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Children Of Prometheus: The Accelerating Pace Of Human Evolution Paperback – September 24, 1999


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; New edition edition (September 24, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0738201685
  • ISBN-13: 978-0738201689
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,804,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ever since Darwin published The Descent of Man, we have wondered about the future of our species. Will we separate into H.G. Wells's Morlocks and Eloi, or will we stay pretty much the same? Biologist Christopher Wills tackles this big question in Children of Prometheus , claiming that yes, indeed we are changing in significant ways, despite assertions by many scientists to the contrary.

Evolution can be seen as an improvisational dance performed by DNA and the environment--each equal partners until just a geological moment ago, when one species--ours--began to have a profound impact on the environment, changing everything. Wills describes how we have indirectly slowed, sped up, or stopped (through extinction) the evolution of many species, and suggests that our environmental manipulations are accelerating the rate at which we ourselves are changing with each generation. His lucid explanations of evolutionary mechanisms and heritability studies greatly help non-technical readers grasp his points, but even professional scientists will benefit from his review of the psychogenetic literature. In the end, Children of Prometheus can't tell us what our distant descendents will look like; we can only look in a mirror and wonder how they will differ. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In an eclectic romp through the topic of human evolution, U.C.-San Diego biologist Wills (The Wisdom of the Genes, etc.) focuses on two related questions: Have humans followed the same evolutionary principles as the rest of the mammalian world? And are we still undergoing evolutionary change? He concludes that while the principles have indeed been the same, the rate of human evolution has been dramatically faster than for any of our close relatives and that, if anything, the pace has been speeding up of late. "Humans have accelerated the pace of evolutionary change everywhere, and at the forefront of that change, we are altering ourselves more rapidly than any other species." Wills attributes our rapid pace of change to the way our brains permit us to interact with our environment, the massive amount of environmental change for which we have been responsible over the millennia and the wholesale genetic mixing that is so typical of humans. He traverses broad territory, ranging from hominid phylogeny to a discussion of those who participate in extreme sports; from the physiology of Tibetan Sherpas to an analysis of the stresses faced by British civil servants. He also takes time in his articulate, provocative study to refute, convincingly, many of the claims linking IQ and genetics made in The Bell Curve.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Jake Sapiens on January 2, 2000
Format: Paperback
Christopher Wills puts to rest a common belief that humans, having mastered their environment, have brought their own evolution to a standstill, now exempted from the pressures of natural selection. Humans, through their manipulation of the environment both deliberate and unintended, have actually increased the pace of evolution, both their own and that of other animals. Wills brings the professional knowledge of population genetics to this subject to write a popular science book which will challenge the reader far more than many other popular science books.
He fills the beginning of the book with many insightful examples which hold the attention and educate the reader. Where we encounter more familiar examples, Wills takes the subject several steps deeper in a way which will keep more veteran science readers interested in addition to illuminating Wills' thesis. For example, with the malaria/sickle cell anemia phenomenon, he goes on to show many other patterns of balanced polymorphism and also elaborates on the role that the appearance of human agriculture has played in causing this phenomenon in the first place. His example of the Tibetans evolutionary adaptation to their environment truly fascinated me.
In the next part, he presents a thorough evolutionary account of the emergence of humans from Australopithecus, including useful comparisons with our great ape relatives and some special focus on our recently extinct closest relative, Neandertal. Far more than just a summary of human evolution 101, this section of the book demands the most attention out of the reader.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful By SuperApis on January 14, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
As an evolutionary biologist working on insects, I had turned to this book to help fill in some gaps in my conceptualization of how evolution and selection may be affecting humans today. But while I don't think this book is poorly written or of no merit, I had a hard time getting much from it. In fact, I got more from the review of the anthropological research regarding fossil discoveries than from any of Will's attempts at synthesis.
For me, the biggest flaw of the book is a lack of a true vision of what "evolution" actually MEANS in this context. As obvious or as simple as it sounds, there is never much discussion of this fundamentally key issue. Instead, examples and speculation are given that the gene pool of Homo sapiens is changing, and allele frequencies of many genes are undoubtedly different than they were millenia ago. It takes a whole book to make this one point, yet from there, the only synthesis Will can make is that because allele frequencies are changing, therefore selection MUST be acting on them. Mostly speculative with little in the way of support, his treatment of an interesting topic just falls short. In other words, it's all bun and no burger. It may still be worth reading, as it is written very clearly and without the pitfalls of scientific jargon...making it a brief read. But I think you could do much better than to use this as your source for intellectual inquiry...I'm going to look around from something better.
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"Accelerating Pace?" Perhaps, but accelerating toward what? Natural selection is simply adaptation to environment. There is powerful evidence that humans may be gradually losing intelligence. According to Gerald Crabtree, humans lost the need to improve useful intellect several thousand years ago. "The development of our intellectual abilities and the optimization of thousands of intelligence genes probably occurred in relatively non-verbal, dispersed groups of peoples [living] before our ancestors emerged from Africa."

Since intelligence is evolutionary, it can adapt in reverse, or in ways that render it useless to human survival. For example, if all humans devoted their time to improving their chess abilities, and competing for rewards, we might expect chess abilities to improve--and they have. But chess playing skills help us little in the real world. And I go one step beyond Wills and Crabtree. Not only are humans losing their intellectual edge by living in an intellectually non-challenging, unrealistic, unsustainable "cocoon" of safety, but the decline in human intellect has been hastened by the modern tendency in Western society to subsidize and promote the breeding of the most intellectually inferior and non-contributing members of the human species. Harsh, perhaps, but objectively true.

Most dangerous of all, perhaps, there is a related phenomenon of the increasing tendency of academics and intellectuals, such as Wills, to use their abilities in one-dimensional, sterile, abstract environments, rather than the world of objective, non-politicized science that seeks to integrate all elements of reality.
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stubborn Artist on April 24, 2008
Format: Paperback
This book isn't entirely worthless -- but it illustrates the tendency of scientific specialists to think that they're experts on everything. Wills not only professes to know evolutionary biology: he knows everything else as well.

Except that he doesn't.

To avoid tedium, I'll just give one example. While talking about the genetic isolation of the European Neandertal, Wills mentions by way of analogy a "mysterious" people who speak a "mysterious" language called Ladin. How mysterious!

Wills even tells us that these origins are very mysterious.

But there's really nothing mysterious about them at all. Ladin is a Romance language, no more mysterious than French and Italian. As the name should indicate, Ladin comes from Latin. Duh.

And so science marches on!
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