How humans evolved through fire, language, beauty and time

A wondrous, visionary work

Tim Flannery, scientist and author of the bestselling ‘The Weather Makers’

Captivating… A provocative, highly readable take on our astonishing emergence from the primordial soup.


About the book

This is the astonishing story of how culture enabled us to become the most successful species on Earth.

An entirely fresh view of our history, Vince makes the convincing case that it is the combination of our genes, environments and cultures, working in rich feedback-loops over deep millennia, that have boot-strapped this weak ape’s unlikely success . This is the story of how we have made ourselves, and are continuing to do so.    

An imaginative and inspiring adventure into the origins and evolution of what we hold most dear: our human culture

Uta Frith, Emeritus Professor of Cognitive Development UCL

Drawing on cutting edge research in ancient DNA, population genetics, archaeology, psychology, ecology and sociology, Gaia Vince reveals new insights into our history – looking at how energy, knowledge, storytelling, trade and communities arose and are still evolving, showing how it is our collective human culture, rather than individual intelligence, that makes us smart. Weaving these threads right up to the present day, Vince uses vivid, evidence-based stories to illuminate how humans operate and evolve as we do: why people who live in cities are more inventive; why social rejection really does hurt us; what the recent fashion for raw food diets tells us about our reliance on cooking; how copying is key to problem solving; how bipedalism was key to talking; why it is harder to say No than Yes; why globally it is women who lead language change and innovation; why humans will die to save their art; how and why we invented time and it, in turn, changed us. Along the way, myths are busted and new views open up:  gender equality was the norm for most of evolutionary history, whereas social norms (like gender oppression, racism) are invented, and can be changed.

Even those broadly familiar with humanity’s story will find new information and insights in Vince’s fascinating study

Publishers Weekly

Vince shows how we are all part of an unfolding social project in which we are becoming ever closer, more mixed, less tribal, and entering a new chapter in our evolution on a planet we are rapidly changing and which will, in turn, change us. How will we adapt? 

Gaia Vince’s enthralling second book, ideal for anyone who loved Sapiens, shows how a unique combination of genes, environment and culture (from our love of objects to our knowledge of mortality) has enabled us to determine our own destiny, uniquely among species on earth

The Bookseller

Today, we are malnourished in new ways, our foreheads are expanding, we are growing taller, and more-short sighted. We can also create novel life forms and are inventing AI. As we combine with our tools and technologies to become ‘Homni’, a self-determining superorganism, we are on the cusp of becoming exceptional – but also potentially destructive. 

This book goes from the Big Bang to the Hundred Thousand Genome Project to make a convincing case that Homo sapiens has become a super-organism. I learned a lot from it and so will you

Steve Jones, Emeritus Professor of Human Genetics UCL, author of ‘Almost Like a Whale’