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Meave Leakey’s thrilling, high-stakes memoir—written with her daughter Samira—encapsulates her distinguished life and career on the front lines of the hunt for our human origins, a quest made all the more notable by her stature as a woman in a highly competitive, male-dominated field. In The Sediments of Time, preeminent paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey brings us along Meave Leakey’s thrilling, high-stakes memoir—written with her daughter Samira—encapsulates her distinguished life and career on the front lines of the hunt for our human origins, a quest made all the more notable by her stature as a woman in a highly competitive, male-dominated field. In The Sediments of Time, preeminent paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey brings us along on her remarkable journey to reveal the diversity of our early pre-human ancestors and how past climate change drove their evolution. She offers a fresh account of our past, as recent breakthroughs have allowed new analysis of her team’s fossil findings and vastly expanded our understanding of our ancestors.   Meave’s own personal story is replete with drama, from thrilling discoveries on the shores of Lake Turkana to run-ins with armed herders and every manner of wildlife, to raising her children and supporting her renowned paleoanthropologist husband Richard Leakey’s ambitions amidst social and political strife in Kenya. When Richard needs a kidney, Meave provides him with hers, and when he asks her to assume the reins of their field expeditions after he loses both legs in a plane crash, the result of likely sabotage, Meave steps in.    The Sediments of Time is the summation of a lifetime of Meave Leakey’s efforts; it is a compelling picture of our human origins and climate change, as well as a high-stakes story of ambition, struggle, and hope.  


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Meave Leakey’s thrilling, high-stakes memoir—written with her daughter Samira—encapsulates her distinguished life and career on the front lines of the hunt for our human origins, a quest made all the more notable by her stature as a woman in a highly competitive, male-dominated field. In The Sediments of Time, preeminent paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey brings us along Meave Leakey’s thrilling, high-stakes memoir—written with her daughter Samira—encapsulates her distinguished life and career on the front lines of the hunt for our human origins, a quest made all the more notable by her stature as a woman in a highly competitive, male-dominated field. In The Sediments of Time, preeminent paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey brings us along on her remarkable journey to reveal the diversity of our early pre-human ancestors and how past climate change drove their evolution. She offers a fresh account of our past, as recent breakthroughs have allowed new analysis of her team’s fossil findings and vastly expanded our understanding of our ancestors.   Meave’s own personal story is replete with drama, from thrilling discoveries on the shores of Lake Turkana to run-ins with armed herders and every manner of wildlife, to raising her children and supporting her renowned paleoanthropologist husband Richard Leakey’s ambitions amidst social and political strife in Kenya. When Richard needs a kidney, Meave provides him with hers, and when he asks her to assume the reins of their field expeditions after he loses both legs in a plane crash, the result of likely sabotage, Meave steps in.    The Sediments of Time is the summation of a lifetime of Meave Leakey’s efforts; it is a compelling picture of our human origins and climate change, as well as a high-stakes story of ambition, struggle, and hope.  

