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Too Smart for our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind Hardcover – December 21, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0521764360 ISBN-10: 052176436X Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews


"Dilworth's book is very interesting, well written, and based on an incredible amount of research. It provides a thoroughly novel view of extremely important issues, one which will add considerably to the discussion concerning limits to growth." - Dennis Meadows, co-author of Limits to Growth

"[Dilworth's] economics discussions are on target. I congratulate him on his very comprehensive undertaking." - Herman Daly, author of Steady-State Economics

"An impressive volume--comprehensive and scholarly. The book's central ideas are of critical importance for humankind." Tony (AJ) McMichael, author of Human Frontiers, Environments and Disease (Cambridge University Press, 2001).

"[Dilworth] writes extremely well, is widely read, and has a unique wealth of knowledge. This book is unique in its coverage and presentation; and the examples it provides are excellent." - David Pimentel, Cornell University; editor of Food, Energy and Society

"... a very fine piece of work, and most welcome as we humans careen toward crisis and disaster. I hope the book gets widely discussed and perhaps even starts to change the extraordinarily ignorant, fantasy-driven media discussions of contemporary problems that seem to focus on aspects of ideology and belief to the neglect of the underlying processes that, I increasingly fear, are driving us to ruin. ... I like the book very much. It is a piece of first-rate scholarship written in a clear and engaging style. ... I would like to see this book widely read by a literate general audience. It could also serve as the basic text for upper division courses in human ecology in departments of anthropology, sociology, geography (and maybe even economics)." - Allen W. Johnson, co-author of The Evolution of Human Societies

"Dilworth's book is an exceptionally 'good read' and is a synthesis of many important components (ecological, social, and technological) that are commonly treated in isolation from each other. Information is provided in a systematic and orderly way, and the flow from one idea to the next is almost seamless. The book also has a wealth of useful references. ... [It] is well written and should be important to anyone interested in the future of civilization and Homo sapiens. Such breadth and depth in a single book are rare." - Environmental Conservation

"I would honestly have to say that this is one of the most important books I've ever read." - Ronnie Wright, World Change Café (

"Dilworth may yet prove to have the edge in prescience." - Population and Development Review, December 2010

"The text would undoubtedly be useful in stimulating debate, particularly in providing a comprehensive historical context... This is pertinent at a time when issues relating to population size and the carrying capacity of the Earth are taking a prominent part in the debate on climate change. In summary, this book offers a fascinating overview of human history and evolution from the point of view of a specific philosophical perspective." - Jane Robbins, AREA (Royal Geographical Society), August 2011

"..this is an important book, which effectively challenges the conventional view of the nature of human development." - Mick Common, review for Ecological Economics

"The book is an excellent resource for students... The history of evolution, the glossary, the illustrations, and the persuasive arguments backed up by the comprehensive literature review add to the quality of the book. An impressive and informative undertaking. This book is a must read for those concerned about the future of the human race and hoping for lessons from the past." - Environments, January 2012

Book Description

This book explains our ecological predicament by contextualising it against the first scientific theory of humankind's development, drawing on evolution theory, biology, anthropology, archaeology, economics, environmental science and history. It takes over where Darwin left off, revealing that our ecologically disruptive behaviour is rooted in our nature as a species.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 548 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (December 21, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052176436X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521764360
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.7 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,785,447 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Dilworth also makes a good many statements that are frankly incorrect or misleading.
Paula L. Craig
Our wild ancestors were well nourished, very healthy, and enjoyed a leisurely way of life in an endless unspoiled wilderness.
Richard Reese (author of Sustainable or Bust)
All told, the book touches on a wide array of academic fields in considerable detail.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Cassandrus on June 10, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book calmly explains the ecological predicament of humankind without ranting, hand wringing or polemics. And unlike most books on our predicament, it includes all the elements - human overpopulation, the many kinds of depletion of renewable as well as non-renewable resources, toxic waste, and the overwhelming of the environment's capacity of absorb even non-toxic waste, e.g. CO2 (climate change) and nitrogen (dead zones in oceans, bays & other waterways).

