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Consequences that "carry the weight of life's billions of years"
on June 22, 2011
In full disclosure, as a blogger, I received an advanced copy of this book. I don't think, however, that that influences what I'm about to say:
The bottom line is that this is a rare book that I feel comfortable labeling a must-read. And I don't just mean in the Ecology, Health, or Evolution category. Across all categories, this is one of the most insightful and compelling books I have read. (I'm not just saying that; I actually keep a list of these things: [...]
It's a must-read because, in an eminently entertaining and understandable way, Rob Dunn provides a powerful framework for understanding who we are: (1) Our bodies' interactions with other species, and correspondingly (2) the inseparability of the human part of us from the non-human part of us; (3) the many ways that evolution shaped us and (4) the consequences of living modern lives; and (5) the previously unacknowledged genetic diversity that has big implications for medical practice and for which diets we respond to, and can even help explain social behavior.
For each of these points, I've included a quote to illustrate:
(1) "On our bodies are a kind of living wonderland. There are more bacterial cells on you right now than there ever were bison on the Great Plains, more microbial cells, in fact, than human cells. Each of those cells are tiny but perhaps consequential."
(2) "Major systems of our bodies, including our immune system, evolved to work best when other species lived on us. We are not simply hosts to other species; we live lives intimately linked to them, and even the boundaries between the simplest categories of "us" and "them" and "good" and "bad" are blurry to the tools we have so far."
(3) "The wild workings of our bodies influence who we are. They influence our behavior, our weight, our metabolism and nearly everything else. We are what we eat, but we are also, it appears, what eats us."
(4) "Right now, you are at almost no risk of predation. No tigers lurk in your kitchen or yard. You are at low risk of encountering a parasite. But you are also likely to struggle to see, around you in your life, anything resembling wilderness devoid of the impact of humans. These realities have consequences, more than we have realized. You might call them side effects, except that they seem to be right in front of us, knocking on our door. They are the ghosts of our ecological history. They knock softly but carry the weight of life's billions of years."
(5) "The genetic diversity among African groups is as great as that found in all of the rest of the world combined, a finding that reconciles with what is known about the diversity of cultures. Almost a third of the languages are found in Africa, and, with them, a third of all ways of living. In other words, in the most common telling, we had the tree of life precisely backward. The tree of life itself is rooted in Africa, where most of the branches remain. The rest of humans, from Native Americans to aboriginal Australians to Swedes, descend from just a few branches corresponding to one or two migrations out of Africa."