30 review for The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past

  1. 5 out of 5

    Eilonwy

    Meave Leakey wanted to be a marine biologist -- until she was informed that research ships in the 1960's had no facilities for female scientists, so sorry. So she switched to zoology instead, which got her hired by Louis Leakey to work with primates in Kenya. But once she met the Leakey family and went on a hunt for hominin fossils with them, she was hooked. It's been paleoanthropology for her ever since. This memoir has some information about her childhood and eventual marriage to Richard Leake Meave Leakey wanted to be a marine biologist -- until she was informed that research ships in the 1960's had no facilities for female scientists, so sorry. So she switched to zoology instead, which got her hired by Louis Leakey to work with primates in Kenya. But once she met the Leakey family and went on a hunt for hominin fossils with them, she was hooked. It's been paleoanthropology for her ever since. This memoir has some information about her childhood and eventual marriage to Richard Leakey, but it's primarily about looking for fossils (and seeking the financial support to do so) and putting together the story of human evolution, from the first hominins that began to stand on two legs and start developing big brains, up through the not-so-distant past when humans, Neandertals, and Denisovans inhabited the world at the same time, to the present, where we are the sole representatives of our genus. It's a well-written, very accessible book. The combination of thrill and frustration when fossils are discovered came through strongly -- it's exciting to find something new, but also difficult to build family trees from the few teeth and bones that are usually all we have to work with. New specimens keep turning up that shake the relationships between early hominins, and new dating techniques are developed that also occasionally force scientists to rethink everything they thought they knew about a prehistoric locale. (Anyone who thinks "science is just a religion" or "scientists all agree with each other" should definitely read this book. There are some nasty disagreements between paleoanthropologists, and a constant sense of competition that keeps everyone on their toes. Even the Leakeys have some subjects they cannot discuss at the dinner table because they so strongly disagree. There is also great teamwork and camaraderie.) I found this to be a very enjoyable and educational retrospective of Meave Leakey's entire career. She lays out human evolution (and some other animal evolution as well) with great connections and transitions between chapters, and I shared in her sense of discovery and mystery as I read. Recommended primarily to people who care about human prehistory and paleontological digs, but if it sounds interesting to you, I'd say give it a shot.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Randal White

    What an incredible life the author has lived! it's almost like a real life Indiana Jones. Her adventures, her discoveries, her relationships, she has really packed a lot into one lifetime. This book is a wonderful summation of the discoveries she, and her esteemed family, has made. I am in awe of her knowledge and dedication. There is a wealth of information and science in this book. At times I was getting overwhelmed and had to set the book aside and digest it for a bit. All in all, it is a gre What an incredible life the author has lived! it's almost like a real life Indiana Jones. Her adventures, her discoveries, her relationships, she has really packed a lot into one lifetime. This book is a wonderful summation of the discoveries she, and her esteemed family, has made. I am in awe of her knowledge and dedication. There is a wealth of information and science in this book. At times I was getting overwhelmed and had to set the book aside and digest it for a bit. All in all, it is a great book.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paleoanthro

    More then a memoir, The Sediments of Time, is a fascinating read and insightful tour of research into human origins by one of the fields greats. Divulge into the depths of the authors research and its impact on human evolutionary studies, as well as details of the authors life and field research, which she clearly loves and imparts to us throughout the book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Miriam

    Wow! Maeve Leakey writes a fascinating and engaging memoir of her search for the evolution of man, his shift to bipedalism. You'll learn about evolution, archaeological excavation, how fossils are dated in the arid lands, volcanic ash layers, and sediments of Lake Turkana in NW Kenya. For every scientific term Leakey uses, there's a concise and illustrative explanation and often a history of the concept and scientific discovery. From shifts in teeth as they adapt to new foods brought about by cli Wow! Maeve Leakey writes a fascinating and engaging memoir of her search for the evolution of man, his shift to bipedalism. You'll learn about evolution, archaeological excavation, how fossils are dated in the arid lands, volcanic ash layers, and sediments of Lake Turkana in NW Kenya. For every scientific term Leakey uses, there's a concise and illustrative explanation and often a history of the concept and scientific discovery. From shifts in teeth as they adapt to new foods brought about by climate change, from changes in jaws, bones, and locomotion, Leakey takes the reader through it all. You'll even learn about the tectonic shifts and upheavals of eastern Africa in the 7 to 4 million year range. The audio book narrator, Susan Myers, draws you into this lengthy history of science. For a review of the performance, see AudioFile Magazine http://www.audiofilemagazine.com

  5. 5 out of 5

    Joanne Manaster

    Not just her well written autobiography, but also an excellent overview of human evolution as told through research. A very informative read.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Dipra Lahiri

    An account of an amazing, exciting life by one of the great paleo-anthropologists. Tough, gutsy and determined, she's a role model. The science can get a bit overwhelming at times, but it demonstrates the huge strides in knowledge, and the multi-disciplinary attack to reveal the deepest mysteries of the origins of humankind. An account of an amazing, exciting life by one of the great paleo-anthropologists. Tough, gutsy and determined, she's a role model. The science can get a bit overwhelming at times, but it demonstrates the huge strides in knowledge, and the multi-disciplinary attack to reveal the deepest mysteries of the origins of humankind.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tove R.