The importance the book gives to overpopulation is especially important to me, because in 1966 I began a career in what we could then call international "birth control" (now "family planning"). At that time, the world population was only a fraction over 3 billion (vs. 7 billion today). I abandoned the career after 10 years, because no nation was willing to try to stop its population growth. And ever since I have been looking for a book that explains humankind's recurrent problem of overpopulation, and why China appears still to be the only nation that is trying to stop its population growth as quickly as is humanely possible. After all these years, I have finally found the explanation I have been looking for. Dr. Dilworth has provided it in both a short and a long form.

The short form of the explanation is encapsulated in Dr. Dilworth's presentation of his elegantly simple but profound vicious circle principle. The long form consists of his multidisciplinary theory of the development of humankind, in which the principle is applied to the entire 200,000 years of Homo sapiens' existence. The book references work in such diverse fields as public health, geology, climatology, genetics, biology, archaeology, anthropology, sociology, psychology, evolution, economics, agronomy, engineering and the hard sciences.
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Format: Paperback
Craig Dilworth has written that rarest of non-fiction: important, exhaustive, meticulous, yet completely comprehendible. Through his invention of the VCP, or Vicious Circle Principle, Dilworth elegantly demonstrates how need leads to technology, which leads to population growth, which obviously takes us back to need again - which is where we are now - from every conceivable perspective. It is the author's mind-boggling mastery of many scholarly disciplines that makes his groundbreaking study of mankind's precarious status on earth so terrifying. Folks, this is the wake-up call, even if it's a century too late. At least we'll know what brought it all down.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By David Pimentel on June 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Craig Dilworth has written a most timely book focusing on the ecological, evolutionary, economic, and environmental aspects of the human species. Among other things, with reference to the pioneering principle, he explains that we humans are no different from other species in that, given a surplus of food and breeding sites, our population will grow. On the whole, this situation of surplus has been experienced by humankind ever since we first came into existence some 200,000 years ago, and our population has now grown to some seven billion. But, more importantly, were this surplus to be removed, there would be a population crash involving high mortality, just as there would be in the case of any other species. And, according to Dilworth, this is precisely what we are to expect for humankind in the near future. With humans now facing the end of oil availability in less than 40 years, we will no longer have the energy necessary to produce sufficient food. As a matter of fact, already more than 60% of the world's population is malnourished, and this is globally the prime cause of death, leading many investigators to call for us to reduce our numbers. One can wonder whether it is too late to escape this marked increase in mortality, as Dilworth suggests.

The key principle in the book, however, is Dilworth's vicious circle principle. According to it, the reason for the excessive growth of the human population, while the populations of other species tend to vacillate about a mean, lies ultimately in our ability to develop and apply new technology (thus making us "too smart for our own good").
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By pitkataistelu on June 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
In a sentence, this book grounds mankind's problems of sustainability (of its ecosystem and therefore ultimately of its own continued existence) in its biological-evolutionary development. To this end, the author synthesizes the thought of a number of scholars, including Malthus and Darwin, but his own contribution consists in the definition of a single principle, which states that homo sapiens is stuck in a vicious circle leading from vital need (population pressure) to the development of new technology that more thoroughly exploits natural resources; the newly-created surplus of available resources is, however, cancelled out by a relaxing of internal population checks, leading to renewed population pressure and vital need amidst an ever-growing exploitation of finite resources. Key is that at every turn of this cycle, the species becomes dependent on the technology it develops: the loss of a development like fire, for instance, would reduce mankind's potential habitat to a comparatively narrow strip along the equator (i.e. die-off elsewhere), a region that itself has lost much of its one-time fertility to such technological developments as irrigation (leading to salinization and desertification).

The presentation of the argument is encyclopedic and patient: opening with the definition of a few key principles of physics, biology, and chemistry, Dilworth next observes that an ecological perspective has recently become fashionable in archaeology and anthropology. The same approach has likewise been proposed in economics, but it has found little resonance there; accordingly, the historical introduction to this field is disappointingly brief.
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Too Smart for our Own Good: The Ecological Predicament of Humankind
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