I wanted to get a feel for the current state of the very fluid science of human paleontology. This book did a fine job. 230 pages, but a quick read (loose leading, decent sized font). Over the years, the various names have come, gone, been absorbed and/or abandoned. It is tough to keep up. I wanted the latest evidence wrt to fire and language (80,000 BCE) and I got it.
It would seem, for example, that Neanderthals did not contribute to the modern Homo gene pool.
The most interesting story came from a book by Susan Schaller called The Man Without Words. It tells of a deaf child Ildefonso who grew up in a hearing, non-signing household. He was obviously smart but only communicated via a kind of charades. She was trying to teach him ASL when she realized that he literally had no concept of words (i.e.: almost no concept of (symbolic) concepts). There came a day when he suddenly realized everything had a name! His world exploded. He doesn't like to talk about his pre-names experiences because they now seem alien to him now. Without language, it would seem, complex thinking is damn near impossible.
This led to the fascinating conjecture that modern man may have all the mental equipment for abstract symbolic thought for thousands of years until this stroke of genius (naming things) hit them. Further, just as deaf kids today often create their own languages, this stroke of genius may have hit children first. How AC Clarke is that!
In any case, very readable, and a nice summary of the current debates.
Lee Moller is a life-long skeptic and atheist and the author of The God Con.