    Thanks NetGalley and Meave Leakey for the opportunity to read this advance reader copy! This brilliant memoir/autobiography is thought provoking, engaging, well-written, and I read it in one go, even though it is not a short or quick read. I have followed what the Leakey family do for years, and was therefore excited to see that Meave is coming out with a book about her, and our (humans) lives. It begins with her childhood and takes the reader through her and her family’s life, as well as all th Thanks NetGalley and Meave Leakey for the opportunity to read this advance reader copy! This brilliant memoir/autobiography is thought provoking, engaging, well-written, and I read it in one go, even though it is not a short or quick read. I have followed what the Leakey family do for years, and was therefore excited to see that Meave is coming out with a book about her, and our (humans) lives. It begins with her childhood and takes the reader through her and her family’s life, as well as all the scientific progress that has happened during her lifetime. There are many memorable moments and stories, which is why I could not stop reading the book. Meave’s life has been so rich and fulfilling that she does not go into detail about everything in her life, which I appreciate. She is sharing some of the toughest moments in her life, for example her husband Richard’s health problems and how they bravely plowed through them. There is quite a bit of science in the book, and a lot about human bones and how she and her colleagues around the world have uncovered pieces of human history and our ancestors. There is still so much to be discovered, but everything written in this book that has already been discovered is fascinating. I do not want to discourage anyone from reading this book, but for a memoir it has more scientific facts and figures than expected. I would definitely recommend this book to readers interested in human history, the Leakey family, science, Africa, primates, fascinating discoveries, and life in general. I think anyone who enjoys a good memoir with a lot of content will enjoy this book as well!

  8. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    I received an electronic copy of this book for free via NetGalley for an honest review. This is a well-written and informative book, and while it is an autobiographical account of Meave Leakey's life, it's also very much a discussion of what the field of paleoanthropology has learned from many of the projects she's been involved in over her long career. It does make for interesting reading, though as someone whose knowledge of the field is pretty limited to a single undergraduate course I took as I received an electronic copy of this book for free via NetGalley for an honest review. This is a well-written and informative book, and while it is an autobiographical account of Meave Leakey's life, it's also very much a discussion of what the field of paleoanthropology has learned from many of the projects she's been involved in over her long career. It does make for interesting reading, though as someone whose knowledge of the field is pretty limited to a single undergraduate course I took as a gen ed about eight years ago, I had to Google things pretty frequently while reading. Meave Leakey has led an interesting life, and it's certainly enjoyable to read a little bit about it. The first chapters address some of the challenges she faced as a woman in science in the 1960s--she was trained as a marine biologist, but ended up working in Africa because she was repeatedly denied a place on research vessels on the justification that they did not have facilities for female researchers aboard. The book admittedly gets a little deep in the evolutionary biology weeds for me now and then; as I said, it is well-written and it's an interesting topic, but I occasionally had to remind myself that I will not be taking an exam on changes in dentition related to diet in a changing climate, and it's okay if I don't retain all this information. For someone who has a little bit more background in this area than I do, however, I suspect these sections would be especially fascinating.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sharon McNeil

    Excellent!!!

