The Neandertal Enigma

by James Shreeve. Morrow, 320 pages, 25.00.
Mr. Shreeve is a science writer. Not himself a paleoanthropologist, he assembles and describes the theories of the professionals in that field. It is a field in which pure objectivity is impossible, for a cracked bone can mean one observer’s cannibal and another’s hyena, with both observers defending their positions furiously. Shouting matches are not unknown. Mr. Shreeve’s attempt to explain why we are here and Neandertals are not winds through the whole development of paleoanthropological studies, and does it with admirable clarity and fairness. His conclusion is, like everything else in this steadily progressing area, speculative.