The Human Story: Our History, from the Stone Age to Today

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 9/14/2009
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications

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Has there ever been a history of the world as readable as this? In The Human Story , James C. Davis takes us on a journey to ancient times, telling how peoples of the world settled down and founded cities, conquered neighbors, and established religions, and continues over the course of history, when they fought two nearly global wars and journeyed into space. Davis's account is swift and clear, never dull or dry. He lightens it with pungent anecdotes and witty quotes. Although this compact volume may not be hard to pick up, it's definitely hard to put down. For example, on the death of Alexander the Great, who in a decade had never lost a single battle, and who had staked out an empire that spanned the entire Near East and Egypt, Davis writes: "When they heard how ill he was, the king's devoted troops insisted on seeing him. He couldn't speak, but as his soldiers -- every one -- filed by in silence, Alexander's eyes uttered his farewells. He died in June 323 B.C. , at the ripe old age of thirty-two." In similar fashion Davis recounts Russia's triumph in the space race as it happened on an autumn night in 1957: "A bugle sounded, flames erupted, and with a roar like rolling thunder, Russia's rocket lifted off. It bore aloft the earth's first artificial satellite, a shiny sphere the size of a basketball. Its name was Sputnik, meaning 'companion' or 'fellow traveler' (through space). The watchers shouted, 'Off. She's off. Our baby's off!' Some danced; others kissed and waved their arms." Though we live in an age of many doubts, James C. Davis thinks we humans are advancing. As The Human Story ends, he concludes, "The world's still cruel; that's understood, / But once was worse. So far so good."

Table of Contents

List of Maps and Illustrationsp. ix
To the Readerp. xi
We fill the earthp. 1
We gather by the riversp. 11
The wanderers settle downp. 31
Two ancient cities follow diverse pathsp. 48
China excels and enduresp. 68
Some attempt to rule us allp. 87
We found the worldwide faithsp. 107
Europe prepares for its big rolep. 127
We find each otherp. 147
The New World falls to the Old onep. 167
We suffer famine, war, and plaguep. 182
We discover who we are and where we livep. 195
Here and there, the people rulep. 215
We make more and live betterp. 235
The richer countries grab the poorerp. 248
We multiply, and shrink the earthp. 263
We wage a war to end warp. 277
A utopia becomes a nightmarep. 295
A Leader tries to shape a master racep. 311
We wage a wider, crueler warp. 323
The Asian giants try to feed their poorp. 351
Some of us do wellp. 372
We walk along the brinkp. 398
We do the unbelievablep. 420
Epilogue: So Far So Goodp. 441
Recommended Readingp. 443
Permissionsp. 451
Indexp. 453
Table of Contents provided by Rittenhouse. All Rights Reserved.


The Human Story
Our History, from the Stone Age to Today

Chapter One

We Fill the Earth

Our tale begins when humans much like us evolved andfilled the earth.

Before that happened other humans had already come andgone. The most important of our forebears was Homo erectus, orUpright Men, so named because they stood on their two feet.They evolved in Africa about two million years ago and wanderedinto Asia. They sometimes lived in caves and sometimes in theopen, and they chipped their simple tools from stone and learnedthe use of fire. Erectus had heavy brows and flatter skulls than wedo, and if one were to enter a bus today the other riders probablywould stealthily slip out.

Before erectus vanished perhaps 300,000 years ago, they begatthe species we belong to. We of course are Homo sapiens, or WiseMen. Immodestly we gave ourselves that name because we havelarger brains, encased in higher skulls, than erectus. In spite of havinglarger brains, the early sapiens humans may not have had the giftof language.

* * *

They change their minds every time they find an ancient skull,but anthropologists are fairly sure that our own subspecies evolvedfrom sapiens about 160,000 years ago. We probably evolved in Africa,below the Sahara Desert. To indicate that we are a subspecies ofsapiens, we call ourselves Homo sapiens sapiens, or Wise Wise Men.We are now the only variety of humans on earth.

We evolved in different ways. Some of those in Africa developedtall, thin bodies that exposed a lot of skin and that air could thereforecool more easily. Dark pigment in their skin protected them from thetropical sun's ultraviolet rays, and their tight-curled hair protectedtheir heads from the heat. But humans who lived in Europe and Asia,coping with the long, dark winters, had other needs. To keep theirbones from weakening, they needed sunlight to stimulate vitamin Dproduction. Dark skin would have blocked out too much sun, so theydeveloped pink or sallow skin with little pigment.

Prehistorians have learned a lot about the life of our sapiens sapiensancestors, especially those who lived in southwest Europe aboutthirty thousand years ago. For example, individuals took as muchpleasure in looking different from each other as modern humans do. Ina cave in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain, an artistscratched on the walls more than a hundred sketches of what appearto be real people. Some of them wore their hair long, and others short;some had it in braids, others in buns. Some men had beards and mustaches,while others were clean-shaven.

At some point, but the time is much debated, humans learned tospeak to one another. They may have done this because they weredeveloping a richer culture that depended on communication. Theymust have often hunted and collected food in groups, and they probablyworked together when they fashioned fishing boats and shelteredentrances to caves.

They had clever hands. They could light a fire by striking sparksfrom lumps of iron ore, and they carved their sewing needles out ofbones, each one with a tiny hole through which a thread could pass. With these they sewed their clothes, using skins of animals. Theymade tiny cutting tools, half as long as a paper match, from flint, andglued them with resin into holes in handles made from wood or antlers.

They invented the spear thrower, which is a short shaft with ahook at one end that fits into the back end of a spear. It enables ahunter to throw a spear very hard. Some ancient artist carved the endof a spear thrower that was found in the Pyrenees Mountains in theshape of a fawn. Its head is facing backward, and it is looking at a littlebird that is perched atop a lump of feces emerging from the fawn.

When someone died the early humans often left his necklaces ofteeth and shells on his body, and food and tools beside it. They madea powder from the soft red stone called ocher, and sprinkled it on hisbody. So they clearly thought of death as meaningful and solemn.Perhaps they thought the one who died would have an afterlifewhere he or she would once again need tools and food, in a placewhere beauty mattered.

Nothing that we know about the early humans is as awesomeas what they painted in the depths of caves. Prehistorians firstlearned about these paintings in 1875, when an amateur archaeologistwas hunting bones and tools in a cave at Altamira near the northerncoast of Spain. His little daughter, whom he'd brought along for company,wandered into a nearby chamber. Holding up her candle, shesaw paintings on the ceiling of two dozen nearly life-size bison, drawnin yellow, red, brown, and black. The paintings are so masterful thatexperts quickly -- wrongly -- called them modern fakes.

The greatest find of prehistoric paintings took place at Lascaux insouthwest France soon after the start of World War II. Four teenagedboys were rambling on a hillside. In a place where a storm had uprooteda tree, the boys discovered that where the roots had been there was nowa deep hole in the ground. A few days later they returned with akerosene lamp, and one of them climbed down inside the hole. In thescanty light he clambered down a rocky slope and found that he was ina cavern.

The boy was stunned by what he saw. On the cavern walls weremural paintings of short and shaggy horses, bison, oxen, deer withspreading antlers, and that mythic beast the unicorn. Some of theanimals were merely staring; others running for their lives. In a slopinggallery near the main one, other searchers later came on sketchesof a stag swimming across a river ...

The Human Story
Our History, from the Stone Age to Today
. Copyright © by James Davis. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from The Human Story: Our History, from the Stone Age to Today by James C. Davis
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