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Coming Home to the Pleistocene 2nd Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-1559635905
ISBN-10: 1559635908
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Until his death in 1996, Paul Shepard was Avery Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology at Pitzer College and the Claremont Graduate School. Among his books are The Others (Island Press/Shearwater Books, 1995) and Traces of an Omnivore (Island Press/Shearwater Books, 1996).

Florence R. Shepard is professor emerita of educational studies at the University of Utah, an essayist, and author of Ecotone (SUNY, 1994).


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Island Press; 2 edition (February 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1559635908
  • ISBN-13: 978-1559635905
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #865,329 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

64 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Bickart on January 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In his most readable book, Shepard lays out his thesis that the fundamental nature of humans was formed by our hundreds of thousands of years as hunter gatherers, and that our subsequent lives as nomadic pastoralists or settled agriculturalists have been very destructive not only of our surroundings but of our psyches. The problems created by these last two ways of life have been described by other authors (e.g., Jared Diamond, in The Third Chimpanzee), but Shepard's treatment is rich and impressive. Shepard's language is, in fact, often beautiful, although it is not easy, principally because of vocabulary. This book was the last of four read by the students in my freshman Human Evolution class this past term. About 3/4 of them found it fairly difficult going, but many also found it very rewarding--in fact it deeply affected several. I thought the book's weaknesses were (1) its lack of well-developed ideas about how to reconnect with our Pleistocene heritage, given that we are now stuck with agriculture (and industrialism, etc.)--Shepard presents a long list of possibilities in the last chapter, but many are very unrealistic (and he does not include the learning and practicing of "primitive" technologies, such as making fire by friction, making stone tools, braintanning hides, and so on--a powerful, deeply satisfying way to understand our common past), and (2) his near failure to acknowledge that agriculture can be practiced well, that it need not be destructive, and that it can give one a strong and healthy connection to the land. (Shepard in a chapter endnote does praise Wendell Berry, Wes Jackson, and Gary Snyder for their sort of farming.) These problems are, however, minor; this is an important book, and should be read by any interested in human evolution.
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38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Art Patten on January 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is the culmination of one of the most important academic careers of this century. It is, to be sure, several decades ahead of the curriculum. It also offers an insightful perspective on the development of Shepard's thinking since his preposterous vision of a modern cynegetic society as laid out at the end of The Tender Carnovore. His recommendations at the end of this book are simple and realistic, and emanate a maturity and an acceptance that his earlier books lacked in all of their radical fervor! By recognizing some very broad truths and offering some very simple and realistic recommendations for the individual to follow, he clearly hopes to outline a path that will gradually change human societies for the better, within the realities and constraints of modern modes of existence. In this way, he has chosen only to offer a better laid foundation for the future of humanity (or at least to begin repairing the faults in the modern 10,000 year old foundation). To my mind, despite its posthumous publication, this is Shepard at his wisest and most conciliatory with his fellow human beings. I trust that the ideas accurately represent the culmination of his thinking by virtue of the fact that his wife edited the book shortly after his death. As for modern culture having "evolved", this doesn't fit into any current anthropological models. Technology has evolved quickly in reaction to problems generated by overcrowding and/or climatalogical change, and societies have shaped themselves around new technologies and economies. However, biology cannot change nearly as quickly as culture, and sometimes suffers as a result. By incorporating some of Shepard's ideas, we might be able to marry culture more closely to biology.Read more ›
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Richard Reese (author of Sustainable or Bust) on January 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Paul Shepard was a brilliant ecologist and an amazing original thinker. His final book is one of the most important contributions to the Earth Crisis discussion. It combines the best ideas from "The Tender Carnivore," "The Others," and "Nature and Madness." It leaves out his clunky ideas, and it's fairly easy to read. This book is a condensed version of the cream of Shepard's life work -- his masterpiece. Shepard died shortly after finishing it, so his wife did the editing cycle. Consequently, this is the most readable of his books.

In a nutshell, he sees that we are genetically wild animals from the Pleistocene. Our genes expect us to be living a leisured life in the wilderness, in small bands, eating wild foods. We are not designed to thrive in cities, eating [bad] foods, in overcrowded conditions. Living in the modern world destroys our bodies, minds, and spirits.

Shepard takes us on a fascinating voyage through human history, with extended discussions of plant and animal domestication, and the horror that these grave mistakes brought to humankind. He recommends beginning the voyage back to a Pleistocene way of life. Shepard has done his homework, and this book is filled with provocative and head-spinning ideas. If you want to know WHY we got to where we are today, this book is a treasure chest.

Richard Adrian Reese
Author of What Is Sustainable
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Bernard Krause on July 28, 2001
Format: Hardcover
Shepard's work has been seminal to mine as a bioacoustician. I am only sorry I came to realize the importance of his efforts so late in the game. In particular, the ideas expressed in Coming Home...shed a very bright light on our otherwise muddled thinking about our ancient human roots and our current ecological struggles. At the same time, I can well understand why other readers might feel challenged. His ideas are sometimes difficult to grasp and expressed in ways that might otherwise be presented more clearly. However, if one has the patience and the perseverence, the walk is well worth the effort. I like to be made to reconsider my strongly held convictions. Shepard's work has never failed to add great value to my life in that regard.
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