This is a long and fascinating book about our best known ancient ancestors. Who were the Neandertals? How were they related to other early species of hominids (human-like primates) and how was it that modern humans succeeded where Neandertals died out? When in fact did Neandertals die out?
The early part of the book covers in detail a lot of the academic controversies and arguments in Neandertal research (as in often seemingly verbatim discussions!) and I found it a bit annoying and confusing, though it was certainly fascinating. Later on though there are fewer such discussions and the book becomes more narrative and becomes more fascinating with every page.
Did Neandertals have the capacity to develop societies like those we see in the world today? Were they held back by a lack of language? A lack of higher reasoning capacity? Were the Neandertals actually living in a state of total oneness with nature? What would the world look like today if the Neandertals had prospered and modern humans like us had died out?
This book explores all these issues and more, looking at the traces of Neandertal lives that have been left in caves in southern Europe and beyond. It's out of date (published in 1995, it was one of my recent second hand book finds!) but its still a brilliant and interesting introduction to our ancestors.
The Neandertal Enigma by James Shreeve published by William Morrow and Company
You can read a series of brief articles about Neandertals on the BBC website
a more detailed section on Neandertals on the same website
and a series of videos about Neandertals on the same site.
(The BBC uses the spelling Neanderthal which is the original German spelling, while many authors, including Shreeve, use the spelling Neandertal to avoid confusion in pronunciation - in German the 'th' is pronounced as 't'.)