Lents has written a pop science book with an unusual angle- the theme running through the book of criticising isolated components of highly complex biological systems. As with many pop science books, Lents is successful in making his ideas accessible using common vernacular incorporating some humour and enough personal detail for the reader to bond with him.
However, as a biologist Lents strays into areas beyond his expertise, commenting on areas of philosophy, logic, and systems engineering. Here Lents fumbles. He tries to cover a lot of ground, his analysis is miles wide but paper thin. Ironically in a book about errors, Lents analysis is misleading at times, in other cases out of date, in some plain wrong.
His criticism of the human eye is not original in assessing a single parameter of his own aesthetic rather than a typical engineering approach of assessing constraints and balancing competing agendas such as delivering blood flow for the high metabolic demand of the retinal cells.
Lents seems unhappy with his eyes, knees, back and reproductive apparatus and would like to give any would be Creator designer some advice. Ultimately says Lents, science will take over the mistakes and design flaws that evolution has left us.
Lents obvious enthusiasm and faith in science and medicine is sadly overshadowed by the overall theme of the book that is a list of complaints, a pessimistic view of humanity bravely putting up with this most miserable hodge podge we call our bodies. Lents grumbles and whinges about his trillions of cells and organs that ironically allowed him to write the book.
Lents does concede at the start that the human body is “wondrous” and “miraculous”, but then opens up his list of grievances. Lents also concedes that “tens of thousands of volumes” in “any medical library” tell of the greatness of the human form, but that they have all been written. Lents however, wants to set the record straight, he has gripes, bones to pick and a book to sell.
Lents is highly critical of humanities ability to procreate, listing a number, in his view defects. He assesses humanity as inferior to primates, and is especially critical of the human baby’s oversized brain. Our reproductive success these days is due to good rational medicine, a product of that awkward oversized brain.
Lents loses credibility in his critique of the genome being “full of genes that don’t work”, an outdated 20th century view. Lents is similarly scathing to the immune system, citing autoimmune diseases as evidence. What or who Lents is criticising here, is unclear, maybe he just likes to complain, but the critique seems unbalanced given the immune systems incredible complexity and efficiency. But Lents has an angle and won’t let the miraculous human form stand in his way.
Ultimately, this book although interesting, should only be a footnote to serious discussions of human anatomy and physiology.
An insightful and entertaining romp through the myriad ways in which the human body falls short of an engineering ideal - and the often surprising reasons whyAnyone who has aged without perfect grace can attest to the laundry list of imperfections so thoroughly and engagingly considered in Human Errors. This is the best book I've read on how poorly designed our bodies are. I learned something new on every pageIn Human Errors, Nathan Lents explores our biological imperfections with style, wit and life-affirming insight. You'll finish it with new appreciation for those human failings that, in so many surprising ways, helped shape our remarkable species
An illuminating, entertaining tour of the physical imperfections, from faulty knees to junk DNA, that make us human - and a unique approach to telling our evolutionary history