Listen free for 30 days

Listen with a free trial

One credit a month, good for any title to download and keep.
Unlimited listening to the Plus Catalogue - thousands of select Audible Originals, podcasts and audiobooks.
Exclusive member-only deals.
No commitment - cancel anytime.
Buy Now for £25.99

Buy Now for £25.99

Pay using card ending in
By completing your purchase, you agree to Audible's Conditions of Use and authorise Audible to charge your designated card or any other card on file. Please see our Privacy Notice, Cookies Notice and Interest-based Ads Notice.

Summary

Brought to you by Penguin.

Humans now live longer and better than ever before, and we are the most populous big animal on earth. Meanwhile, our closest living relatives, the now-endangered chimpanzees, continue to live as they have for millions of years. We are not like the other animals, yet we evolved through the same process. What are we, then? And now we have remade the world, what are we becoming?

Setting out to answer this question, Gaia Vince tells a remarkable evolution story about us. Unlike any other species on earth, we determine the course of our own destiny, a fact that Vince argues rests on a special relationship between our genes, environment and culture. Exploring cutting-edge advances in population genetics, archaeology, palaeontology, psychology and more that fundamentally change our understanding of how we developed as a species, Transcendence compels us to reimagine our ancestors. To think of us as a sort of smarter chimp with cool tools is to miss what is truly extraordinary about us and the way we operate on this planet. Look around you: we are the intelligent designers of all you see - including ourselves.

©2019 Gaia Vince (P)2019 Penguin Audio

Critic reviews

"Vital is [Gaia Vince's] narration: enthusiastic and lucid." (The Times)

  

More from the same

What listeners say about Transcendence

Average customer ratings
Overall
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    35
  • 4 Stars
    12
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    0
Performance
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    24
  • 4 Stars
    11
  • 3 Stars
    0
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    1
Story
  • 4.5 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    31
  • 4 Stars
    3
  • 3 Stars
    2
  • 2 Stars
    1
  • 1 Stars
    0

Reviews - Please select the tabs below to change the source of reviews.

Sort by:
Filter by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • J
  • 13-08-20

Solid division of human evolution.

A good listen with a good format, progression and division of human evolution. Well read and delivered. Definitely a few opinions I disagreed with and a couple of things that, if independently researched, are shown to not be strictly true but then that’s what makes it a good book and the inspired nuanced debate is what we all need.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful

Gaia has written a beautiful book that in my view takes the next step from Dawkins in The Selfish Gene and Harari in Sapiens. She explores what she calls our cultural levers, units of cultural evolution that has moved humans forward. For example, tools in the Stone Age or the capability to teach a person maths in the modern age.

Loved it. She reads it very well too, hugely, infectiously interested in the story.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

An interesting listen read wonderfully

The content of this book is fascinating, but what really makes the experience with which the author reads her work. Her joy and excitement is palpable and truly makes it feel like you're experiencing a passion project laid bare. I can't recommend this book enough.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

A refreshing take on human evolution

I came across Gaia Vince on a podcast and found her to be a particularly compelling academic. However, I have read so many books on human evolution and worried that i might be bored with this one but I couldn't have been more wrong! This really is a refreshing and new perspective on human evolution and I was gripped. Well worth a listen for any history geeks out there!

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Big history about our evolution