  10. 5 out of 5

    Grrlscientist

    Meave Leakey is a real-life Indiana Jones. Her life has been filled with adventure, struggle, and discovery after amazing discovery that are detailed in her riveting autobiography, The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search For The Past (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020). The author's story begins with her birth during the middle of the London Blitz in 1942, then quickly moves on to her unconventional youth and to her dream to become a marine biologist, an unusual ambition for a woman in the ea Meave Leakey is a real-life Indiana Jones. Her life has been filled with adventure, struggle, and discovery after amazing discovery that are detailed in her riveting autobiography, The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search For The Past (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020). The author's story begins with her birth during the middle of the London Blitz in 1942, then quickly moves on to her unconventional youth and to her dream to become a marine biologist, an unusual ambition for a woman in the early 1960s. Only after being repeatedly denied a place on a research vessel because these ships lacked facilities for female scientists (!!) did she begin looking around for other scientific opportunities. As luck would have it, she was invited to interview with Louis Leakey to care for his colony of live monkeys in Kenya. Soon after arriving on site, she entered another male-dominated scientific field when she began digging hominid fossils alongside Louis and Mary Leakey, contributing to the work they began almost 100 years ago. This book, which her second daughter Samira helped write, includes brief details about Meave's life with husband, Richard, such as when he lost both legs in a plane crash that probably resulted from sabotage, and when she donated one of her kidneys to him after his failed, but the majority of the book focuses on Meave's long and celebrated career as she worked to better understand our own evolutionary history. It uses good old fashioned storytelling to combine science and field work to reveal the intellectual excitement of discovery and the huge strides made in our knowledge of human origins and evolution. Each new fossil that's unearthed adds to our growing body of knowledge, and each new advance in dating techniques and molecular biology refines that knowledge. Further, the author contextualized these discoveries within the local ecology and the landscape that was responding to the changing climate. In my opinion, one of the most interesting findings is that modern-day people are not the pinnacle of a straightforward evolutionary trajectory extending from ancient ape-like creatures to modern humans, but instead, the fossil evidence increasingly shows that we are the product of a messy affair between a number of hominid species that lived alongside each other in the Turkana Basin and elsewhere. I was disappointed by the illustrations, which were few and very far between. I especially wanted to see the geology and the landscape of Lothagam, which the author describes as "stunning", and also because she claimed that her work in this region was important for establishing her credibility as an competent fossil hunter both with her field crews and with funding sources. Unfortunately, not even a Google search provided much to look at. I think that the book and its readers would have benefitted greatly from a timeline showing when the first hominids began to stand upright and to develop big brains, including the not-so-distant past when humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans coexisted, up to the present time. Additionally, because the author frequently mentions the usefulness of pig and elephant teeth for estimating the ages other fossils unearthed in the same sedimentary layers, a timeline or diagram illustrating the evolutionary progression of pig and elephant dentition and their locations in the various sediment layers would also have been helpful to familiarize readers with the time intervals being investigated. Despite the scarcity of useful illustrations and diagrams, this book will appeal to anyone with an interest in evolution (especially human evolution), or palaeontology, who is interested in what it’s like to do field work in Kenya, or who wants to know how one determined female scientist managed to accomplish so much at a time when most of the world’s women were trapped in a kitchen. NOTE: Originally published at Forbes.com on 5 January 2021.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Anneke

