it isolated like that. The full fossil pictures are stunning; the single hand scares me ever so slightly.
One other bone of contention is Mr. Tudge’s descriptions of the scientists involved. Dr. Jorn Hurum is the paleontologist who was shown a picture of Ida at a fossil fair and immediately recognized the value of the find. Professor Philip Gingerich and Dr. Jens Franzen also helped confirm Ida’s authenticity and continue to work together to unravel all of her secrets. Extremely lucky (because paleontology requires luck) men, they appear more than capable of handling the job. And yet, Mr. Tudge’s descriptions of them, especially when compared to the pictures included in the book, seems slanted and somewhat biased. Dr. Hurum, as the lead scientist, is described as having the “rugged look of an explorer” and “a sturdy build”, which does not match the picture. Dr. Franzen is described as having Coke-bottle glasses. Let’s just say that if he’s wearing Coke-bottle glasses, then my glasses belonged on the Hubble telescope. I know these seem minor, but it did get me wondering what else he slanted in his descriptions. I’ve read a lot of peer-reviewed literature and have done my fair share of literature reviews for my Masters’ program, so minor details such as inaccurate descriptions of main characters tends to raise a yellow flag for me to proceed with caution and understand that the author’s point of view may be skewed.
In all, this book made me remember why I wanted to be a paleontologist or archaeologist when I grew up. Mr. Tudge does a tremendous job of presenting complex ideas in a simplistic fashion to help guide the reader to a better understanding of the overall importance of the discovery. I learned quite a bit about prehistoric Earth after the dinosaurs roamed, and I met Ida. She is definitely one fascinating little “lady” and well worth the time and effort it takes to finally meet her.
Thanks to Anna Balasi at Hachette Books for the opportunity to review this book!