The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease

Daniel Lieberman

Language: English

Pages: 480

ISBN: 030774180X

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


In this landmark book of popular science, Daniel E. Lieberman gives us a lucid and engaging account of how the human body evolved over millions of years. He illuminates the major transformations that contributed to key adaptations to the body: the rise of bipedalism; the shift to a non-fruit-based diet; the advent of hunting and gathering; and how cultural changes like the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions have impacted us physically. He shows how the increasing disparity between the jumble of adaptations in our Stone Age bodies and advancements in the modern world is occasioning a paradox: greater longevity but increased chronic disease. And finally—provocatively—he advocates the use of evolutionary information to help nudge, push, and sometimes even compel us to create a more salubrious environment and pursue better lifestyles. 

[With charts and line drawings throughout.]

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Revolution, especially the burden of infectious disease from living at higher population densities with animals and in unsanitary conditions. Not all of these advances, however, are available to people unfortunate enough to live in poverty, especially in less developed nations. In addition, the progress made over the last 150 years has also come with some consequential drawbacks for people’s health. Most essentially, there has been an epidemiological transition. As fewer people succumb to

diseases are still difficult to treat. We have a long, long way to go. Another reason not to expect big biomedical breakthroughs in the near future for chronic mismatch diseases, especially those unrelated to pathogens, is that the causes of these diseases are not easy to target effectively. Harmful germs and worms can be defeated through sanitation, vaccination, and antibiotics, but diseases caused by poor diet, physical inactivity, and aging have complex origins involving many causal factors

lifespans and so few babies? Or life in the slow lane. Evolutionary Anthropology 1: 191–94; Kaplan, H. S., J. B. Lancaster, and A. Robson (2003). Embodied capital and the evolutionary economics of the human lifespan. In Lifespan: Evolutionary, Ecology and Demographic Perspectives, ed. J. R. Carey and S. Tuljapakur. Population and Development Review 29, supp. 2003, 152–82; Isler, K., and C. P. van Schaik (2009). The expensive brain: A framework for explaining evolutionary changes in brain size.

cultures evolve. But, unlike genes, culture evolves through different processes that make cultural evolution a far more powerful and rapid force than natural selection. This is because cultural traits, known as “memes,” differ from genes in several key respects.56 Whereas new genes arise solely by chance through random mutations, humans often generate cultural variations intentionally. Inventions like farming, computers, and Marxism were created through ingenuity and for a purpose. In addition,

cultural practices that have had conflicting effects on our bodies. On the one hand, many relatively recent developments have been beneficial: farming led to more food, and modern sanitation and scientific medicine led to lower infant mortality and increased longevity. On the other hand, numerous cultural changes have altered interactions between our genes and our environments in ways that contribute to a wide range of health problems. These illnesses are mismatch diseases, defined as diseases

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