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.
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Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By David on 29-09-15
Love a good discussion of Evolution and not....
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.
10 of 10 people found this review helpful
By Kali on 17-08-13
Dropping some evolution knowledge!
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.
21 of 23 people found this review helpful