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56 of 64 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Our physiological & cultural evolution since Australopithecus, August 23, 2013
This review is from: The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease (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?

(Part I: Apes and Humans) [The author discusses the changes between: Australopiths, Homo habilis, H. rudolphensis, Homo erectus, H. heidelbergensis, H. floresiensis, H. neanderthalenis, and Modern humans.]

(2) Upstanding Apes: How we became bipeds.

(3 ) Much depends on dinner: How the Australopiths partly weaned us off fruit.

(4) The first hunter-gatherers: How nearly modern bodies evolved in the human genus.

(5) Energy in the Ice Age: How we evolved big brains along with large, fat, gradually growing bodies.

(6) A very cultured species: How modern humans colonized the world with a combination of brains plus brawn.

(Pat II: Farming and the Industrial Revolution.)
(7) Progress, mismatch, and dysevolution: The consequences-- good and bad --of having Paleolithic bodies in a post-Paleolithic world. [Cavities begin to appear in the time of the Neolithic farmer.]

(8) Paradise Lost?: The fruits and follies of becoming farmers. ["Humans have unleashed upon ourselves a frightening array of horrid diseases ... that we acquired by living in close contact with animals" (p. 201)]

(9) Modern Times, Modern Bodies: The paradox of human health in the Industrial Era.

(Part III: The Present, the Future)
(10) The Vicious Circle of Too Much: Why too much energy can make us sick.

(11) Disuse: Why we are losing it by not using it.

(12) The hidden dangers of novelty and comfort: Why everyday innovations can damage us.

(13) Survival of the Fitter: Can evolutionary logic help cultivate a better future for the human body?

This is not a book about human physiology: how blood flows throughout or body or how our kidneys work. But it does discuss how we picked up human parasites (lice, pin worms, etc.) and diseases (malaria, yaws, syphilis, etc.). This book isn't just about comparing the brain sizes of our early ancestors with ours; just a few factoids to make this topic interesting. This book is more about how human choices have impacted mankind's lifestyles, such as our increased consumption of sugar-loaded foods and how that impacts upon our insulin receptors, glucose molecules, glucose transporters and insulin-resistant stuff. And discussion about our increasing levels of "triglycerides from excess visceral fat." Yummy!

And the author reviews CT scans of Egyptian mummies to study the development of early LDL and HDL influences in some plaque-plugged veins of the Pharaohs.

The author concludes (in part): "If these is any one most useful lesson to learn from our species' rich and complex evolutionary history, it is that culture does not allow us to transcend our biology ... The human body's past was molded by the survival of the fitter, but your body's future depends on how you use it" (p. 367). This book is an easy, enjoyable read, and a wonderful, very informative look at our evolutionary development.
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