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Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization [Kindle Edition]

Spencer Wells
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)

Kindle Price: $9.99
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Ten thousand years ago, our species made a radical shift in its way of life: We became farmers rather than hunter-gatherers. Although this decision propelled us into the modern world, renowned geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells demonstrates that such a dramatic change in lifestyle had a downside that we’re only now beginning to recognize. Growing grain crops ultimately made humans more sedentary and unhealthy and made the planet more crowded. The expanding population and the need to apportion limited resources created hierarchies and inequalities. Freedom of movement was replaced by a pressure to work that is the forebear of the anxiety millions feel today. Spencer Wells offers a hopeful prescription for altering a life to which we were always ill-suited. Pandora’s Seed is an eye-opening book for anyone fascinated by the past and concerned about the future.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Wells examines the positive and negative impact civilizations have had on the planet, from court hearings on genetically designed babies to the threat of environmental degradation on the Tuvalu Islands. His story brings the listener from a precivilized world to future possibilities that depend on the course of the next hundred years. Wells balances anecdotes and data with real world examples that embody the abstract concepts he proposes. However, his narration works against the material; the projection is inconsistent throughout, and at times, sentences that start strong sound breathless by the last few words. Wells's emphasis and modulation do not match the sophistication of the prose and fail to fully engage the listener. A Random hardcover (Reviews, Apr. 5).
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A geneticist and author of two general-interest titles (The Journey of Man, 2002; Deep Ancestry, 2006), Wells in this work concentrates on the beginnings of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. Intrigued by traces of the transition from hunter-gatherer times that can be interpreted from the human genome, Wells chats with researchers on this topic and translates their methods and findings into jargon-free language. Combining the DNA discussions with descriptions of archaeological evidence, Wells maintains that putting away the spear and taking up the plow have not been unalloyed boons to humanity. Ascribing obesity, diabetes, malaria, dental decay, and other maladies to the carbohydrate- and sugar-rich diet unboxed by Pandora and the agricultural revolution, Wells further indicts another product of agrarian society, civilization, for contributing to mental illnesses. Pursuing this line of argument to modern anxieties about genetic selection in human reproduction and about climate change, Wells will appeal to a variety of science readers, including those interested in genetic anthropology, health, and the future course of human evolution. --Gilbert Taylor

Product Details

  • File Size: 1218 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1 edition (June 8, 2010)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0036S4BDA
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #280,315 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
99 of 102 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but not exactly what I was expecting June 28, 2010
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I have to hand it to Spencer Wells. He's a master at explaining scientific data and making a subject that might seem dry and academic come alive. In Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization he takes on the topic of early man's transition from hunter-gatherer to an argicultural basis 10,000 years ago during the Neolithic revolution. Using his background in population genetics, Wells makes the case that in opting for the settled lives of farmers our early ancestors set us on a path toward civilization.

Little did our ancestors know that along with farming, they were also sowing the seeds of overpopulation, disease, obesity, mental illness, climate change and even violent fundamentalism. At least according to Pandora's Seed.

I enjoyed the early chanpters of this book where Wells discussed early man. His points about farming and early urbanization are clearly made, as are his ideas that the plentiful supply of food that could be grown rather than searched for set the stage for the development of diseases like diabetes. But as he delved into other topics it seemed like his ideas were less based on science and more on conjecture. I first noticed this in his chapter on mental illness, but it carried through the rest of the book.

By the time I finished the chapters on climate change and religious fundamentalism it felt like Wells was stretching his ideas almost to the breaking point. Granted, he didn't say anything I disagree with; but it was starting to feel less like science and more like an agenda.

Wells has much of interest to say. I just wish he'd be a little more clear when he's speaking for science and when he's speaking for himself.
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51 of 55 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Did humans take a wrong turn? June 27, 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The Economist magazine has suggested that if humanity has a "historian-in-chief" it is Spencer Wells, one of the foremost practitioners applying population genetics to refine our understanding of distant human history. That sets a rather high expectation for Pandora's Seed.

Wells builds on the basic evolutionary idea that when the environment changes not all of the genes suitable for the previous environment necessarily remain advantageous. The greatest disruption of this sort in the past 50,000 years, he believes, was when humans began growing their own food about 10,000 years ago, the development of agriculture. Of course, our ancestors had no idea of the long-term consequences of their choices as they began to domesticate plants and animals.

