October 20, 2019 9:43 AM - by Marlene Zuk - Subscribe

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. Our nostalgic visions of an ideal evolutionary past in which we ate, lived, and reproduced as we were “meant to” fail to recognize that we were never perfectly suited to our environment. Evolution is about change, and every organism is full of trade-offs.

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.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis (9 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
H/T to MarkK who mentioned this book and another in a thread. People really have a lousy idea of how evolution works, partially because it’s complicated and partially because of the way it’s taught in schools (if it’s taught at all). The other complicating factor is the breathless headlines in the media about new scientific discoveries that go for the most sensational take rather then the most accurate one. Couple this with the sorts of people who want to promote their latest “evolutionarily based” diet and you have a morass in your hands. This book is a great antidote to that sort of thinking and a clear look at what our genes and evolution really mean for us as a species.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 9:47 AM on October 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Homo neanderthalensis will you just admit that you are shilling for Big Caveman?

srsly though, this sounds awesome and will be added to the mountain of books I intend to read. thanks!
posted by supermedusa at 10:55 AM on October 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

OK, this is a must buy for me, since my major in college was physical anthropology. Anything that gives me ammunition against the evo-psych types is appreciated.
posted by happyroach at 12:36 PM on October 20, 2019 [3 favorites]

Oh man this sounds great, it's such a bug bear of mine. You can imagine as a runner I hear so much barefoot shite. I always say to those people, how much pavement the cavemen ran on?
posted by smoke at 3:20 AM on October 21, 2019 [1 favorite]

I fucking love this book. Zuk's one of my science heroes for a reason, and this book isn't the only one but it's not not a reason either.
posted by sciatrix at 5:26 PM on November 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh hey. This book is great. Accurate, well-argued, and a pleasure to read. An excellent antidote to pseudoscientific thinking about evolution that is rife throughout a wide range of fields.
posted by biogeo at 5:43 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Dr. Zuk is coming to my university Monday and I have this paper coming out on Monday that builds heavily on Bailey & Zuk 2009 and my thesis work is actually not that different from hers and anyway I snagged the last available scheduled meeting with her on Monday morning and I'm gonna talk to her in person and maybe angle to see if she's looking for a postdoc and show her the singing mice


posted by sciatrix at 5:50 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

AAAAAAAA good luck good luck good luck!
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 7:48 PM on November 17, 2019

So.... How did it go?
posted by biogeo at 6:23 PM on November 18, 2019

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