As promised, to close out University Press Week, here’s a Q & A with author Henry Gee, whose recent book The Accidental Species: Misunderstandings of Human Evolution questions the value of concepts like the “missing link” and the Great Chain of Being, positioning them as metaphors that paint a inaccurate portrait of how human evolution really works, and pinning down human exceptionalism as a gross error that continues to infect scientific thought. He also talks about Carl Sagan, Darwin’s vocabulary, and the ubiquity of battered copies of Beowulf in UK bookstores, after the jump.
UCP: The Accidental Species is a serious work about a serious topic—the subject of how and where we locate our own (flawed) notion of human exceptionalism—filled with pop-cultural references such as “Lady Marmalade,” sports cars, elephant jokes, The Hobbit, the works of Lewis Carroll, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Could you describe your sensibility as a paleontologist trying to write a trade book accessible for the general reader?
HG: I’m quite sensitive to a possible criticism of didactic books like this—that is, they can get rather preachy. So, rather than gently introducing readers . . .