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The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease Paperback – July 1, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-0307741806 ISBN-10: 030774180X Edition: Reprint

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (July 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030774180X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307741806
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (249 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,051 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In thoroughly enjoyable and edifying prose, Lieberman, professor of human evolution at Harvard, leads a fascinating journey through human evolution. He comprehensively explains how evolutionary forces have shaped the human species as we know it, from the move to bipedalism, and the changes in body parts—from hands to feet and spine—that such a change entailed, to the creation of agrarian societies, and much more. He balances a historical perspective with a contemporary one—examining traits of our ancestors as carefully as he looks to the future—while asking how we might control the destiny of our species. He argues persuasively that cultural evolution is now the dominant force of evolutionary change acting on the human body, and focuses on what he calls mismatch diseases that are caused by lack of congruence between genes and environment. Since the pace of cultural evolution has outstripped that of biological evolution, mismatch diseases have increased to the point where most of us are likely to die of such causes. Lieberman's discussion of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer are as clear as any yet published, and he offers a well-articulated case for why an evolutionary perspective can greatly enrich the practice of medicine. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Oct.) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Like it or not, we are slightly fat, furless, bipedal primates who crave sugar, salt, fat, and starch. Harvard professor Lieberman holds nothing back in his plea that people listen to the story of human evolution consisting of five biological transformations (walking upright, eating a variety of different foods, accumulating physical traits aligned to hunting and gathering, gaining bigger brains with larger bodies, and developing unique capacities for cooperation and language) and two cultural ones (farming and reliance on machines). Unfortunately, human beings now create environments and presently practice lifestyles that are clearly out of sync with the bodies they’ve inherited. This mismatch results in myriad problems, including Type 2 diabetes, myopia, flat feet, and cavities. Lieberman cleverly and comprehensively points out the perils of possessing Paleolithic anatomy and physiology in a modern world and bemoans just how out of touch we have become with our bodies. Natural selection nudges all life-forms toward optimality rather than a state of perfection. If we want to continue our phenomenal run as a species, it is essential to understand (and embrace) our evolutionary legacy. --Tony Miksanek --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

To me, the most interesting part was "Apes and Humans."
Gentleheart
This book is an easy, enjoyable read, and a wonderful, very informative look at our evolutionary development.
William Garrison Jr.
Very enlightening to look at human history and our modern environment through the lens of evolution.
Michael C.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

115 of 119 people found the following review helpful By Dennis Littrell HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The first part of the book is about human evolution from apes to Homo sapiens with a lot of interesting information about hominins (AKA hominids) and how we became bipedal and developed language and culture. The second part is about how the rise of agriculture and then the industrial revolution changed the health of our bodies for better and for worse. The third part is about how to cope with what Lieberman calls "mismatch diseases" and "dysevolution."

Lieberman's style is surprisingly readable considering that he has written scores of articles for peer-reviewed journals. There is some repetition (some of it on the same page!) but most of it is didactic because Lieberman is a teacher and he wants us to understand the great environmental and cultural changes that have taken place in the last 50,000 years or so since we became behaviorally modern humans. He is an expert on the human body, especially the head and the feet. Known as "the barefoot professor" at Harvard where he is the head of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology, Lieberman is at the pinnacle of his profession and so what he writes about the human body and the environment is highly significant.

To give us as much information as possible, Lieberman begins in Part I with the Australopithecus apes and examines how they got around on two legs as they gradually evolved into the various archaic humans and finally into Homo sapiens. This early part of the book, about one-third of the total, gives the reader a good, contemporary understanding of the various early hominids such as Homo erectus, Homo neanderthalensis, Homo rudolfensis, etc. and how their bodies and habits differed from one another and from Homo sapiens.
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50 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Danno VINE VOICE on August 30, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
'The Story of the Human Body' is a well-written book tailored for the curious nonscientist who wants to learn more about how our evolutionary history influences the sorts of ailments that we suffer from, particularly those that we often attribute to simple aging. This is a book primarily for the layman - if you've taken a good general life science course as a high school or college student you'll be able to survive the jargon just fine - and it's to author Daniel Lieberman's credit that he was able to write such an engaging, conversation book without overly simplifying the science behind his argument. The science itself is noncontroversial, and Lieberman does a great job distinguishing between the indisputable facts of the fossil record and what we can infer and assume based on our understanding of modern primitive peoples. Lieberman's central argument won't be new to anyone who's studied evolutionary theory and health sciences, but it's probably one that most people have not considered before.

I'm particularly impressed with the last chapter of the book. Most recent science books I've read that are written for a nonprofessional audience tend to either fall apart toward the end or have ridiculous wrapups that have little connection to the text that preceeded it. The last chapter of this book, on the other hand, reads like an extended essay examining the pragmatism of implementing our evolutionary knowledge to many of the potential solutions to improve our health. Truth be told, unless we're going to abandon civilization en masse and return to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, any changes we make to get closer to the lifestyles that our bodies evolved for are going to necessarily be incomplete. But they will be for the better.
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51 of 58 people found the following review helpful By William Garrison Jr. VINE VOICE on August 23, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease" by Daniel Lieberman (Oct. 2013), [approx. 370 pages of text, & another 60 pages of notes]. Okay, yes, this is a study of the evolution and development of us: mankind. The author doesn't start by hypothesizing how "man" evolved by some fish deciding to become a beachcomber and then standing upright. He avoids the "early" Darwin picture. Instead, the author fast-forwards his journey by picking up mankind's evolutionary traits "about six million years or so to a forest somewhere in Africa" (p.21).

But where is this journey going to take us? As the author postulates: "We didn't evolve to be healthy, but instead we were selected to have as many offspring as possible under diverse, challenging conditions. As a consequence, we never evolved to make rational choices about what to eat or how to exercise in conditions of abundance and comfort... If we wish to halt this vicious circle [of continuing to pass `bad' genes to our children] then we need to figure out how to respectfully and sensibly nudge, push, and sometimes oblige ourselves to eat foods that promote health...." (p. xii).

No, this is not some health-fanatic's book urging us to eating several wheel-barrels full of veggies every day. The author notes how we differ from our knuckle-dragging ancestors, such as we lost our earlier heavily powerful jaw muscles and bulky jaws as our forefathers began eating meats rather than subsisting totally on nuts, fruits, and tubers.

As the "Look Inside" feature was not available at the time of this review, following are the chapter contents, which really present a very good review of the innards of this book.

(Chpt. 1) Introduction: What are humans adapted for?
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