Cover image for The search for Eve
The search for Eve
Brown, Michael H. (Michael Harold), 1952-
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Harper & Row, [1990]

Physical Description:
x, 357 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN281.4 .B76 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



In 1987, a group of California scientists announced that they had traced the entire natural history of humankind to its single common ancestor, a woman who lived in Africa more than 200,000 years ago. Investigative journalist Brown tells the story, setting it in the context of recent paleoanthropic discoveries. For a general audience. Annotation(c) 2003 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

You've probably heard the story: Berkeley scientists have looked at mtDNA and concluded that all people today are descended from a sub-Saharan African woman who lived about 200,000 years ago. Eve vincet omnia, one might say. Of course, this isn't really Eve. There were no doubt lots of other bonny lasses running around at the time--indeed, whole populations of them. And quite frankly, paleoanthropologists found this suspicious. Berkeley said that Eve's kids came out of Africa and, without interbreeding, socked it to all native hominids in Asia and Europe. But what about all those bones that suggested gene flow, transition, and . . . well, something less violent? Then there were technical questions. Mitochondrial DNA is matrilineally inherited so is never mixed up with Daddy's genes. But what is its relation to nuclear DNA (which makes us what we are)? What is its real rate of mutation? (Two percent wrong and we're several hundred thousand years off on the date.) In telling the story of this riveting debate, Brown simplifies the terms, repeats himself too often, sometimes gets too cute, but almost accidentally captures the rich dynamics of scientific dispute. For all but the meanest science collections. Notes; to be indexed. --Stuart Whitwell

Publisher's Weekly Review

In 1987 a team of American geneticists shook the scientific world with their ``theory of Eve.'' Homo sapiens sapiens , they claimed, arose in east Africa a mere 200,000 years ago; all people alive today were said to have descended from a single hominid female. She and her small, elite band of fledgling humans, in this thoery, fanned out to replace older, ``more ape-manlike'' populations in Europe, Asia and elsewhere in Africa through competition or warfare. This scenario, based on a global analysis of mitochondrial DNA (genetic material inherited solely through the mother), has been challenged on several fronts: fossil movement does not support a massive spread of tools from Africa to Eurasia; mitochondrial sampling and recently unearthed fossils suggest an Asian, not an African, origin for full-fledged humans; some scientists even place ``Eve,'' if she existed, in the Middle East. Brown ( The Toxic Cloud ) in this captivating report gives space to the objections while highlighting the ``Eve'' hypothesis that continues to divide geneticists and paleoanthropologists. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

This book attempts to offer general readers an account of mitochondrial DNA studies in 1986-87 which suggested a common ancestor for all living human beings, a female living in Africa around 200,000 years ago. The popular press called her ``Eve.'' Brown describes the background of this discovery, its key players, and resulting academic controversy. Unfortunately, the book fails on all counts. Brown (whose previous books concern environmental issues) displays a shallow grasp of his subject and some basic misconceptions about evolution. He seems to have exaggerated the academic warfare to jazz up his story, and in expanding the material to book length, he has produced a somewhat repetitious account of events better explained elsewhere, e.g., in Delta Willis's The Hominid Gang ( LJ 9/1/89). Not recommended.--Beth Clewis, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll., Richmond, Va. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

A serious attempt at scientific reportage on one of the more contentious hypotheses in human evolution: that modern people originated in Africa about 100,000 years ago, spreading outward to replace all contemporaries, such as the Neanderthals. The newest approach to this problem involves the contribution of molecular genetics to what was previously a fossil-based field, and Brown does a generally good job of introducing readers both to the disciplines and to their protagonists, integrating their diverse approaches and terminologies engagingly (if less scientifically than one might wish). Genetic studies have suggested that most Africans are distinguishable from members of most other geographic groups (and some Africans) in a way that implied that the common ancestor of all of them had lived in Africa. Descendants of this early modern human population (of which one female was in some ways an "Eve") had split into mainly African and mainly extra-African subunits. At the same time, studies of fossils suggested the same idea to paleoanthropologists, who agreed on the time frame of 100,000 years ago. Brown contrasts this view to one that sees independent local evolution of modern people from older, more archaic populations in several geographic regions, a view that has also attracted some geneticist supporters. This controversy is placed in the context of a general survey of human evolution, amid numerous quotes from leading figures on both sides, and the book serves as a well-balanced introduction to this fascinating subject. Recommended for all readers. -E. Delson, Herbert H. Lehman College, CUNY