|About the Book|
Like Sheep Rock, Man, an Autobiography is a concept book: what if Man, himself (in the generic, larger sense) were to tell his own story in a broad, collective way, part historical overview, part journey from animals in trees to people in cities?The idea is interesting, and the volume starts well: “I, Man, having attained some maturity of years, feel a desire to write my autobiography.” But where to go from there? Stewart answers that question in scholarly fashion. He give equal time to very early development, detailing descent from the trees, social groupings, and his “essential five” – tools, speech, fire, cookery, and clothing, then extends these in an evolutionary way to the present day (the mid 20th century). Interesting. The result is something of an anthropological chronicle with no characters or consistent narrative threads, a recitation of facts from a 30,000 foot perspective, which is informative first, entertaining second, and in which individuals are irrelevant, as is much of civilization, aside from that it existed and grew, and as is Man himself, in the cosmic sense. But while this perspective affords a lofty view, it also separates the material from the reader.Having established the goal of Man’s autobiography, how should one proceed? It would be all too easy to be drawn down into the minutia of lives of numerous well-remembered figures history paints as drivers of the human race, both good and bad, at the cost of the overview itself: the higher vantage is required to tell the entire story – to see the entire story and unfold it in a consistent way.That is the conundrum. The work as a concept is intriguing, but due to its necessary distance from humanity, as a novel it fails to sufficiently engage.