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Human - Amanda Rees and Charlotte Sleigh ***

There's something of a tradition of books that treat Homo sapiens as they would another animal - in Human, Amanda Rees and Charlotte Sleigh are contributing to an 'animal series'. If done correctly, this is an effective conceit. The pocket sized book is glossy and well illustrated (though I found it quite hard to open without breaking the spine). It begins with a purely 'human as animal' introduction where we learn, for example that humans are categorised as of 'Least concern' on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List.

From here we move onto a series of chapters on aspects of the human species, taking in the broad concepts of beast (what makes us different, if anything, from the other animals), hominin (the origin of our species), she (the place of women in society), god (not exactly surprisingly, religion), and alien (the position of the 'other', plus literal aliens) with a conclusion labelled 'Inhumanism', which returns to the theme of 'what makes us human', keeping on the sociological/anthropological lines.

Once we get into these detailed sections, we rapidly move away from what might be expected of the format - I can't imagine that the other animals in the series (ranging from Albatross to Zebra) were treated in this way. What we get is a view dominated by the social sciences, with very little biology - which seems highly limiting. Some specifics were a touch depressing - I couldn't see the point, for example, of dedicating over a page in a relatively short book to Freud's outdated concepts. Similarly (and what finally lost it a star), the alien section's treatment of Science Fiction is the classic one of someone who really doesn't read science fiction. We are told the science fiction genre is 'based explicitly on engagement with aliens.' Very few of the SF books I read could be classified in this way.

It's an interesting take on humans as a sociological phenomenon, with some lovely illustrations - but it really doesn't do what it says on the tin.


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