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.
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.
Letting the rest of the world go by
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.
Academic word play. I felt the author was trying to berate me into seeing her opinion.
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.
I love to make my mind think and in totally new ways. In that way I can make my world in my minds eye bigger. Maybe I just need more space?
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.
It was interesting but was a bit long winded and sciency. It was definitely food for thought but could have been condensed which would have kept me listening more consistently.
Maybe for fiction. Her voice was really annoying when listening to a scientific book. If I hear "neandra-tal" instead of "neandra-thal" one more time I'll kick a puppy.
The best part about the book was the narration. Laura Darrell did a fine job but my mind will have trouble separating her from Marlene Zuk's work. That is my loss.
Do to space and time limitations I will keep this to a brief review erather than a complete (audio) book report. Unfortunately, that means I will only be able to touch on a few points.
1) Zuk does not define the paleofantasy (which is a word I will, thankfully, never have to deal with again after I finish this) which she attempts to refute. Instead she picks and chooses a broad range of topics to show why it is a fantasy.
2) I, like many listeners and readers I am sure, made the erroneous assumption that Zuk was going to provide a counterargument to the growing trend of paleo/primal lifestyle. Instead, she is using the momentum of the movement to sell this book which is more about evolution than diet and exercise. What this book most definitely isn't is a reason not to follow the suggestions of Mark Sisson, Loren Cordain, Robb Wolf, or their peers.
3) The author can't always decide which argument she agrees with. For instance, she starts talking (writing) about why barefooting is bad but then goes on to say all the reasons why it could be good. She would be more respectable if she could stand by her views.
4) She picks on two specific examples of why the paleo/primal diets as suggested by several prominant authors could be wrong - the use/digestion of grain and milk products. SPOILER ALERT: In a nutshell, she argues that humans have been consuming grain products for much longer than paleo/primal advocates argue and our species is evolving to digest milk products. She misses several major arguing points of the paleo/primal movement including: modern processing & products, GMO, the effects of consumption, and if said consumption is a good thing even if it's possible.
5) Zuk argues that we are still evolving and hints that whatever "paleolithic" model is used as the basis for a "paleofantasy" is incorrect because there is no "best" model of genetic humanity. She fails to take into account current sexual selection, ethical/moral development, religion, and advancements in medical technology (though the latter is briefly mentioned) and the contributions all make in our evolution. She fails to demonstrate why our latest model of homo sapiens is superior to whatever example of paleolithic human she is talking about at the moment. Yet she does not accept that an earlier "version" of humans could be healthier.
7) She uses comments found in internet forums as evidence or arguing points. This is just too ridiculous a point to even continue with.
Believe me, there's much more that I had issue with (she argues against modelling a workout on a mammoth hunt, for example, and instead presents the following: "we just need to get up off the couch"; seriously, that's her counterpoint to all exercises paleo).
If this were any form of academic paper it would not pass beyond the junior high level. Marlene Zuk's arguments are either weak, incomplete, lacking definition, irrelevant, ad absurdum, equivocating, or change from one paragraph to the next. This book could serve as providing some ideas to explore but does not provide any answers. I picked it out because I wanted to learn why I shouldn't follow paleo diet and exercise ideas. This book solidified my reasons on why I should. To that end, this book is harmful in that it suggests that humans not follow the "paleo lifestyle" but does not offer any alternatives. It is an argument, albeit a poor one, against exercise and eating non-processed food. Instead, of helping people find a way to improve their health and diet, Marlene Zuk suggests nothing and instead says we are evolving to deal with our modern lives.
I personally don't feel I'm evolving fast enough to lay in bed and play video games all day while still being healthy and living to 100. Don't tell Marlene that I'm going to eat a salad and run some sprints - she might say I'm being stupid.
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