From Publishers Weekly
More food but also disease, craziness, and anomie resulted from the agricultural revolution, according to this diffuse meditation on progress and its discontents. Wells (The Journey of Man), a geneticist, anthropologist, and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, voices misgivings about the breakthrough to farming 10,000 years ago, spurred by climate change. The food supply was more stable, but caused populations to explode; epidemics flourished because of overcrowding and proximity to farm animals; despotic governments emerged to organize agricultural production; and warfare erupted over farming settlements. Then came urbanism and modernity, which clashed even more intensely with our nomadic hunter-gatherer nature. Nowadays, Wells contends, we are both stultified and overstimulated, cut off from the land and alienated from one other, resulting in mental illness and violent fundamentalism. Wells gives readers an engaging rundown of the science that reconstructs the prehistoric past, but he loses focus in trying to connect that past to every contemporary issue from obesity to global warming, and his solution is unconvincingly simple: Want less. B&w photos. (June 8)
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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
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