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Health and the Rise of Civilization Revised ed. Edition
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The main part of the book is rather short, some 140 pages. Written as an extended essay, this part reviews the evolution of human society, the history of disease as related to this evolution, and the impact this evolution had on nutrition. Two chapters, one on present day hunter-gatherer societies, the other on palaeopathology, then evaluate evidence for the views presented in the earlier chapters. Cohen is clear to point out the weaknesses of the various forms of evidence, but taken together the evidence substantially supports his case.
The next 80 pages are notes, while another 25 pages contain references, all in small print. These notes contain a wealth of detailed information; sometimes they are more like a small review on a particular topic than a simple note. This level of detail would certainly detract from the line of argument if it were included in the main part of the text. So I found this choice for presenting the material a happy one.
The main text is particularly well organized and well written too. Despite the fact that the information content is dense, the text is surprisingly readable. All in all, the author has done a particularly good job. For anyone interested in the history of health, this is a must read!
Hunter-gatherers did not enjoy perfect health, but they were vulnerable to far fewer maladies than people in agricultural societies. In hunter society, dying from accidents was common. Intestinal parasites were common, and hunters were vulnerable to zoonotic diseases, which could use humans and other animals as hosts, but couldn't be transmitted from human to human. Diseases that could be transmitted from human to human were rare. Cancer, heart disease, and other degenerative diseases were very rare, as was starvation.
There are scientists who study the health of dead folks via their bones or mummified remains. Their research reveals that big game hunters were the best nourished group in human history. Animal foods are the best source of complete proteins, and they are rich in other nutrients. When big game declined, we shifted to intensified foraging, and hunted for small game. The people of this new phase were shorter and experienced more infections.
With the shift to farming, the quality of our health plunged. Infection rates doubled at some Illinois sites. Tuberculosis became common. Intestinal parasites increased. Reduced nutrition led to shorter people. Life expectancy did not increase.
Wild hunter-gatherers were nomadic. They frequently packed up and moved, leaving their excrement behind. Wild grazing animals were also nomadic.Read more ›
Cohen also admits that he is only an expert in one field and has had to have help to ensure he has properly understood other fields data. This makes it, in my opinion, very reliable.
This would be a great starting point for anyone interested about understanding the spread of diseases and health conditions. Dr. Cohen has roughly 20 pages of external reading options for anyone interested in pursuing the subject further. It was a clearly, well written, intellectually challenging piece.