PERSONAL: Male. Education: University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Ph.D.
CAREER: Oxford University Department of Zoology, Oxford, England, senior research associate at Institute of Biological Anthropology.
AWARDS, HONORS: Natural World Book Prize, British Petroleum/Wildlife Trusts, 1990, for Island Africa: The Evolution of Africa's Rare Animals and Plants; Cherry Kearton Medal and Award, 1998.
East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa, Academic Press (London, England), 1971, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1984.
Mammalia Africana: An Exhibition of Drawings from "East African Mammals: An Atlas of Evolution in Africa," Academic Press (London, England), 1981.
African Mammal Drawings: The Wellcome Volume, Pangolin Prints (Islip, NY), 1983.
Kilimanjaro: Animals in a Landscape, British Broadcasting Corporation (London, England), 1983.
Island Africa: The Evolution of Africa's Rare Animals and Plants, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1989.
Arabian Mammals: A Natural History, Academic Press (London, England), 1990.
Self-made Man: Human Evolution from Eden to Extinction, Wiley (New York, NY), 1993, published as Self-made Man and His Undoing, Simon & Schuster (London, England), 1993.
The Kingdon Field Guide to African Mammals, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1997.
Lowly Origin: Where, When, and Why Our Ancestors First Stood Up, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2003.
The Kingdon Pocket Guide to African Mammals, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: Evolutionary biologist, writer, and artist Jonathan Kingdon was born and raised in East Africa, and educated both there and in Great Britain. He has traveled extensively, teaching and conducting research across Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and North America. Kingdon serves as a senior research associate at Oxford University's Institute of Biological Anthropology and is considered one of the foremost authorities in the world on African mammals. In addition to working as a scientist and writer, he is also an accomplished artist: Wedgwood commissioned him to produce a piece of art as part of their "Earthlife" collection in 1986, and his drawings have also served as illustrations for several of his books.
In Island Africa: The Evolution of Africa's Rare Animals and Plants, Kingdon offers an in-depth look at the flora and fauna of Africa from a range of perspectives. His main focus is to investigate why certain plants and animals are found in certain regions of the plateau continent, but he also succeeds in explaining the evolutionary events that led to the diversity of Africa's ecosystem, providing reasons why certain species are rare or extinct. For the lay reader, Kingdon provides a wealth of hand-drawn illustrations that bring the subject to life. A contributor to the Economist observed that "this is a book that marries the old tradition of the explorer-naturalist with that of a modern scientist." Island Africa was awarded the Natural World Book Prize from British Petroleum and the Wildlife Trusts in 1990.
Self-made Man: Human Evolution from Eden to Extinction chronicles more than the phases of man's evolution. Kingdon proposes that humankind has always has a fascination with tools—both making and mastering them—and it is man's ability to advance his technology that has enabled humankind to evolve. In discounting the influence of natural selection according to the theories of Charles Darwin, he explores the dispersal of humans across the various continents through the centuries, and looks at the common genetic traits of the five traditional races of mankind, stressing how technology developed within each group based on the region where they eventually settled. From there he explains a number of ideas, including the theory that Africans have darker skin tones because they are descendents of sea-faring people whose prolonged exposure to the sun via their advanced technology—boats—forced their skin to mutate as a form of self-preservation.
Marek Kohn, in a review for New Statesman and Society, took issue with Kingman's hypothesis in Self-made Man, writing that, "because his tone is pleasantly unstrident, it's… easy to overlook the hardness of his theoretical position. He's an out-of-Africa man, no quarter given." Kohn added that, granted, "artifacts (including fire) enabled humans to occupy various habitats, where they diversified and—to some extent—adapted. But the vision of technology as the prime mover of human evolution is a glaring instance of the great anthropological predilection for discovering ourselves in ancient ruins." A contributor to Publishers Weekly called the book a "provocative and lively saga of human origins."
Lowly Origin: Where, When, and Why Our Ancestors First Stood Up examines that phase of evolution that separates man from the animals: his conversion to walking erect. Kingdon discusses the conditions imposed by ecology, geography, and physiology that led humans to take their first upright steps. William H. Kimbel, in American Scientist, called the book "an original and engaging account of human evolution as the evolution of 'just one more African mammal,'" but added: "unfortunately, Kingdon populates the terrain with stand-ins for the real hominids, whose histories await a more discerning and persuasive rendering than that on offer here." Nonetheless, the reviewer called the book "the best popular account of that subject I have read." Natural History contributor Ian Tattersall remarked that Kingdon's work "is a landmark for its thoroughness in integrating the story of human evolution … with that of the evolving landscapes and habitats of the African continent."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Scientist, May-June, 2004, William H. Kimbel, "Becoming Bipeds," review of Lowly Origin: Where, When, and Why Our Ancestors First Stood Up, pp. 274-276.
Bioscience, September, 2004, Bernard Wood, "Exploring Human Origins," review of Lowly Origin, pp. 866-888.
Economist, March 30, 1991, review of Island Africa: The Evolution of Africa's Rare Animals and Plants, p. 86; March 27, 1993, review of Self-made Man: Human Evolution from Eden to Extinction, p. 97.
Natural History, November, 2003, Ian Tattersall, "Stand and Deliver," pp. 60-63.
New Statesman and Society, March 26, 1993, Marek Kohn, review of Self-made Man, p. 39.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 1993, review of Self-made Man, p. 52.
Science, May 19, 1989, Colin P. Groves, "Corcopithecus and Company," review of A Primate Radiation: Evolutionary Biology of the African Guenons, pp. 860-861.
Science News, September 13, 2003, review of Lowly Origin, p. 175.
Washington Post Book World, July 20, 2003, Mark Parascandola, "More Fallout from the Darwin Thesis: From Barnacles to Standing up Straight," p. T8.
Akademika Web site, http://www.akademika.no/ (February 9, 2005), "Jonathan Kingdon."
Cafe Scientific Web site, http://www.cafescientific.com.au/ (February 9, 2005), "Jonathan Kingdon."
Princeton University Press Web site, http://www.pupress.princeton.edu/ (February 9, 2005), "Jonathan Kingdon."