Many years ago when the world was young (OK, it was 1996), a fellow science writer opined in my general direction as follows: “hey, Henry, you should probably write a book about human evolution!” My reply was somewhat tired and resigned, as I had just reviewed six (6) books on human evolution for the London Review of Books, and felt that the market would be a little crowded. My interlocutor’s response was, however, interesting. “Yes, but it’ll be your book on human evolution”. Certainly, the deluge of books on the subject has hardly abated, which isn’t inappropriate, given that we are our own favourite subject, notwithstanding inasmuch as which that The Proper Study Of Mankind Is Man. But enough of such Popery: the time has come for me to write said book.
I’ve been brewing it for some years now. In fact, I had a proposal with my agent which I abandoned in order to try fiction, and then forgot about it. So when I came up with a new proposal which I thought new and fresh, my agent dug the old one out of the archives. That was the autumn of 2009.
More than a year and many redrafts later, we’ve sold the proposal to a publisher whom I’ve known for many, many years, and with whom I’ve enjoyed working on a couple of occasions, although as an editor, never in my own write right. The sale was agreed some months ago, but due to various administrative delays, I haven’t been able to sign a contract until – well, imminently. So now I feel I can announce it.
The working title is/has been The Myth Of Progression – well, that’s the placeholder on the contract, but neither me nor my editor like it much, and it’ll probably end up being titled after one or other of the Rumsfeldian Unknowns. Themes tangential to the book have been bubbling up here and there on this blog.
The idea will be to look at human evolution, deconstructing its narrative – and then at the human condition, showing how every one of the things we treasure as uniquely human are figments of our imaginations, or no more unique than, say, any other distinguishing mark of any species; or just aren’t. Despite evolution and its general acceptance, the popular idea of human evolution is still very much that of a scala naturae – it has been hobbled by a general failure to look at the problem comparatively, and to understand that what we cannot do with any evolutionary ‘story’ is treat it as a Biblical narrative. But, basically, the whole idea is to produce a book of sufficient weight that it’ll do real damage if thrown at anyone who uses the term ‘missing link’.
Yes, people have written books on human evolution with these themes, but as the man said, this will be my book on human evolution, and it’ll take these themes as far as they will go, and then, if possible, nine inches further.
So, if you don’t hear from me for a while, you’ve probably only got yourselves to blame it’s because I’ll be well into the first draft.