Ancestral Passions

The Leakey Family and the Quest for Humankind's Beginnings

Ancestral Passions

This biography of the "First Family" of anthropology reveals how their discoveries, collaborations, and rivalries contributed to our own knowledge of the origins of humankind.

In this fascinating and authoritative work, acclaimed science writer Virginia Morell brings to vivid life the famous and infamous Leakey family, pioneers in the field of paleoanthropology: Louis Leakey, the patriarch, who persisted through initial scientific failures and scandal-ridden divorce to achieve spectacular success in digs throughout East Africa; Mary, his second wife, who worked alongside Louis as they made their outstanding discoveries at Olduvai Gorge and elsewhere; and Richard, their son, who ascended to the top of the field in his parents’ wake, only to be threatened with both near-fatal illness and fierce professional rivalry. Morell transports us into the world of these compelling personalities, demonstrating how a small clan of highly talented and fiercely competitive people came to dominate an entire field of science and to contribute immeasurably to our understanding of the origins of humanity.
  • Touchstone | 
  • 640 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781439143872 | 
  • January 2011
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About the Author

Virginia Morell

VIRGINIA MORELL is the author of Ancestral Passions, Blue Nile, and Wildlife Wars, which she co-authored with Richard Leakey. She is contributing correspondent for Science and a regular contributor to National Geographic Magazine. Her 2008 NGM article, “Minds of Their Own,” was the kernel of her forthcoming book, How We Know Animals Think. MARY ROACH is the author of Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, and Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. PETER MILLER is the author of The Smart Swarm: How Understanding Flocks, Schools, and Colonies Can Make Us Better at Communicating, Decision Making, and Getting Things Done. He is a senior editor at National Geographic and has served as a writer and editor at the magazine for more than 25 years.