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In thoroughly engaging and witty prose, Zuk (Sex on Six Legs), a biologist from the University of California at Riverside, dismantles the pseudoscience behind nostalgic yearnings for our caveman days. As she so well notes, "Paleofantasies call to mind a time when everything about us-body, mind, and behavior-was in sync with the environment." Zuk makes it clear that no such time ever existed-that's simply not how evolution works. Whether she's shredding the underlying premises of the paleo diet, the paleo exercise regimen, or the structure of the paleo family, she does so via cogent discussions of the nature of evolution and accessible elucidations of cutting-edge science. Zuk explains that all organisms are engaged in a never-ending attempt to do the best they can in a changing environment, and evolution never yields either perfection or a final product: "We are both always facing new environments, and always shackled by genes from the past. After all, those Paleolithic ancestors were still dragging around genes they shared with hamsters and bacteria." She goes on to demonstrate the ways in which humans are still evolving, citing differences in earwax characteristics around the globe as evidence of our continuing journey. Though the jury's still out on what humans will be like further down the road, Zuk's is an informative and entertaining pit stop.15 illus. Agents: Wendy Strothman and Lauren MacLeod, the Strothman Agency. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
Working from the assumption that human physiology has remained virtually unchanged since our hunting and gathering days more than 10,000 years ago, advocates of the currently popular Paleolithic, or caveman, diet eschew dairy, grains, and other products of modern agriculture. Some Paleo buffs go even further, promoting barefoot running and sleeping with our infants, arguing that modern living has wreaked havoc on our collective health. For University of California biology professor Zuk, such notions are Paleofantasies, a misinformed nostalgia for a mythical era when humans supposedly lived in perfect harmony with nature. In this illuminating overview of state-of-the art evolutionary science, the author debunks this utopian ideal and demonstrates that not only have humans continued to evolve since our foraging days, but some of those adaptations have been remarkably swift. Zuk draws on emerging evidence from gene mapping and studies on lactose digestion proving that today's humans are definitely different from our caveman ancestors. While Zuk doesn't disagree that a couch-potato lifestyle is detrimental, she offers a reassuring message that humankind is still tweaking its genome.--Hays, Carl Copyright 2010 Booklist
Copyright American Library Association, used with permission.
Contrary to what the book jacket blurb suggests, no one believes that humans are biologically the same as caveman ancestors. Zuk (ecology, evolution, and behavior, Univ. of Minnesota; Sex on Six Legs, CH, Mar'12, 49-3870) believes that the paleofantasy fringe should be put right, and so has sought out speeches, magazine articles, blogs, and websites from paleofantasy proponents to do so. Her goal is to rebut them with facts and evidence, especially with regard to diet, exercise, individual relationships, family groups, and social dynamics. She also aims to refute such paleofantasy claims that 10,000 years is too short a time for human evolution and that humans are designed for the Paleolithic period. Her approach, which is to knock down such straw men one at a time, makes for an episodic treatment. Topics that speak to humans' evolutionary legacy--infant mortality, diseases, epidemics, obesity, and aggression--are scattered throughout or barely treated. This is done without discussing the mechanisms from epigenetics, cultural and technological evolution that reveal how humans utilize their mix of ancient and modified genes, while continuing to be responsive to their environments through artificial and natural selection. This work may interest biologists who know the subject and can appreciate the gaps in coverage. Summing Up: Optional. Researchers/faculty, professionals. B. K. Hall emeritus, Dalhousie University