(The book has been published in China as well as India.)

The Leakey Family

by Delta Willis.

An inspiring true story that reads like an Indiana Jones adventure,

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The Hominid Gang

 Leakey Stephen Jay Gould watches Richard and Meave Leakey unearth a fossil near Lake Turkana, Kenya. The quest continues; see updates at

The Hominid Gang, Behind the Scenes in the Search for Human Origins

  • “Science journalism at its best. Willis traces the complex issues…with style, insight, and a sense of wonder.” Library Journal
  • “The Hominid Gang lies firmly in the rarest genre of books by good writers who truly understand by dint of penetrating intelligence….” Stephen Jay Gould
  • “Always engaging…a delightful piece of work.” Roger Lewin,
    The Washington Post
  • “Without a doubt the best you-are-there look at human origins. Darwin himself would have enjoyed this one.” Kirkus Reviews 5
  • “Delta Willis has provided a most vivid account which brings out the excitement and tensions of a fascinating pursuit.” Richard Leakey

From THE HOMINID GANG as excerpted in The New York Times Book Review

“Ralph von Koenigswald, who found hominids in Java, said you must love fossils – ”If you love them, then they will come to you.” Martin Pickford and Alan Walker found Proconsul fossils in museum drawers. . . . Mary Leakey, stopping on the road to Olduvai, reached down to pick up a stone to wedge the wheel of her car and picked up a hominid jaw. . . . The fossilized footprints of Laetoli were found during a lighthearted exchange of elephant dung tossed between men in the field. Richard and Meave Leakey found the Zinj skull when his camel became thirsty, sending them on a different route back to camp. George Gaylord Simpson wrote his first monograph on fossils recovered from slate roof tiles in England. Scottish paleontologist Robert Broom often began his search for fossils in formal dress, complete with a top hat, but when the trail became hot, discarded his clothes and continued in the nude.

Fossils are found in strange and mysterious ways. A piece of amber purchased in a Manhattan jewelry store was found to contain a perfectly preserved specimen of a previously unknown species of termite, twenty-six million years old. Chinese pharmacists dispense ”dragon bone” powder, composed of ground-up fossils. An investigation of wholesale distributors in the 1920s led to the discovery of Peking Man, Homo erectus in form. If the odds are against finding a hominid, the odds are also against seeing a hominid for what it is. Kamoya Kimeu ”found” 1470 twice, marking the fossilized fragments both times as an antelope.

The student is right to be keen. In the seasons that followed my visit, the work tent at another West Turkana site to the south featured food rather than fossils. They had gone to search in four-million-year-old sediments, and for some reason the fossils weren’t there.

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The Sand Dollar and the Slide Rule

About The Sand Dollar & the Slide Rule
Sand Dollars found on the Kenya Coast near the Tana River Delta
  • “A good introduction to a new science in the making.” Kirkus Reviews
  • “Charming and adroit. Dusty facts sparkle in their new juxtaposition.” The Washington Times
  • “Willis navigates through dozens of connections with ease, as she cut her teeth as a science journalist and isn’t bashful about imparting an endearing sense of wonder.” Booklist
  • “A fascinating and uncategorizable book that will delight readers.” Library Journal

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Read a Review by Jack Goodfellow

Read an excerpt from my introduction to the Fodor’s Guide to Kenya and Tanzania