    Book Review: The Sediments of Time - My Lifelong Search for the Past Author: Meave Leakey and Samira Leakey Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication Date: November 10, 2020 Review Date: December 7, 2020 From the blurb: Meave Leakey’s thrilling, high-stakes memoir—written with her daughter Samira—encapsulates her distinguished life and career on the front lines of the hunt for our human origins, a quest made all the more notable by her stature as a woman in a highly competitive, male-dominated Book Review: The Sediments of Time - My Lifelong Search for the Past Author: Meave Leakey and Samira Leakey Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication Date: November 10, 2020 Review Date: December 7, 2020 From the blurb: Meave Leakey’s thrilling, high-stakes memoir—written with her daughter Samira—encapsulates her distinguished life and career on the front lines of the hunt for our human origins, a quest made all the more notable by her stature as a woman in a highly competitive, male-dominated field. In The Sediments of Time, preeminent paleoanthropologist Meave Leakey brings us along on her remarkable journey to reveal the diversity of our early pre-human ancestors and how past climate change drove their evolution. She offers a fresh account of our past, as recent breakthroughs have allowed new analysis of her team’s fossil findings and vastly expanded our understanding of our ancestors.   Meave’s own personal story is replete with drama, from thrilling discoveries on the shores of Lake Turkana to run-ins with armed herders and every manner of wildlife, to raising her children and supporting her renowned paleoanthropologist husband Richard Leakey’s ambitions amidst social and political strife in Kenya. When Richard needs a kidney, Meave provides him with hers, and when he asks her to assume the reins of their field expeditions after he loses both legs in a plane crash, the result of likely sabotage, Meave steps in.    The Sediments of Time is the summation of a lifetime of Meave Leakey’s efforts; it is a compelling picture of our human origins and climate change, as well as a high-stakes story of ambition, struggle, and hope. "A fascinating glimpse into our origins. Meave Leakey is a great storyteller, and she presents new information about the far off time when we emerged from our ape-like ancestors to start the long journey that has led to our becoming the dominant species on Earth. That story, woven into her own journey of research and discovery, gives us a book that is informative and captivating, one that you will not forget." —Jane Goodall, PhD, DBE, Founder of the Jane Goodall Institute ——— What a fascinating memoir! This book is filled with great life stories; Maeve Leakey has lived an extraordinary life, and has unearthed important understanding about our species. The writing was clear and easy to read. This would be a great Christmas gift for your loved ones who like to read this type of nonfiction. Memoir and science. I highly, highly recommend the Leakeys’ book. Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for giving me early access to this incredible book, and thank you to Maeve Leakey for the priceless work you have done over the course of your life. This review will be posted on NetGalley, Goodreads and Amazon/ #netgalley #thesedimentsoftime #maeveandsamiraleakey #houghtonmifflinharcourt #paleoanthropology

  12. 5 out of 5

    Pamela

    Part memoir, part autobiography, Leakey opens her book with her birth and moves through her life until now. In between she speaks her mind on many topics not the least is climate change. While I would imagine that most readers want to know about her life as a paleoanthropologist, but they must first wade through the details of her early life to get to the “good stuff.” There are portions where she goes into great detail about what she was doing as when she talks about when she takes over the fie Part memoir, part autobiography, Leakey opens her book with her birth and moves through her life until now. In between she speaks her mind on many topics not the least is climate change. While I would imagine that most readers want to know about her life as a paleoanthropologist, but they must first wade through the details of her early life to get to the “good stuff.” There are portions where she goes into great detail about what she was doing as when she talks about when she takes over the field operations from Richard Leakey, her husband. Some of what she talks about may be above most readers’ interest level, like when she talks about the various eras the fossils she was interested in fell, i.e., the period where the apes and humans became separated, the science diverted from her story. While the publisher calls this a “thrilling, high-stakes memoir,” there was neither “thrilling” nor high-stakes” anything until she actually she took over from her husband and became a fossil hunter. It was then that the hunt for another “Lucy” was at play and her story got really interesting. If you love paleoanthropology and the hunt for fossils, you’ll undoubtedly immensely enjoy this book. My thanks to Houghton Mifflin and NetGalley for an eARC.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dawn Rupert

    Having followed the Leakey's from almost the beginning, it was a pleasure to read Meave Leakey's memoir of her work at Lake Turkana and other parts of Kenya. While there are a few personal reflections, the book is mostly about her work and research. I appreciated the map at the beginning of the book as well as the diagrams and color pictures. Forty, fifty years ago following the research of Louis and Mary Leakey, there were only a few divisions of pre-historic man. Now there are so many bones and Having followed the Leakey's from almost the beginning, it was a pleasure to read Meave Leakey's memoir of her work at Lake Turkana and other parts of Kenya. While there are a few personal reflections, the book is mostly about her work and research. I appreciated the map at the beginning of the book as well as the diagrams and color pictures. Forty, fifty years ago following the research of Louis and Mary Leakey, there were only a few divisions of pre-historic man. Now there are so many bones and skulls that have been found that there are so many more classifications. So much information to absorb. Just a wonderful, almost a textbook. I really admire that Ms. Leakey gave so much credit to all those in the field and their part in the exploration of the land and the finding of remains. One other thing that truly amazed me was the last picture in the book of Meave and husband Richard. I hadn't seen a picture of Richard in many years. Looking at that picture of Richard as an older man, the resemblance to his father, Louis, was so strong that I thought I was looking at Louis.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Stoeckel