‘Transcendence’ by Gaia Vincent looks at how man and Homo sapiens originated and came onto this planet. It's a big book that covers how managing fire, developing language, creating meaning and tribal identity through beauty and the passing and understanding of time have made us the humans we are today. Here are a few things that I found interesting.
- The first part of the book looks at fire and how we leant to make, control and create enough energy to make things like metals from the rocks just by creating enough heat. Fire burnt wood but when we learnt to make it hotter we moved from the stone age into the bronze and iron ages.
- The book looks at the power of the mind and how placebos work which is always fascinating to me. And how we use narrative to explain events in our life as well as also triggering medical responses for example through the placebo which will change the biochemical reactions within the body. Narratives change how we are and feel. Our self is embedded into our narrative and if we believe something will work we can change the actual chemical structure of what is going on inside our body to make healing occur. However, different narratives in different cultures and countries can impact and change the way a placebo might actually work. Another interesting thing is that even when people know they have been given a placebo it can still change how we feel, behave and cure ourselves and others. Even the colour of a placebo pill will impact how that placebo will work on our nervous system that helps the healing process. If you believe that something might harm you or kill you it will impact on the longevity of your life. The belief systems and different cultures impact on the way the body heals and responds to the chemical system already within it. There is also an alternative to the placebo called the nocebo effect where if you think something can harm you, it really can.
- Evolution teaches us that if you have a bird that doesn't need to fly, for example on an island where there are no longer any predators or a fish in a lagoon that doesn't need to see; the bird will become flightless and lose the power of flight (we need a lot of energy to fly) and the fish will become blind because it doesn't need to see (the brain uses a lot of energy and space to see). We evolve and adapt to the environment we are within.
- But how did a member of the ape family learn to develop language and learn to talk? The apparatus of the larynx means that we are at greater risk of choking on food than any other animal, although babies can feed, breathe and swallow at the same time but at three months the apparatus of the swallow process changes and allows humans the ability to learn to talk. We've also learnt to recall information by writing it down.
- We don't know when speech emerged and it certainly wasn't invented but evolved (unlike writing) but there is the possibility that it may well have been able to talk to Neanderthals because they possess the same voice box and the same language gene. Worth noting that most words for father and mother around the world are ‘papa’ or ‘mama’ or ‘dada’ - some of the first sounds to emerge from an infant's mouth. Maybe that’s how spoken words began to occur.
- Prior to speech babies can communicate at an intentional level by using eye gaze with mum and an object that they might want but that then moves on to pointing which is an incredibly complex and unique human ability to communicate with someone else. No other animal has the skill.
- Our language is always evolving and changing, once upon a time ‘nice’ meant ‘bad’ and now it means ‘polite’ and ‘good’ but it can also mean for some people ‘dull’ or ‘bad’. Depending upon the context and how we use our spoken language, the rules and grammar show changes ever evolving and the more people who speak the language the more it will tend to change and evolve.
- There are more than 7000 different spoken languages in the world. Language can influence and change our state in different cultures' perceptions of the world. Most languages have a shade of light and dark such as black and white and then if other languages have a third colour, it will always be the colour ‘red’, but many languages don’t have blue so different languages and cultures have different ways of perceiving the world through the language that they know.
- The book then goes on to describe beauty from the moment we began to make paintings on caves to the evolution of different fashions in the clothes we wear and the buildings we have built.
- The book also explores how cultural influences and biological changes in a single lifetime can change how we behave, how we act and also genetically change characteristics such as people in certain countries being able to see much better underwater or those who live in high altitudes have different oxygen levels in their blood. It also explains nationalism and how culturally shared stories can influence behaviour.
- 7000 years ago from genetic information it was determined that most people had dark skin and dark hair but then a remarkable set of people who came in from the Caucasian area and invented the wheel and managed horses had their skin change to allow better absorption of vitamin D (lack of this can cause rickets and developmental problems) as they had less access to sunlight. These were the first people to also invent the wheel and work the horse and learn horse management. This nomadic tribe is known as the Yamnaya’s.
- Because these genetic variations are changed and survived and carried on in subsequent generations it now means that 98% of all Europeans can now tolerate drinking milk from that with lactose well into adulthood. This is something only humans have achieved as most animals cannot tolerate milk once they are no longer babies.
- The Chinese discovered how to make silk from silkworms and manufactured in far greater numbers which ended up creating a pathway or a silk Road which included trade between Europe and China but also along with this trade came the bubonic plague which wiped out 2/3 of the population of the world. In England, towns were decimated and people must have thought it was the end of days.
- The other commodity that was also given value by humans along with silk was spices which is what allowed Christopher Columbus to explore the seas to try and find a route and just discovered the Americas. However what he brought there was not only cruelty but he also brought guns and germs which wiped out many of the American people.
- Beauty begins as something to distinguish tribes from other tribes with clothes and how they present themselves. Beyond fashion and cultural garbs, others began to give meaning by building cities and monuments that gave beauty to all who came across them.
