While some people have a favorite movie star that they obsess about, I mentally stalk intellectuals. For years, my go to guy was Harold Bloom the mac daddy of critical thinking. And yes, Bloom is still a brilliant bloated star in all ways; but in the last year I’ve ventured out of the cushy confines of lit crit and into the bubbling cauldron of anthropology which was where I found my new favorite intellectual Ian Tattersall…
Like Bloom, Tattersall is a Yalie (he’s also English which is always a plus for me), however unlike Bloom he is also a paleoanthropologist and a biological anthropology curator at the American Museum of Natural History (you have him to thank for the refurbished Hall of Human Origins). His work on human evolution is brilliant – from Lemurs to Bones and Genomes, to Extinct Species, to Neanderthals… More than that it’s compulsively readable – check out The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE for a great starting point or Bones, Brains and DNA if you have young kids.
But the best reason to like Ian Tattersall is that he’s a nice guy who takes time out of his busy schedule to help others (and by others I mean me). Case in point: He gave me great notes for a children’s book on evolution that I am working on. Even better, he also convinced me that Neanderthals didn’t have language*. When was the last time someone convinced you of that?
*Apparently their larynx was situated too high up in their throats to allow for proper interaction with the hyoid bone – which is how we are able to speak.