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.
Born in Kenya, Louis Leakey (1903- 1972), son of a dynamic missionary, grew up among Kikuyu natives. At Cambridge in 1923, a rugby injury left him with post-traumatic epilepsy, necessitating a prolonged leave that marked the beginning of his fossil-hunting career. In 1933, one month after his first wife, Frida, gave birth to their son Colin, Louis announced that he was leaving her for one of his students, Mary Nicol. Over the next four decades, the husband-and-wife Leakey team made stunning discoveries of hominid fossils that supported Louis's theory that humankind originated in Africa and was millions of years older than most experts had assumed. In a revelatory biography that strips away the aura surrounding a legendary family, Oregon-based science writer Morell maintains that by the late 1950s, the Leakey marriage had deteriorated into a business partnership. Louis had extramarital affairs and fell ardently in love with his young proteges, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and gorilla-watcher Dian Fossey. His son Richard, by this account, had a bitter professional rivalry with his domineering father and, fearing that Louis would try to ease him out, kept from him his 1968 diagnosis of terminal kidney disease, which he overcame with a kidney transplant operation in 1980. Morell balances grand scientific adventure with personal chronicle in an extraordinary group portrait that was written with the family's cooperation yet is not authorized. Photos. Newbridge Book Club alternate.