The Loom

Soft-Covered Hominids

Smithsonian cover.jpgSpeaking of hobbits, the paperback edition of my human evolution book is just about to come out, and you can order it now on Amazon. And if you prefer the resounding thwack of hard covers, the hardback edition is still available. For information on the innards of the book, see this post from last year.


  1. #1 Skeptico
    January 31, 2007

    Is it my imagination or is that Kramer on the cover of that book?

  2. #2 Steve Fife-Adams
    February 2, 2007

    It seems like the kinds of books you write, which deal with areas of research where the landscape is shifting monthly or yearly, would benefit from some sort of hybrid presentation of print + electronic version, where your blog posts on the subject would serve as addenda that could be collected and “published” online. You know how they used to put out supplemental volumes of encyclopedias? Why not do that with something like your human evolution book or your parasite book? And if you offered e-book versions, the addenda could just get tacked on to the end … and then people could download the addenda as they’re made available … why not?

  3. #3 Carl Zimmer
    February 2, 2007

    Steve–Very interesting idea. Do you (or anyone else) know of other authors who are doing this? I always wish that the scientists I write about in my books retire from science as soon as I finish my manuscripts, so that I don’t have to watch my books go obsolete.

  4. #4 Steve Fife-Adams
    February 2, 2007

    I don’t, unfortunately, know of anyone doing this in any significant or systematic way except with the occasional Amazon Short, which is a business that just never took off. I keep hoping someone will take the leap. I know one reason not to do it is that it kind of steals your thunder when your publisher wants to put out that 2nd Revised Edition With All New Material, tack $5 more onto the cover price, and get it back on the front tables of the big box retailers (in the interest of full disclosure, I work for one of those big box book retailers, and we do like the 2nd Revised Editions With All New Material). But that’s such a crass 20th Century way to market a book (we need new, technologically savvy, 21st Century e-crassness!). Seriously, it seems to me there’s great potential in the concept of a “living” book, and if some publisher or author could figure out how to make it work and profit from it, it would open up whole new ways of writing and publishing books. A baby step down that road might be Adam Bellow’s little blog pamphlet gig. Blog digests on specific subjects–another idea waiting to go big time. But the last thing a publisher’s going to do in the current bookselling climate is take the lead on something like that. I think whatever happens will have to start with the authors themselves.

  5. #5 Jim Adams
    February 3, 2007

    Carl — I like Steve’s idea. But you didn’t really address it in your response to him. You first respond with a question: anybody else doing this? Then you say you wish your subjects would retire. But they don”t. If what Steve suggests is not what you do (e.g., you are on to other things and can’t follow up in the way he suggests) just say so. That’s a sufficient answer to “… why not.”

  6. #6 Jon H
    February 4, 2007

    ” If what Steve suggests is not what you do (e.g., you are on to other things and can’t follow up in the way he suggests) just say so. That’s a sufficient answer to “… why not.””

    Your tone is uncalled for, IMHO, verging on presumptuous. Carl was not dismissive or disrespectful.

  7. #7 Adam
    February 4, 2007

    Hi Carl

    Love the book. What do you think of the idea that the Flores hominids are derived from H. georgicus and not H. erectus?

  8. #8 Carl Zimmer
    February 5, 2007

    Back from a blog-free weekend…

    1. Jim–I actually was curious about Steve’s comment. Hence my question. I was just joking about wishing scientists would retire. An e-book supplement might be a nice way to deal with the endless march of science after my books come out.

    2. Adam–The new paper on Flores (abstract) is very open about the possible ancestry of H. floresiensis. Homo erectus is the one hominid aside from us that was definitely in the neighborhood of Flores. If someone found fossils of other branches of the hominid tree (even australopithicenes) in SE Asia, it would be interesting to compare them to H. floresiensis. It’s even conceivable that the ancestors of H. floresiensis were already three feet tall when they headed out of Africa.

    3. Steve–Thanks for the links and thoughts. I’ll definitely ponder this.

  9. #9 Neil Sinclair
    February 20, 2007

    Why is it that apes have had such limited success in respect of numbers of species and (apart from homo sapiens in the last 20,000 years or so)of individuals?

  10. #10 Carl Zimmer
    February 20, 2007

    Neil (#9): Actually, 20 million years ago apes were very successful, with lots of species across the old world. A long-term shift in climate may have been responsible for the extinction of many of those apes.

  11. #11 Neil Sinclair
    February 22, 2007

    But monkeys, for example, seem to have done much better.

  12. #12 Carl Zimmer
    February 22, 2007

    Neil: That is correct. But monkeys and apes are two separate lineages of primates, with different sizes, life histories, etc. Monkeys may have been more resistant to extinction than apes as a result. Also, note that small tree-dwelling primates were common in North America (even Wyoming) but became extinct there, and New World monkeys have never moved north to take their place.

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