What Evolution Really Tells Us About Sex, Diet, and How We Live

Book - 2013
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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.
Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton & Company, c2013.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780393081374
Branch Call Number: 599.938 Zuk
Characteristics: 328 pages :


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Mar 24, 2018

This book has so much impact.
Nowadays, any best-selling author/nutritionist advancing a specific protocol will ground his findings based on what he feels is solid backed science regarding what we ate during the paleolithic era during a pre-agricultural time over 10,000 years ago. He will advance that what he recommends is what our human body was designed to ingest as the healthiest fuel. A basic premise is that human evolution is really slow, typically measured in 100,000 of years, and that over the past 10,000 years our genome has not had time to adapt to our unfavorable post-agricultural nutritional changes.

Overall, the above seems reasonable. The one problem is that authors/nutritionists using the same set of anthropological arguments contradict each other. Some advance that 80% of our calories during pre-agricultural times came from fat plants (more gathering than hunting), others state the same 80% came instead from starch-plants, and another group (the classic Paleo diet clan) opine that the majority of our nutrients came from animal protein (more hunting than gathering).

In another domain, history, it is in vogue to denounce the first agricultural revolution (about 10,000 years ago) as the worst invention in the history of mankind. Supposedly, this revolution affected in nefarious ways our lifestyle, our health, and the quality of our nutrients. And, to this day we pay a harsh price for this cataclysmic sociological event of our distant past.

Common assumptions that both nutritionists and historians make is that during the pre-agricultural era, human beings were perfectly in tune with their environment. And, that agriculture triggered a set of unfortunate changes culminating with our sedentary lifestyle, bad nutrition, and chronic diseases.

However, Zuk, an evolutionary ecologist shares several concepts that negate all the above narratives. I’ll share with you a few.

Human evolution can be fast. Throughout the book, Zuk mentions examples of fast human evolution: 1) the ability to digest lactose as an adult (lactase persistence); 2) the ability to digest grain with the enzyme amylase; 3) adaptation to live at very high altitude; 3) resistance to Malaria in certain African population; and 4) emergence of blue eyes in Northern European population. Those changes occurred within the last 10,000 years or much faster.

The agricultural revolution was good for mankind. As soon as trades took place, the abundance and diversity of food provided a source of nutrient far superior to the bare survival level of hunters-gatherers society. And, the rest is history as they say. Agriculture facilitated our information age civilization. With no agriculture, you would not have gotten to the IPad.

Another thing to keep in mind is that humans ate grains long before the agricultural revolution. Small-scale agriculture was prevalent even among our ancestors the Neandertals.

We have never been in a perfect harmonious balance with our environment. There is a chronic arms race between pathogens and our own genes and antibodies to fight them. And, that is evolution at work on both sides of the battle (pathogens and genes). The humans living during the Paleolithic had their own survival struggle. Documenting their rate of chronic modern diseases of old age is difficult and maybe also futile. Given their challenging lifestyle they suffered fewer disease of “old age” because they did not experience “old age”

Attempting to replicate some form of “Paleo diet” is futile. That is because there is no such thing as a Paleo diet given the diversity of what people ate; and, there is no evidence that ancestors were that adapted to their foods.

LRS1969 May 01, 2015

This is a perfect example of Junk Science and Pseudo Anthropology!

Really bad.

Amazing how people get sucked into believing this garbage!

Feb 18, 2014

Mostly an excellent and well justified examination of how rapidly humans evolve - and by extension, how (in)significant the general "paleo" idea is. She covers a wide range of evolutionarily influenced phenomena. It's less strong when she gets into areas that aren't in her area of expertise, but she generally sticks to the science.

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