    "Evolution is constantly at work as features change or are co-opted for a different task and time" This book, on top of being a first person memoir of the attempt at the standardization of paleo anthropology by the Leakey family, is also an in-depth look at our own evolution from bone study to genetic anthropological breakthroughs. In the end, it is an extant survey of certain parts of African fossil hunting and sedimentary study. This book also makes great assumptions: that the reader either has "Evolution is constantly at work as features change or are co-opted for a different task and time" This book, on top of being a first person memoir of the attempt at the standardization of paleo anthropology by the Leakey family, is also an in-depth look at our own evolution from bone study to genetic anthropological breakthroughs. In the end, it is an extant survey of certain parts of African fossil hunting and sedimentary study. This book also makes great assumptions: that the reader either has knowledge of history and fossil morphology and some rudimentary knowledge of physical science. Without these, the book would be of little interest. More than an autobiography but just short of a textbook, it's interesting but not life changing. [disclaimer: I received this book from an outside source and voluntarily chose to read and review it]

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ted Haussman

    I’ve always been fascinated by the human origin story to the point where I considered archaeology as a career for a bring period of time. I read Johansson’s Lucy in high school and followed the discoveries that were being made. I obviously knew about the Leakeys, but more Louis and Mary and a little about Richard. I never realized Meave’s huge role. The book is entertainingly written and does a good job explaining some of the complicated science. I appreciated getting an up to date understanding I’ve always been fascinated by the human origin story to the point where I considered archaeology as a career for a bring period of time. I read Johansson’s Lucy in high school and followed the discoveries that were being made. I obviously knew about the Leakeys, but more Louis and Mary and a little about Richard. I never realized Meave’s huge role. The book is entertainingly written and does a good job explaining some of the complicated science. I appreciated getting an up to date understanding of where our knowledge stands and how things have changed since the 1980’s when I was studying this issue. I’m sure I’ll re-read some portions in the future as we learn more.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Guy Lenk

    This is a great book from (obviously) one of THE families involved in the study of early hominin ancestry. As much biography as science it is an entertaining read for everyone. That's not to say that the science in it is lacking, but give it several chapters to really get rolling. There are a few book which are accounts of the major discoveries published (which I've read), but this one adds a bit to the details within the narratives. I definitely recommend it. This is a great book from (obviously) one of THE families involved in the study of early hominin ancestry. As much biography as science it is an entertaining read for everyone. That's not to say that the science in it is lacking, but give it several chapters to really get rolling. There are a few book which are accounts of the major discoveries published (which I've read), but this one adds a bit to the details within the narratives. I definitely recommend it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Annarella

    I learned a lot reading this book and was fascinated by the life of the author. She's a talented storyteller and she does an excellent job in explaining how paleo-anthropology works, her discoveries and researched. I thing it's an interesting and engrossing read that I strongly recommend. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine I learned a lot reading this book and was fascinated by the life of the author. She's a talented storyteller and she does an excellent job in explaining how paleo-anthropology works, her discoveries and researched. I thing it's an interesting and engrossing read that I strongly recommend. Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tfalcone

    Thank you Net Galley for the free ARC. Excellent summation of hominid history and the amazing fossil finds by the Leakey family, Yohannes Haile Selassie and Donald Johansen. The ever growing evidence of our evolution and descendancy. Fascinating.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Lois Merrill

    Very well written complex book on our human origins. Very interesting and informative! I felt transported to Kenya and their studies and digs. Gave me a new outlook on evolution and how we came to be. AMAZING

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    Interesting and educational.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Thady

    Fascinating account of the search for our origins and of the efforts of the Leakey family

  22. 4 out of 5

    Joshua

    Great for people who love science!

  23. 5 out of 5

    Henry Turner

  24. 4 out of 5

    Peggy

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nicole Barbaro

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sharonkc

  27. 4 out of 5

    Anna

  28. 5 out of 5

    Tianfy

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ellen Stofan

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jenna

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