Friday, 12 July 2013

Alice Roberts, The Incredible Human Journey

Alice Roberts, The Incredible Human Journey

Do you get jealous of writers from time to time, or is it just me? 

I don't mean the glamour of being an author, nor the joy of working from a quiet study with no boss and no clients to pamper (on second thought, I MIGHT be somewhat jealous of the latter...). 

Books like Alice Roberts' The Incredible Human Journey are guaranteed to turn me vivid green with envy.  Wow, what a way to make a living!  Travelling around the world, expenses paid, entertainments organised?  Where can I volunteer?  Yes, you are obliged to churn out a piece of writing afterwards, but after such a mega-trek I wouldn't lack inspiration I'm sure. 

Roberts started her journey in Africa - just like our great-great-great-many-times-great grandfather (according to the prevalent theory, anyway).  She followed homo sapiens all over the world, visiting countless countries on most continents.  Fun!!  True, her sightseeing was mostly limited to archaeological digs and museums, but she did manage to sample activities as exotic as reindeer herding or rafting on open ocean. 

The Incredible Human Journey is a strange mixture of anthropology, archaeology, genetics,  palaeontology and travel writing.  The travelogue is used as a framework to tell the story of how human beings colonised our planet thousands years ago and how modern scientists, reclaiming knowledge from ancient fossils, pieced scraps of information together to form a convincing picture of our past.  Sure, they didn't manage to convince everyone.  When it comes to human evolution, the world is full of conflicting theories and Roberts recounts an impressive number of them (somewhat tediously, if I am to be frank). 

As far as I can tell, the book is only a spin off from a TV series made by BBC.  I bet all the travelling and fun activities worked great on the screen.  In the book, I'm not so sure.  I'd rather see either more travel writing (adventure travel, yay!) or none of it (just get on with educating, please...). 

Possibly I'm just being picky (or jealous!).

Right here right now I'm inclined to say that The Incredible Human Journey is pleasant and fairly entertaining but nowhere near life-changing or exceptional. 

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