- During ice ages and low carbon monoxide in the atmosphere humans were basically spent over 190,000 years as nomad gatherers, hunting as they moved around the planet. And then 10,000 years ago, when weather patterns became more stable, they began to domesticate crops so that the majority of what we each come from three different types of crop: wheat, maize and rice but also domesticated animals so that they could be used to plough the land.
- The air was warmed by changes in drifts in the atmosphere which made the ice melt and created warmer climates which allowed far greater amounts of agriculture to develop. Man could not settle until he was able to use agriculture to allow him to become settled. The settled farmland then became cities and eventually this is where the majority of humans would end up living. Usually be a source of water, and usually a river.
- Over the last many thousands of years of genetic changes, for example taking the ability to select a great difference in genetic makeup between now and a man from 5000 years ago that we have undergone many changes.
- However, in the early days of farming and building cities, life was hard. Most people lived short lives, an average age for women and men was about 28 and over 75% of all children would die either in childbirth or early years.
- The book then goes on to discuss time and as it passes we have developed greater and greater skills and understanding ourselves in the world we live in and the universe we are within. However there is an interesting caveat in that times when there was religious intolerance of others produced reduced creative and scientific thinking. Religion is the idea of having faith which basically means to believe in something without any tangible proof of its existence, which results in doubt over anything else and the ability to question and reason is reduced.
- It's interesting to note and I have always noticed how forward thinking and scientific in its nature and inquiry the Islamic world once was. For 7000 years the language of science was Arabic but lost in Europe as we were so ruled by religious dogma that we had the dark ages and the lack of forward thinking. However with the invention of the printing press in the 1500s on paper and more scientific thinking (when not burning or persecuting people for being witches) which had been originally discovered by the Chinese, Europeans then became much more forward thinking whilst Arabic cultures began to lose their once knowledgeable wisdom of mathes and scientific enquiry.
- The book also discusses how personalities and behaviours can influence our voting patterns. For example children who have larger amygdala (a small, almond shaped part of the brain that elicits our fear response) are more prone to fear will have greater tendency later on in life to be more conservative in their voting patterns and ideologies. Even people who might have more of a socialist ideology when experiencing fear tend to revert more to Conservative belief systems.
- Although we feel we are rational in our thinking, the way we emotionally respond to things such as germs or sanitiser can change whether we are more conservative or liberal in our thinking. Clearing hands makes us more conservative in our view points on a subject than if we hadn’t sanitised our hands. Our emotions can influence our decision-making as much as rational thought and sometimes more so, and much of this is subconscious.
- Liberals tend to be more prone to being artistic and showing creative thinking. We also tend to be more driven by creating greater technology changes when we are more liberal in the culture that we live in. Republicans who tend to believe in climate change not being real not because they follow the evidence or rational based decision-making that because they are they are swayed by their leaders of their current ideology belief systems which makes them think these people are more rational. If a man comes to a decision that is made through this way of thinking, then this shows that their decision-making is not rational and we are often swayed by others. More people are influenced by others in their social tribal group than by rational thought. This occurs at a subconscious level.
- The book ends on how man has come from being a part of an ape family to dominate in the world. We have become the largest mass animal population of the world, seconded only by the animals that it uses to breed and feed and make clothes from. We now live in a time when the world and the temperature should be absolutely perfect for mankind to further develop but we are also causing catastrophic global change and littering the world with a wide array of plastic waste everywhere.
- Alongside this, most of us have access to all the food we could want but over recent times, there are high levels of malnutrition just as their have been greater numbers of people being obese. We should be living in a golden age where weather and climate are perfect for life and stability and yet we are warming the planet at an incredibly fast rate.
- Despite the fact that the human population now produces more food and its safety in numbers and the percentage of people dying in wars has greatly dropped than at any other time in history yet we still create division in our world.
- This is a wonderful book, full of interesting stories. Something remarkable to learn on every page.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars

interesting points, uninteresting delivery

Felt like there was conflicts in some of the arguements presented that were never acknowledged. Not the best narration. It wasn't grating, just not very engaging.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

excellent book. real brain food!

a fantastic look at so many subjects pertinent to human development and society. Fascinating, relevant and useful!

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Wonderful

I’ve read about anthropology, sociology and ethnology before but realised it had always been authored by men. This feels like a completely fresh approach - the world seen through the eyes of a mother. Gaia Vince’s tone is deeply moving and inspiring. As well as really the thorough research and the brilliant, memorable anecdotes, her tone really haunted me. Her kindness and optimism is touching. I felt like this would make for a great book at bedtime... and I think it should be a compulsory read for teenagers. I would highly recommend this book and the audio version is great - Gaia Vince has such a beautiful voice!