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A Brain for All Seasons: Human Evolution and Abrupt Climate Change Hardcover – April 15, 2002
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From Scientific American
Jeffrey H. Schwartz teaches physical anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh and is author of Sudden Origins: Fossils, Genes and the Origin of Species (Wiley, 1999).
Top Customer Reviews
Organized as short "lessons" for an "e-course," the text is repetitious, threads are left unconnected, and editing lapses made it necessary for me to reread many sentences. The publisher is not to be thanked for printing the book without correcting errors of spelling and grammar that provoked me to quit after about 240 pages. I recommend reading the library's copy.
The latter part of the book is more fluently and coherently presented in the Atlantic Monthly article that was its genesis.
On the other hand, the writing is conversational and detailed, thorough and startling. This is one of those books "everybody should read," because the information in it - particularly in the last third - is so incredibly critical to the fate and future of the human race.
Calvin has done one of the best jobs I've seen of explaining how and why the Atlantic currents transport heat and salt - and what happens when they shut down, plunging the entire world into an ice age in as little as 3 to 12 years. (This isn't a just a future threat - it's also an observation of times past. Every ice age has started and ended in fewer than a dozen years!)
Calvin tells us in detail how Europe will be devastated by the next ice age, how our SUV usage today in North America is leading us right to it (and much sooner than most think), and - most amazingly - offers some specific suggestions about things that can be done to stop it (like daming up some fjiords in Greenland and dynamiting others).
Along the way, we also get a completely new view of human evolution, based in the whiplash environment humans survived for the past 200,000 years.
This book is brilliant, and I highly recommend it. Just be sure to mark up the pages as you read them, because that's the only way you'll be able to find things later when you try to explain it to your friends (as you will want to do!).
Calvin sets the scene at the time when climate changes forced the shrinking of the forest cover in East Africa. Our barely upright ancestors, in coping with the changing environment, learned survival skills on the savannah, then spread out over the globe. During our migrations, various new climatic conditions were being established . The suture of Central America joining North and South America set new wind and current patterns around the globe. The resulting North Atlantic Current [the Gulf Stream] and the temperature and salinity exchanges in that ocean have proven a major factor in climate. Calvin examines what is known about these mechanisms and the impact of variations. The most significant new knowledge refutes the established idea that climate changes gradually. Sudden, wild "flips" of temperature, rainfall and snow cover are now seen as the norm, not as aberrations. Change isn't on the order of centuries, but in years.
Calvin's technique of presenting his ideas is as novel as his thesis.Read more ›
Stepping above the narrow doctrinaire ideology surrounding the current climate change debate Calvin provocatively considers how climate change and more specifically the switches between long term cycles of cold and dry versus warm and wet may very well have been the driving force for the rise of modern humans notably well before any modern human technology enters the equation.
Calvin ponders tough questions such as how did modern human brain size arise ? The ratio of brain size to body mass in hominid evolution is a tantalizing question. Calvin sifts through the incomplete data that speaks to the question, was it the modern human brain and its nutritional demands with behavioral consequences that defined a winning vector ultimately endowing modern humans and our immediate progenitors with a sustainable competitive survival advantage over other primates, predators and scavengers? Does the associative capacity of the neocortex need to considered in an ecological context as the prime enabler opening an adaptive trajectory in ecological time and space that allowed modern humans to survive when climate change cancelled " business as usual "?
Academics will grouse and moan about the writing style and lack of detailed citation by their lights, but the truth is this is a big idea book , it is no accident the first geographical coordinate revealed is Darwin's home .Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I've been reading "Understanding Human History" by Michael Hart which is in the same genre, when my daughter gave me "A Brain For All Seasons" to check out. Read morePublished on June 25, 2009 by Dan P. Bullard
The book is in fact a collected of notes and thoughts about various aspects of human evolution and its "actors". Read morePublished on December 16, 2007 by Eagle Hunter
I purchased this book on a friend's recommendation as an accessible, easy-to-read book (we both really enjoyed "Guns Germs and Steel"). Read morePublished on October 13, 2007 by T. King
Human evolution is one of the great detective stories of the twenty-first century. How did this species, Homo sapien sapiens, come to be? Read morePublished on June 17, 2007 by Roger D. Launius
This is not an easy book to read. Calvin aims high, setting out to present a coherent new model of how repeated, abrupt climate changes may have driven the evolution of the human... Read morePublished on August 7, 2006 by Robert Adler
While the first few chapters of a Brain for All Seasons were interesting and informative, in general I found the travelogue format somewhat distracting and annoying. Read morePublished on November 29, 2004 by Atheen
Reading this book I got the sense that Calvin thinks he and a couple other like-minded people are really smart, you the reader have a modicum of intelligence, and the vast majority... Read morePublished on August 10, 2002 by D. Archibald