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190 × 135 × 13 mm
216 pages
40 colour illustrations
13 Jul 2020

Human Amanda Rees, Charlotte Sleigh

What does it mean to be human? And what, if anything, does it have to do with being a member of the animal species Homo sapiens? This dazzling book gets to the very heart of our (rather unscientific) motivations and prejudices about humanity, showing how, by understanding them, we can go some way to resolving the world’s biggest problems. From beasts to aliens, widespread but often problematic links with six other beings are explored. Deep philosophical questions are tackled, including humanity’s common purpose, life’s meaning and what it means to be accepted as part of a community. Global in its outlook and illustrated by stunning pictures, Human is a powerful, funny and iconoclastic antidote to post-humanism.

‘One of the best . . . Rees and Sleigh’s Human is the rare Animal volume that refers to the series in which it appears. The authors imagine an encounter between a human and an extraterrestrial. "Having read the other books in Reaktion’s Animal series," they write, we would not “have an answer to the question of how we differ from it." One reason is that no matter how good we are at defining other species, humans have a very hard time defining what it means to be human. Rees and Sleigh point out that whenever we try to approach a definition of who we are as a species, "the concept of humanity evaporates." It’s a category "that has been defined by many things, almost all of them what it is not." . . . In Human, they don’t try to define or even portray Homo sapiens. Instead, they explore the not-ness we have used to characterize ourselves.’ — Verlyn Klinkenborg, New York Review of Books

‘this is a rich, engrossing read that draws as comfortably from religious studies as it does from popular culture. The book is also a paragon of picture research – it's carefully chosen images supporting and adding value to the text. A compact volume, yet brimming with ideas, Human brilliantly communicates leading-edge academic research in an approachable and engaging style.’ — Fortean Times

‘From beasts to aliens, this quirkily written and “iconoclastic” book explores our links with six other beings, tackling such philosophical questions as humanity’s common purpose, life’s meaning and what it means to be part of a community.’ — The Bookseller

‘A sparkling and original portrait of our species – tracing our cultural and natural history from the proto-human to the post-human. Lavishly illustrated and brilliantly written – this is a wonderful addition to the Animal series.’ — Thomas Dixon, Professor of History at Queen Mary, University of London and author of 'Weeping Britannia'

‘The history of humankind’s getting to know itself is a history of attempts to work out what makes us distinctive and where to draw the boundaries with the non-human. In Human, Amanda Rees and Charlotte Sleigh bring sly wit and a staggering range of reference to the comparisons that have obsessed the distinction-hunters and boundary-makers down the ages. From animals to aliens, from gods to golems, from hominins to H. Rider Haggard’s “She-who-must-be-obeyed,” Human surveys the most telling comparisons, revealing how, at every turn, human culture has imprinted itself on our evolving self-understanding.’ — Gregory Radick, University of Leeds, author of 'The Simian Tongue: The Long Debate about Animal Language'

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Amanda Rees is Reader in Sociology at the University of York. She is author of The Infanticide Controversy: Primatology and the Art of Field Science (2009) and editor of Presenting Futures Past: Science Fiction and the History of Science (2019).

Charlotte Sleigh is Professor of Science Humanities at the University of Kent. She has published several books on the history, culture and representation of animals including Ant (2003) and Frog (2012) for Reaktion, as well as The Paper Zoo (2016).


1 Beast
2 Hominin
3 Machine
4 She
5 God
6 Alien


Further Reading
Photo Acknowledgements