The Man Who Found the Missing Link by Pat Shipman

Dutch scientist Eugene Dubois ( is not nearly as well known as his most important scientific contribution. Dubois’s 1892 archaeological expedition found the first fossil evidence of Pithecanthropus erectus (what we know today as homo erectus, or ‘Java man’.
At the time of its discovery, P. erectus was viewed by many scientists as the evolutionary link between the great apes and humans. In this biography, Pat Shipman (,  demonstrates how Dubois was driven by his ambition and by university politics to leave his placid life as a professor in Amsterdam and move to the far East in search of a fossil that would confirm Darwin’s theory of human evolution. Interesting fossils had been turning up in the Dutch East Indies, and Dubois travelled there in 1887. His rigorous campaign of excavations yielded fruit four years later with the discovery of fragmentary remains of the creature he called the “upright-standing apeman”  and which he took to constitute a missing link between modern humans and their distant ancestors.

Dubois’s discovery met with controversy on a number of fronts, and on his return to Europe he complicated matters by refusing to allow other scholars to examine his fossil collection. Irascible, competitive, and more than a little paranoid, Dubois managed to alienate even would-be allies, and thus to distance himself from the scientific community. Effectively self-ostracized, Dubois was deprived of the honours and appointments he had striven for.  contributions to evolutionary theory.

Shipman depicts Dubois as a troubled genius who consistently put his own desires ahead of his family’s needs. In addition, she reveals much of the politics that often swirl around important and controversial scientific discoveries. For example, the dominant thinking of the time dismissed evolution as folly and marked Dubois as a reckless romantic. The author uses techniques of re-created dialogue and interior monologue (both of which appear supported by voluminous research), and it is fair to point out that this is not to everyone’s taste or approval. To me, Shipman shows the real contributions Dubois made to evolutionary theory, and the book is worth reading for that reason alone.
256 pages in Phoenix

First published 2002

ISBN  978-0753813416

Pat Shipman

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