An exposé of pseudoscientific myths about our evolutionary past and how we should live today.
We evolved to eat berries rather than bagels, to live in mud huts rather than condos, to sprint barefoot rather than play football - or did we? Are our bodies and brains truly at odds with modern life? Although it may seem as though we have barely had time to shed our hunter-gatherer legacy, biologist Marlene Zuk reveals that the story is not so simple. Popular theories about how our ancestors lived - and why we should emulate them - are often based on speculation, not scientific evidence.
Armed with a razor-sharp wit and brilliant, eye-opening research, Zuk takes us to the cutting edge of biology to show that evolution can work much faster than was previously realized, meaning that we are not biologically the same as our caveman ancestors.
Contrary to what the glossy magazines would have us believe, we do not enjoy potato chips because they crunch just like the insects our forebears snacked on. And women don’t go into shoe-shopping frenzies because their prehistoric foremothers gathered resources for their clans.
As Zuk compellingly argues, such beliefs incorrectly assume that we’re stuck - finished evolving - and have been for tens of thousands of years. She draws on fascinating evidence that examines everything from adults’ ability to drink milk to the texture of our ear wax to show that we’ve actually never stopped evolving.
From debunking the caveman diet to unraveling gender stereotypes, Zuk delivers an engrossing analysis of widespread paleofantasies and the scientific evidence that undermines them, all the while broadening our understanding of our origins and what they can really tell us about our present and our future.
©2013 Marlene Zuk (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
Excellent discussion of Evolution and a lot of current health trends. I have found that many people don't begin to understand evolution. In particular they seem to see evolution as a directing force towards some optimal form. However, that assumes a static system so there can be some optimal form. I think the author does a thorough job of debunking that particular fantasy. The other fantasy she goes after is that there was once some idealized state of man before the fall, which lately seems to be staked to the rise of agriculture. She references a lot of interesting evidence of what our species was and was doing which challenges most or perhaps, all of the notions of what she refers to as paleofantacists. It's interesting to see evidence based on dental plaque on our most ancient remains. If you are trying to eat like our ancestors, or exercise like our ancestors because you believe that it is inherently better, you'll likely be wrong. On the exercise front, it appears that a lot of the notions of what we were doesn't line up with the evidence either. I think this is an important read. I feel more prepared when some paleo zealot wants to drone on endlessly about the truth of our ancestry, and I can ask how he or she knows that, and be able to challenge them better. I may be a curmudgeon on the subject, but I get bored with folks treating pseudoscience reverentially. Look, if it's what you want to believe, and it doesn't interfere with me, you go right ahead. Just don't try and muddle science and call it gospel. Go do the research from people who study genetics, anthropology, paleontology, and stay away from the cranks, please.
Paleofantasy was an enlightening, if expansive, book for me. I don't think I read the subtitle before picking the book, or I may have been a tad bit less surprised by the evolution and anthropology lessons I received. I expected more of a straightforward discussion of the Paleo-type diet - they say eat these foods, Marlene Zuk says eat these foods. Diet books often play out this way. Paleofantasy is so much more than a diet book, however. It is a series of lessons behind many of the concepts in evolution, with studies cited to explain certain points.
The chapters are: 1) Cavemen in Condos, 2) Are We Stuck?, 3) Crickets, Sparrows, and Darwins -- or Evolution before Our Eyes, 4) The Perfect Paleofantasy: Milk, 5) The Perfect Paleofantasy: Meat, Grains, and Cooking, 6) Exercising the Paleofantasy, 7) Paleofantasy Love, 8) The Paleofantasy Family, 9) Paleofantasy in Sickness and in Health, 10) Are we still Evolving? A Tale of Genes, Altitude, and Earwax.
Zuk does a great job of staying neutral, addressing the misconceptions and assumptions that many Americans have about our Paleolithic ancestors. Instead of trying to make a specific case (stop doing this, do it this way instead) she just wants to set the record straight. She addresses everything from the idea of cavemen needing to spread their seed for the survival of our species, to our paleolithic ancestors' ability to consume grains and evolution of the digestion of grains, to barefoot running. Paleofantasy is filled with the usual inconclusive terms of science Americans hate to hear, such as "it is hard to know for sure" and "this is more complicated than it seems".
As you can imagine, in a book that takes an entire chapter to discuss a human's ability to digest milk, there is a huge amount of information presented. At some points I felt like it was too much to be hearing rather than reading on the page. I listened to some chapters twice just to absorb their info. This is "just the facts" journalism, not dressed up in a more pop non-fiction style like many current non-fiction books that aim to create a more vivid experience.
I really appreciated Laura Darrell's narration. She sounded so excited/amused through the whole book, and she really enunciated her books. I can't stand narrators who fail to really enunciate, as sometimes I can't make out what they are saying.
This book affirmed my faith in the advice Michael Pollan: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants". Pollan often talks about how little we truly know about the food we eat and what happens to it inside our bodies, he talks about how limited the science of nutrition and digestion is today. Paleofantasy illustrates we don't know much, and we have a long way to go before finding the "best" way to eat, move our bodies, and be with each other.
l'enfer c'est les autres
The author uses the clever narrative device of using modern day caveman wannabes incorrect beliefs and tells a story that teaches the reader about prehistory, evolution, psychology, diet, genetics and etc.
She'll state an incorrect caveman wannabe belief. Show why it's absurd. State that "the truth is much more complex than that", and give all the relative current science on that matter and how it doesn't really make sense. All the while doing it in a highly listenable way because the topics are always interesting.
This is a good book. She's not a great writer and sometimes takes multiple paragraphs to say something that should have been said in a single paragraph. The narrator is not a great narrator either.
