Read Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors Online

Authors: Carl Sagan,Ann Druyan

Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors


Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors
was selected by
School Library Journal
as one of nine “best books of the year” out of 40,000 titles: “The enchanting writing style captivates … a clarity that will hold the interest of the most science-phobic reader.”


“A funhouse maze of biology, psychology, evolution, fact, theory, probability, possibility, and awe … Warning Those who regard the human condition as the inviolable perch at the top of the evolutionary heap, the gold watch at the end of the great chain of being, will find much in
that disturbs.”

—Miami Herald

“In this book Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan illuminate some of the most daunting questions of our time, and any time, sometimes explaining them straight out, sometimes challenging the reader to contemplate the truths we hold dear.
is one of those rare books that should be required reading.”

—New Orleans Times-Picayune

“Jam-packed with fascinating anecdotes, a playful wit and humor, a wide-ranging command of relevant scientific data, and (a warning to readers who are easily scandalized), an ‘indecorous explicitness on matters sexual.’ ”

—Nashville Banner


—Tom Peters
Chicago Tribune


“Their latest literary wonder.”
—New York Times Syndicate


“It has been a long time since I came across a nonfiction book as compelling as this one. At times I found myself impatiently turning pages, as if I were reading a murder mystery and couldn’t wait to discover the ending.”

—Corpus Christi Caller-Times

“An eloquent attempt to place the human species in context … They use the same compelling style that made
such an international success.… It is a big story. Indeed, it is the biggest story.”


“A coherent, moving story … Philosophical, poetic, even witty, [with] a sense of almost religious awe.”

—Book Page

“Excellent … An important book that deserves to be widely read and discussed.”

—Monroe Strickberger
Author of the textbook
writing in the
San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle

“Formidably intelligent and well-informed.”

—Chicago Sun Times

“Hauntingly appealing. Carl Sagan is probably the best literary stylist American science has produced since Loren Eiseley and Lewis Thomas.”

—The Observer


“Informative, enlightening, and refreshingly unacademic.”
—Atlanta Journal & Constitution


“It is easy to hear his familiar voice guiding the reader through time and the early rumblings of the universe through the development of DNA, evolution, and the rise of modern primates.”

—Gannett News Service

“Sagan’s contribution to increasing public understanding of science and making provocative connections between different areas are at the highest level of benefit to our society.”

—John Bahcall
Institute for Advanced Study Princeton, NJ

“It has sex. It has humor. It has drama. It’s what people go to the movies for.”

—Steve Knight
KIEV-AM, Los Angeles

“They go boldly where many scientists have feared to tread … And what a journey it is!”


“Eloquent … Visionary … Powerfully imagined.”


“Engaging … Lyrical … Stunning.”

—Publishers Weekly






Murmurs of Earth
(with others)




Intelligent Life in the Universe
(with I. S. Shklovskii)


The Cosmic Connection


The Dragons of Eden


Brocas Brain






A Path Where No Man Thought
(with Richard Turco)




A Famous Broken Heart



carving from the Sepik River, central highlands of Papua New Guinea


A Ballantine Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group


Copyright © 1992 by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan


All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc, New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto


This edition published by arrangement with Random House, Inc


Permissions acknowledgments for previously published
material can be found on
this page


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 93-90012


Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc


eISBN: 978-0-307-80103-6






Thus she spoke; and I longed
to embrace my dead mother’s ghost.
Thrice I tried to clasp her
image, and thrice it slipped
through my hands, like a
shadow, like a dream.

The Odyssey


We were very lucky. We were raised by parents who took seriously their responsibility to be strong links in the chain of generations. The search that informs this book may be said to have begun in childhood, when we were given unconditional love and protection in the face of real adversity. It’s an ancient practice of the mammals. It was never easy. In modern human society, it’s even harder. There are so many dangers now, so many of them unprecedented.

The book itself began in the early 1980’s when the rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union was making a potentially fateful intersection with 60,000 nuclear weapons that had been accumulated for reasons of deterrence, coercion, pride, and fear. Each nation praised itself and vilified its adversaries, who were sometimes portrayed as less than human. The United States spent ten trillion dollars on the Cold War—enough to buy everything in the country except the land. Meanwhile, the infrastructure was collapsing, the environment was deteriorating, the democratic process was being subverted, injustice festered, and the nation was converted from the leading lender to the leading debtor on the planet. How did we get into this mess? we asked ourselves. How can we get out?
we get out?

So we embarked on a study of the political and emotional roots of the nuclear arms race—which led us back to World War II, which of course had its origins in World War I, which was a consequence of the rise of the nation-state, which traces straight back to the very beginnings of civilization, which was a by-product of the invention of agriculture and the domestication of animals, which crystallized out of a very long period in which we humans were hunters and foragers. There was no sharp division along the way, no point at which we could say:
Here are
the roots of our predicament. Before we knew it, we were looking to the first humans and
predecessors. Events of remote ages, long before humans came to be, are critical, we concluded, for an understanding of the trap that our species seems to be setting for itself.

We resolved to look inside ourselves, to retrace as many of the important twists and turns of the evolution of our species as we were able. We made a compact with each other not to turn back, no matter where the search might lead. We had learned much from each other over the years, but our own politics are not identical. There was a chance that one or both of us might have to give up some of those beliefs we considered self-defining. But if we were successful, even in part, perhaps we could understand much more than just nationalism, the nuclear arms race, and the Cold War.

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