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Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live [Kindle Edition]

Marlene Zuk

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Product Description

“With . . . evidence from recent genetic and anthropological research, [Zuk] offers a dose of paleoreality.”—Erin Wayman, Science News

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.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1365 KB
  • Print Length: 337 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (18 March 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Australia Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B007Q6XM1A
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Screen Reader: Supported
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #38,162 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  71 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Has Some Merit, but Weak in Some Areas 24 May 2015
By T. R. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
Most of the strongly negative reviews are unconvinced regarding Zuk's principal argument against Paleo diets: primarily that human evolution occurs all the time, and has already accommodated the change to a diet that includes grains and dairy. There is actually quite a lot of merit in her argument, and an overview of the facts confirm it. While many more people in developed regions suffer from an array of metabolic syndrome disorders and immune dysfunction that could be helped with improved diet, there are nevertheless many people who live long, healthy lives who eat bread and drink milk and complain about eating vegetables every single day of their lives. Paleo diet creators seem to have dismissed these very hardy, healthy people among us, who seem to get by just fine regardless of what they eat. There are many, many people in this category, and they have apparently adapted well to a wider diet than paleo would recommend.

That said, Paleo diets should not be dismissed, either. Especially for those with disorders like celiac disease or lactose intolerance, Paleo diets are healthy alternatives. In fact, Paleo diets are not likely unhealthy at all for most folks. But, Paleo dieting is expensive, and could be environmentally devastating today, especially if 7 billion people adopted it.

The parts of Zuk's Paleofantasy that I found most untenable were the chapters on evolution of human behaviour, Paleofantasy love and the Paleofantasy family. Zuk chatters on about modern humans, and our behaviourly very-distant relatives, the baboons and apes, and even seahorses, because the fact is we really have no idea what sex and family were like in the Paleolithic. We quickly overlook the fact that virtually all of our knowledge of this age comes from a handful of burials scattered around the globe, and dead people don't tell us much about their social behaviour. Even the burials themselves are often in very poor condition and difficult to interpret. The rare instances where we might perhaps get a tangible but imperfect glimpse into the Paleolithic family (Sungir, for example) are not mentioned by Zuk at all. Studies of modern hunter-gatherers, while not technically Paleolithic, help somewhat, but it's really quite a stretch to project modern-day !Kung San behaviour to northwestern Europe 30,000 years ago. Scientists who ponder such things earnestly want to know, they want to know badly, but in this area we still know virtually nothing. We can probably surmise that sexual behaviour and the concept of "family" varied widely at any given time in the Paleolithic, much as they do now. That's about it. But science is about proof, not conjecture, and in this area proof is difficult if not impossible to come by. So these chapters would have been better left out.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but could have been better 14 October 2014
By Catherine Douglas - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
More like three and a half stars. I guess I'm rounding down because Zuk could have made her case so much better. I mean, why use blog comments as a reflection of widely held social norms? People have a tendency, when they meet like-minded people online, to voice extreme opinions. Better choices of examples could have made her argument so much cleaner.

I picked this book up because I know a couple people who follow paleo diets to some extent, so I wanted to find out what it's all about without some venison-wielding pseudo-caveman proselytizing at me. This book is great in that respect, with details about paleo diets, exercise routines, barefoot running, attachment parenting and other trends that look to human evolution to find ways to optimize modern lifestyles. Zuk was only partially successful in dismantling this philosophy; in fact, it seemed to me she was only partially trying. Barefoot running, for example, was presented fairly favorably, and at no time did Zuk suggest we should go around snarfing up transfats and sugar to further human evolution. She does make an excellent case for viewing evolution realistically:

1. Evolution is not end-oriented; it has no goal, nor does every change in a genome have purpose.
2. There is no time in history when humans, or any other species, were perfectly in tune with their environment.
3. No single "paleolithic lifestyle" existed.
4. Studying animal populations and current hunter-gatherer cultures can shed some light on how our ancestors lived, but these methods are not conclusive by any means.

This is all very logical, and Zuk hammers these points home, giving a fascinating survey along the way of what's known or suspected about recent and continuing human evolution. If you want to know more about the evolution of earwax and gut fauna, you've come to the right place.

Still, why <i>not</i> look at how our ancestors lived for clues about what might be good for us? Even if the information we gather that way is incomplete and can't be taken at 100% face value, isn't it a reasonable place to start?
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Humor and science 24 December 2016
By Kevin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I really enjoyed this book. Along with debunking the paleodiet garbage with current research there is a dose of humor injected throughout the book. This makes it a great read.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and inspiring to all who love food and being healthy 5 March 2015
By Judith Kunzle - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Paleofantasy is a treasure for all those who are interested, and would like to understand, the evolution of human nutrition. With facts and wit, Zuk blows apart the clouds of the believers.

As in her previous books, Zuk brings together the work of international scientists of different disciplines, making the reader aware of the many aspects of evolution and nutrition that have been researched, and what has been revealed as facts.

Unlike food fantasies that promote to limit our diet, this book is refreshing to all who love food and take being healthy seriously. It is exciting to learn how our tolerance for digesting milk is part of our evolution, and what was found in the plaque of ancient humans.

Zuk’s humor makes it so much fun to learn about the facts - and to accept what we do not know.

Most of all, Paleofantasy points out how evolution has never been a smooth process, never a time when we, or any other living organism, had been living in perfect harmony with the environment. And we’re still in the process of evolution…
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I thoroughly enjoyed this book 30 January 2016
By Joey L. - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was a nice skeptical look at the idea that we should be living life as closely to our cave dwelling ancestors. Zuk tackles a variety of topics including diet, exercise, and relationships. With every topic she discusses, she takes a critical look at whether or not the evidence shows that the ways of the cave people are best. She also asks throughout the book for the reader to ponder whether or not humans have stopped evolving and, if we haven't, does that mean the ways of the cave people are still the best. She cites all of her sources which is very nice. Her writing style is engaging yet scientific. Scientist and non-scientist alike should have no problem enjoying this book

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