Wells emphasizes those consequences that were not so good. For instance, he argues, human health suffered. For both males and females, longevity, average height, and pelvic indices deteriorated from where they were in Paleolithic times (30,000 to 9,000 years ago) and did not recover until the nineteenth century. "Ultimately, nearly every single major disease affecting modern human populations whether bacterial, viral, parasitic, or noncommunicable has its roots in the mismatch between our biology and the world we have created since the advent of agriculture," he contends.

Wells carries the argument through to current times, although he attends little to the intervening cultural history. He would like us to be more conscious of the "transgenerational" effects of the choices we make as they pertain to, for instance, the health and ethical issues involved in genetic engineering, our impacts on global warming, probable future reliance on aquaculture, and so on.
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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The enormous change brought about by the invention of agriculture is well documented. As Spencer Wells says in his book, Pandora's Seed, the transition to permanent settlements led "from villages to cities, which joined in empires with written records to pass on to future generations. What before was lost to posterity or decayed into vague myth was now written in stone." Numerous authors have dealt with this historical transition and its impact. (Probably one of the best such books is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond.) Mr Wells however has added a significant new dimension to the analysis. Humans guided the evolution of the plants and animals that they domesticated, but there is now genetic evidence that shows that humans were in turn themselves affected by these changes. Geneticists have now discovered numerous recent mutations to the human genome which resulted from the abrupt change in our environment and our diet. The story which the author develops explains in detail both the scope of these changes and the fact that the impact of those genetic mutations and the dramatic shift in the human environment is still unfolding. He goes on to consider the potential future impact of the tools which geneticists have now developed, which could permit designer children as in the movie Gattica. Thus the initial chapters of the book are powerful and enormously important.

Mr Wells is best when he is talking about genetic science, which he knows in depth. However, he also tackles issues such as our contemporary environmental challenge, psychiatric disorders and religious fundamentalism. I found these secondary discussions interesting in terms of the questions that are raised but ultimately they remain rather shallow and simplistic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars first half was well written and very interesting
This book was really good as long as dr wells stuck to gentics and history. The last half ventured too far from the main theme. Read more
Published 4 months ago by j g hair md
4.0 out of 5 stars we get what we deserved.
We can't look back and say civilization has caused our modern day troubles. Wether we like it or not human species will have to move forward. Read more
Published 4 months ago by francisco dudero
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the read
In Pandora's Seed Wells not only informs but also challenges. The book is well written and interesting for the non-scientist. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Bonita F. McCarson
5.0 out of 5 stars Very nice
Very nice book. I received it as expected. No complains. I would recommend it to a friend.Good value for money.
Published 10 months ago by PANAGIOTA DIMITROPOULOU
5.0 out of 5 stars The Unforseen Cost of Civilization
Well-written, a clear and fascinating story of mankind's advance into civilization over time, along with the costs of those advances, which wouold no have been known or understood... Read more
Published 10 months ago by W. Dunning
4.0 out of 5 stars Assigned book for school
This book was a required reading for my Anthropology 100 class. It was light reading, and I was able to power through it easily. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Ayesha D.
5.0 out of 5 stars Just what a was after
Anyone who's grabbed by the description, you'll love the audio book. Great for busy lifestyles. Listen on the go!
Thank you
Published 12 months ago by yanillapride
3.0 out of 5 stars Seeds for thought.
I chose this title for my review because the majority of Mr. Powell's book gives one much to think about. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Gayle Eastley
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding!
Pandora's seed is an outstanding novel. I started reading it and could not look at any other book before I finished it.
Published 16 months ago by Jen
3.0 out of 5 stars interesting facts, poor flow
The book was interesting and clearly was well researched. I did not appreciate the flow of the book as it seemed like Wells was rambling at times. Overall, it was good... Read more
Published 17 months ago by thesnowman
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More About the Author

Spencer Wells is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and Frank H. T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professor at Cornell University. He leads the Genographic Project, which is collecting and analyzing hundreds of thousands of DNA samples from people around the world in order to decipher how our ancestors populated the planet. Wells received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and conducted postdoctoral work at Stanford and Oxford. He has written three books, The Journey of Man, Deep Ancestry, and Pandora's Seed. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, a documentary filmmaker.

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He doesn't like population growth, but has benefited greatly from...
Overpopulation and greed are good? And your serious?

There's a difference between understanding life and actually living it. Scientists who seek to understand life do so in lieu of actually living it the way it was meant to be. It's a hollow consolation prize. Even a successful geneticist... Read More
Jun 12, 2010 by Vince |  See all 14 posts
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