"Main in Terms of Millions of Years",
A review by Carroll Quigley in The Washington Sunday Star,
April 20, 1969, of two books.
THREE BILLION YEARS OF LIFE,
by André de Cayeux.
New York: Stein & Day, 1969.
MAN: HIS FIRST TWO MILLION YEARS, A Brief Introduction to
by Ashley Montagu.
New York: Columbia University Press, 1969.
"Man in Terms of Millions of
Man in Terms of Millions of Years
THREE BILLION YEARS OF LIFE.
By Andre de Cayeux. Stein & Day.
239 pages. $5.95.
MAN: HIS FIRST TWO MILLION YEARS. A Brief Introduction to Anthropology.
By Ashley Montagu.
Columbia University Press.
262 pages. $6.95.
In spite of somewhat similar titles, these books have little in
common, and I am not sure that they agree with each other in their
real implications. But they are both brief, well written, and deal
with important matters.
De Cayeux's book, after a confused opening chapter, steadily improves and has new ideas on what might be called "the philosophy
of evolution." It describes the development of living forms over
billions of years, with special attention to the process and rate of
changes in these forms. These changes, we are told, have been
continuous, with imperceptible transitions and no clear-cut lines of
demarcation between species. The designation of a species as a
distinctive type is a subjective mental classification whose limits
tend to be narrower on this side of the Atlantic than in Europe. The
average period of existence of such a European species is from four
to eight million years. The total number of species, however
defined, is slowly increasing at a steady rate like compound
interest. This rate of increase seems invariable, so that the number
of species doubles about every 80 million years. Thus, for every 30
new species which appear, 29 become extinct. Each new form appears
in one geographic area, spreads widely and proliferates into
different varieties, growing steadily in size and in specialized
features, and then begins to decrease in both varieties and in areas
occupied until the form is to be found only in remote and peripheral
areas as it approaches extinction.
The rules which De Cayeux finds in regard to species also apply to
genera, orders, classes, and phyla, but over much longer periods of
time. Genera, for example, have a life expectancy two to three times
as long as species, averaging about 10 to 18 million years, while
the comparable figure for orders is 230 million and for classes of
living forms is 490 million years. All these figures, if projected
backward, would place the origins of life on this planet somewhat
less than five or even four billion years ago.
According to De Cayeux, the varieties of living forms become more
numerous, more complex, and more specialized over time. Most of
these conclusions would be acceptable to De Cayeux's fellow
scientists, but toward the end of this book he becomes less
orthodox, ending on a note of Christian mysticism similar to Lecomte
One of his unorthodox conclusions (which seems to a novice like me
to be convincing) is his rejection of mutations as a chief factor in
the appearance of new species, despite its general acceptance today.
He argues that, if mutations played a significant role, the speed of
evolutionary change would be notably faster among those forms which
have millions of offspring at a time and over short periods, in
comparison with forms which have a single young one at long
intervals, but, on the contrary, the rate of evolutionary change
seems to be about the same for all forms. To explain the appearance
of new forms, De Cayeux looks with favor on some still undiscovered
mechanism of Lamarckian inheritance.
Ashley Montagu's volume is typical of this prolific writer who
issues a new book about every five months, either as author or
editor. As usual, this one is clearly expressed, marvelously well
informed and well written, and filled with the humane altruism we
have come to associate with this writer's interpretations of
The book is not concerned, as the title might seem to indicate only
with human evolution but is an introduction to the whole of
anthropology, including evolution, races, culture, family and social
patterns, social controls and government, and non-material culture
such as philosophy, the arts, and the role of anthropology in
changing the lives of less developed peoples. An amazing total of
information is presented in very brief compass, through clear,
concise definitions and explanations, and also in numerous diagrams,
maps, and very valuable tables of factual information.
The point of view is typically Montagu, with its emphasis on the
evolutionary process leading to man as a general development from
inherited traits toward learned ones and from specialized behavior
to more open, free behavior. He shows convincingly that man, from
the beginning, had to be a cooperative and nonviolent creature
dependent for his continued existence on his fellow humans and shows
that recent popular books which have argued to the contrary are
grossly mistaken. The whole volume is a model introduction to the
subject, and shows more convincingly than the last pages of De
Cayeux how revolutionary an innovation the appearance of man has
been in the whole evolutionary process. For those who wish to
continue their study of this subject, Montagu has provided a
thoughtful annotated list "For Further Reading."
-- Carroll Quigley