This new book by Spencer Wells, the internationally known geneticist, anthropologist, author, and director of the Genographic Project, focuses on the seminal event in human history: mankind's decision to become farmers rather than hunter-gatherers.
What do terrorism, pandemic disease, and global warming have in common? To find the answer we need to go back 10 millennia, to the wheat fields of the Fertile Crescent and the rice paddies of southern China. It was at that point that our species made a radical shift in its way of life. We had spent millions of years of evolution eking out a living as hunter-gatherers. When we learned how to control our food supply, though, we became as gods - we controlled the world rather than it controlling us. But with godliness comes responsibility. By sowing seeds thousands of years ago, we were also sowing a new culture - one that has come with many unforeseen costs.
Taking us on a 10,000-year tour of human history and a globe-trotting fact-finding mission, Pandora's Seed charts the rise to power of Homo agriculturis and the effect this radical shift in lifestyle has had on us. Focusing on three key trends as the final stages of the agricultural population explosion play out over this century, Wells speculates on the significance of our newfound ability to modify our genomes to better suit our unnatural culture, fast-forwarding our biological adaptation to the world we have created. But what do we stand to lose in the process?
Climate change, a direct result of billions of people living in a culture of excess accumulation, threatens the global social and ecological fabric. It will force a key shift in our behavior, as we learn to take the welfare of future generations into account. Finally, the rise of religious fundamentalism over the past half-century is explained as part of a backlash against many of the trends set in motion by the agricultural population explosion and its inherent inequality.
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"Spencer Wells's writing combines a deep knowledge of the history of human evolution with a most engaging and lively manner of making that story come alive. Pandora’s Seed draws upon compelling anecdotes and moving personal narratives to crystallize a crucial turning point in the history of our species, the point at which modern human beings stop and look back at our long evolutionary trajectory, and confront squarely its dark side, its cost. With this knowledge, Wells deeply believes, we can take the necessary steps to chart a common, humane future over the crucial next half century. Pandora’s Seed reflects Wells’s deep learning, and his deep love of our all too human community." (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University)
I always look for books that will inform me in areas which are unfamiliar. So, it was a delight to listen to Spencer Well's Pandora's Seed. A geneticist, Wells orients thte reader to the beginings of agriculture perhaps 10,000 years ago. He moves forward through the centuries to finally, and importantly, tell us about the rise in obesity, diabetes, malaria an even dental decay. This book which is well written and nicely read by the author will be of general interest and the scientifically minded as well. If I can follow the history and arguments presented, any reader can. Give this one a try.
Pandora's Seed, while containing all the essential ingredients to make me giddy - Natufians, evolutionary history, the rise and fall of empires - never quite congealed into a focused or inventive text. Because of its breadth, it skipped quickly between topics without any of the depth and insight that a reader expects from an expert-in-his-field like Spencer Wells. The overall effect of such a scatter-shot tour of the agriculture revolution's fallout, is that of a mash-up of the works other more inspired texts of authors such as Jared Diamond, Michael Pollan and Karen Armstrong. Still though a great premise and largely successful effort.
I ordered this book after watching the Daily Show and enjoyed it immensely. The scope and breadth of topics and ideas is almost overwhelming, and the author is challenged to ponder numerous ethical conundrums.
This is the book I've been wanting to write for years. These topics are my areas of academic interest, and I think Wells "gets it". Understanding people and our behavior tells us exactly how we got where we are, and ONLY understanding can help save us from our own nature.
I was looking for more information on evolutionary diets and our ancestors. As well as health and environmental costs of agriculture. Not exactly what I was looking for.
I agree with some of the other reviews--the depth fell off in the latter part of the book. However, I learned some things I hadn't known before--especially the idea that infectious disease only began to plague humanity after agriculture and living in groups. The part about which genes have made the most difference was also informative. I liked the way he explained mutations, but I wish he'd write another book and explain it in even simpler terms for the many people who don't seem to understand evolution because they don't understand how mutations work. Case in point: Recently a politician asked why apes are not still evolving into humans. People laughed, then quietly admitted they didn't quite understand either. I really think people do not understand mutations and how they contribute to evolution...obviously I don't either, but this book does a pretty good job of explaining. This needs to be on TV on a really accessible visual chart or something, so people will quit asking questions like that politician did. I've seen Wells on TV; he could do it. Speaking of which, if he ever wants a second career, he could totally be the best narrator on here. He was so much easier to understand and had better timing and inflection than the narrator of the last book I listened to.
I have already recommended this book to many Spencer Wells fans from his books to his documentaries (The Human Family Tree and The Journey of Man). If you care about anthropology, DNA, culture, the past or the future then you will find this fascinating.
Now, Spencer, as someone who is captivated by your work, I ask that you get a director when reading next time that makes you "pump it up" a little with more energy as well as stay on the mic more.
I listen to many audible books and for some reason Spencer is not as loud as the others and I have to turn our little plug-in computer speakers as loud as they will go. Others with more savvy set ups will have NO problem.
That said, do not let that stop you from getting this book. It's great and we will listen to it again and again, especially as my children get a little older. I am even gifting it to 2 friends for the holidays.
Loved the audio but the print version would be great to annotate. There were so many insightful parts of this book that it may be the only lengthy audio book I replay in my collection. It was absolutely fascinating.
this book is read by Spencer Wells who sounds like he is Very closely related to the "text to voice" feature that blind folks use on their computers. Every single sentence has the exact same cadence, There is no annunciation, inflection or general human tendency to sound as though your among the living. Its a shame because the subject material is deeply fascinating. You just cant get into it with a narrator who speaks with such profound monotony that he often fails to pause between sentences and at times paragraphs! come on.
Although this started off pretty interesting, the second half of the book was a digression into a manifesto on the author's social views. By the end of the book I was tired of the preaching and was looking forward to it being over.
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