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This is a really enjoyable book. I suppose the points made aren’t all that novel or mind-blowing, but they are made in a really entertaining, comprehensive and satisfying way and it is packed with insights reinforcing the world-view of evolutionary biology that I’ve gleaned from similar audiobooks on related topics.
The author is a Harvard professor of biology, and the subject is the human body. He spends the first half of the book describing how the human body evolved since the time of our last common ancestor with the other great apes. Over these six million years or so our bodies have changed due to a sequence of important adaptations, and his explanations of each of these changes and their advantages in the environmental conditions of the time are truly enlightening. Although some of these are well-known to the point of being clichéd, e.g. becoming bipedal, losing our fur, developing better voice-boxes, etc, he describes each of these steps to a level of detail that really boosted my understanding of the subject.
An example of this is the bipedal adaptation. In order to become efficient walkers our legs got longer, our hips turned inwards, we developed arches in our feet, and the end result was that we use significantly fewer calories to cover a given distance compared to a chimp. We covered long distances in great heat to find food, losing our fur and developing sweat glands to facilitate this activity in the hot African sun – retaining head hair to protect us from sunburn. I knew that we were good walkers but I hadn’t previously realised that we also evolved as runners. We are very slow runners compared to most of our predators (e.g. lions) and I thought that was just the price we had to pay for becoming bipedal and freeing up our hands for tool-use. But actually, while being rubbish at sprinting, we are excellent, well-evolved long-distance runners. There is evidence that we hunted large mammals using a ‘persistence’ method; We would patiently jog after a large mammal, which would gallop off until it had to rest in the shade. We would catch up with it and it would gallop off again before it had time to fully recover, and this sequence would continue until the beast eventually collapsed with heat-stroke, making it an easy kill.
The second part of the book focuses on the concept of evolutionary ‘mismatch’. This is a detailed look at how, when faced with a changing environment, our bodies have initially been poorly matched and have taken time to adapt. There is then a special emphasis on the mismatches that we currently face, with our modern Western lifestyle (the extremely new environment of chairs, beds, computers, pollution, abundant high calorie food, etc, etc).
So many modern chronic diseases seem to be associated with us using our bodies in ways they weren’t adapted for. They are too numerous to mention, but examples are heart disease, fallen arches, type 2 diabetes, short-sightedness and lower back pain. These diseases are rare in present day hunter-gatherer societies, and it isn’t because they don’t live long enough to succumb to these ‘old-age’ disorders, the older members of these societies don’t typically get them either.
So there’s a really good discussion of how modern ailments have resulted from the mismatch between our bodies and our new environment. Again, this is not a particularly novel idea, but it’s a thorough and stimulating discussion with many suggestions for how we could prevent or reduce these diseases, both on a societal and a personal level. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, I wholeheartedly recommend this book.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
I love human evolution books. This one didn't get started for me until well into the 2nd chapter because it is basic knowledge. The rest of the book goes into length and specifics discussing hominid development from a physiological perspective. I am familiar with most of the material from other audiobooks but enjoyed the overview. It is easy to follow and discusses how pre-humans and early humans compare. 4 stars because much of the info is standard fair.
This is a good science book for audio.
It may be too familiar for some listeners [nerds] who are familiar with the topic.
7 of 7 people found this review helpful
This book covers the subject of human evolution from primordial apes in the last 5 million years. Well written, it contains much of interest. But its also very repetitive and painfully slow at times. The reader exacerbates the slow pace by adopting a sleepy if congenial tone. Its as if the reader personally knew everyone who existed and is saddened by their demise. And having been around for so long he could do with a good nap.
5 of 5 people found this review helpful
Excellent book, summing up the latest scientific findings from evolutionary biology regarding Man's 'bodily status', genetic inheritance, etc. Also provides a sound and scientifically grounded anchor to all the recent diet fads, such as 'Wheat Belly' and 'Grain Brain'.
Unfortunately, the text is somewhat marred by the 'tired' and 'sad-sounding' reading, giving it an air of unwarranted melancholia. Hard to understand the producer's choice here, given that the book is not written by an 'old' man, nor - as a scientific text - is particularly suited to that kind of tone?
5 of 6 people found this review helpful
A very succinct book explaining how and why we are they way we are. As a physiotherapist I would recommend it for anyone interested in their health and wellbeing plus other health professionals
I honestly enjoyed every minute of this book and will be looking for more titles written by the brilliant Daniel Lieberman..