I'd much prefer an interesting topic presently poorly than a boring topic presented well. If you have an interest in how we fit into the universe (and who doesn't?), I'd recommend this book strongly.
I love to make my mind think anew! For every book I read, my world grows. Maybe I need a bigger world, bigger then the one we have today?
Also a overview and explanation of why we can't go back to our ancestors diet and lifestyle. We have to evolve just like our gens have. But also a hint that we have to consider our past diet and lifestyle as a starting place to a modern and healthy diet and lifestyle. Great overview and easy to understand.
interested in history, science, and pulp fiction
I picked this up so impulsively that I didn't read the description carefully. Thus, I was surprised to find that the author organized the book to take on and refute the 'urban paleo diet' movement. Since I have never found the 'urban paleo diet' movement credible anyway, this approach would not have appealed to me. I might never have read it, and that would have been my loss. It's a good book, and the author takes a glee in noting grim details and bursting myths. The details about human anatomy and running were interesting; her take on continuing evolution with respect to human diet, illness, and microbes was fascinating. I hope that in her next book she foregoes the artifice of taking down online commenters, though - she doesn't need that shtick, her science writing is engaging as it is.
In addressing the various themes of "our stone age bodies/minds aren't designed for modern life" the author covers a lot of ground, but she still leaves some areas unexplored. The performance matches the sometimes serious, sometimes funny text well.
The author uses evolutionary science to debunk several claims regarding modern diets, fitness regimens, child rearing and relationships. Unfortunately, she only chooses to address concepts that she seems confident she can refute. While she convincingly argues for the plasticity of our genome, there certainly are ancient limitations that we are stuck with (our poor grasp of probability, our low genetic diversity, the fallacy of multi-tasking).
Her discussions are evidence based but she mostly avoids directly citing papers and studies. However, this leaves many discussions meandering in a grey area between opinion/interpretation and hard facts.
She tempers her criticism of the "paleo" movement with wit and empathy for those people trying live a better life. I believe adherents of the paleo-lifestyle who are interested in the other side of the argument could enjoy the book.
Say something about yourself!
The title sounded interesting - however it takes forever for the author to make her points. It's not that I disagree with her conclusions, rather her style of writing makes the book just too tedious for me to care what they are.
Among the current dietary and lifestyle fads is the paleo diet--the idea that we evolved to eat like our paleolithic ancestors, and have had too little time to evolve to suit our current lifestyle and diet. Marlene Zuk looks at the actual science, including what our paleolithic ancestors really ate, and how long it really takes for natural selection to spread changes in what foods we can digest and how.
I should say up front that Zuk isn't against eating a paleo diet, if that's what works for you. What she's arguing against here is the idea that paleo, or any other highly specific diet, is or can be the One True Way.
The archaeological evidence says our ancestors were eating grains and root vegetables much earlier than previously thought. Also that just like contemporary humans, populations in different areas ate different things, based on what was available locally. The idea that paleolithic humans only ate meat, fruits, and maybe some non-starchy vegetables is as unfounded as the idea that eating meat is "unnatural" despite the ample evidence that our ancestors have been eating meat for at least two million years.
What we do see when we look at modern humans is that, whether living in "developed" countries or maintaining something close to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, diets vary widely depending on what's readily available and culturally acceptable to the people doing the eating. Hunter-gatherers in coastal regions eat a lot of fish. More inland hunter-gatherers eat a lot more plant foods, but the animal foods they eat are a lot more likely to be mammals than fish. Most Western populations don't make much, if any, use of insects as food, though they are valued as a tasty, convenient source of protein in many other cultures.
The evidence we do have for paleolithic hunter-gatherers, as far as we've been able to find it, is that they had similarly diverse diets, based on what was available in their regions.
The other part of the equation is, how fast can we evolve changes in what we can easily digest? Here, the evidence is that the paleo enthusiasts, as well as other, differently extreme, diet advocates, have it wrong.
Consider milk. Most people reading this review will have grown up in a culture that regards milk as a healthy food. Most will also be aware of some people who have "milk intolerance," the inability to digest milk because their bodies stopped manufacturing the necessary enzyme, lactase, in infancy.
What you may or may not realize, depending on your background, is that ending lactase production after weaning is normal, in humans and pretty much all other mammals. Adult milk consumption is weird, really.
But in people descended from populations that had a pastoralist lifesstyle--following herds or keeping herds of cattle, horses, goats, etc., eating milk and milk products is normal, while in places that have been long-settled and long-civilized, such as China, the mammalian norm of hardly anyone producing lactase after weaning is the norm for the human populations there, too.
In populations where people lived a pastoralist lifestyle for a long time, that minority of the original population who kept producing lactase into adulthood were more successful, and had more offspring, and that mutation became widespread. And this happened fairly quickly, starting no more than about 7,000 years ago.
What's even more interesting is that while the mutation that continues lactase production is the most common route to adult milk consumption, in some populations, a different path to the same result occurred. Zuk describes populations that, instead of producing lactase as adultss, seem to have a different mix of gut bacteria. Gut bacteria do a lot of the work of digestion, and these populations have a mix of gut bacteria that helps them digest milk.
My discussion of this is not nearly as interesting as Zuk's. If I've interested you at all, or touched on things you think could be interesting if discussed better, do read the book.
I bought this book.
I enjoyed the author pithy writing style, and the narrator's perfectly pitched "snarky" delivery of Ms. Zuk's sharply reasoned, factually data based arguments that first punctured and then swept away the debris of so many Half Baked, and somewhat looney evolutionary based food and disease related theories and fads.
A good listen! ;-)
FCHOWLANDJR, Oxford-on-the-Choccolocco, AL
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