In this landmark book of popular science, Daniel E. Lieberman—chair of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University and a leader in the field—gives us a lucid and engaging account of how the human body evolved over millions of years, even as it shows how the increasing disparity between the jumble of adaptations in our Stone Age bodies and advancements in the modern world is occasioning this paradox: greater longevity but increased chronic disease.
The Story of the Human Body brilliantly illuminates as never before the major transformations that contributed key adaptations to the body: the rise of bipedalism; the shift to a non-fruit-based diet; the advent of hunting and gathering, leading to our superlative endurance athleticism; the development of a very large brain; and the incipience of cultural proficiencies. Lieberman also elucidates how cultural evolution differs from biological evolution, and how our bodies were further transformed during the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions.
While these ongoing changes have brought about many benefits, they have also created conditions to which our bodies are not entirely adapted, Lieberman argues, resulting in the growing incidence of obesity and new but avoidable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Lieberman proposes that many of these chronic illnesses persist and in some cases are intensifying because of “dysevolution,” a pernicious dynamic whereby only the symptoms rather than the causes of these maladies are treated. 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.
(With charts and line drawings throughout.)
About the Author
Daniel E. Lieberman is professor of human evolutionary biology and the Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences at Harvard. He has written more than one hundred articles, many appearing in the journals Nature and Science. Lieberman is especially well known for his research on the evolution of the human head and the evolution of running, including barefoot running (earning him the nickname the Barefoot Professor). His research and discoveries have been highlighted widely in newspapers, magazines, books, news programs, and documentaries.
Praise for The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease…
“Monumental . . . an epic voyage that reveals how the past six million years shaped every part of us—our heads, limbs, and even our metabolism. . . . Through Lieberman’s eyes, evolutionary history not only comes alive, it becomes the means to understand, and ultimately influence, our body’s future.”
—Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish
“Fascinating. . . . A readable introduction to the whole field and great on the making of our physicality.”
“Sweeping. . . . Convincingly makes the case for a wholesale rethinking of how we live our modern lives.’”
“Riveting, enlightening, and more than a little frightening. . . . No one understands the human body like Daniel Lieberman or tells its story more eloquently.”
—Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run
“These are not debates to gloss over or reduce to simple statements of cause and effect—they are stories with scientific complexity and tremendous, sometimes contradictory accumulations of evidence and detail. The Story of the Human Body does full justice to those stories, to that evidence and to that detail, and brings them to bear on daily health and well-being, individual and collective.”
—The Washington Post
“[Lieberman] is a true expert in a system where architecture and history intersect: the human foot. He ably describes how behavior and anatomy can lead to foot injuries in long-distance runners.”
—The Wall Street Journal
“The ultimate science-based Paleo investigation. . . . Convincing. . . . A great read, and I recommend it highly for those of you who are interested in learning the facts about our biological roots, and how we can rationally apply ‘Paleo’ concepts to prevent and reverse modern ‘mismatch’ diseases.”
—Dr. Ronald Hoffman, The Hoffman Center/Health Talk
“Eloquent and precise . . . Lieberman is the first to point out that modern living and technology have made our lives better in many ways. Still, a look back at where we came from can tell us a lot about where we’re headed, he says—and how we might alter that course for the better.”
“A doozy. . . . That humans are poorly adapted to our modern lifestyle of convenience foods, flat screens, and desk jobs isn’t very controversial. But how we best cope with this new reality often is. Lieberman takes on many popular notions, including barefoot running, the paleo diet, epigenetics, and a host of hot topics ranging from obesity and chronic disease to Nanny State politics.”
“[Lieberman’s] evolutionary approach produces some counterintuitive surprises. . . . The Story of the Human Body is a reliable guide to a problem that is going to get worse before it gets better.”
“In thoroughly enjoyable and edifying prose, Lieberman . . . leads a fascinating journey through human evolution. He comprehensively explains how evolutionary forces have shaped the human species as we know it. . . . He balances a historical perspective with a contemporary one . . . while asking how we might control the destiny of our species. He argues persuasively that ‘cultural evolution is now the dominant force of evolutionary change acting on the human body.’”
—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Lieberman gracefully combines paleontology, anatomy, physiology, and experimental biomechanics to clarify how the human body has evolved and how evolutionary design now clashes with the particularities of modern society. . . . An important book.”
“Lieberman holds nothing back. . . . He cleverly and comprehensively points out the perils of possessing Paleolithic anatomy and physiology in a modern world and bemoans ‘just how out of touch we have become with our bodies.’. . . If we want to continue our phenomenal run as a species, it is essential to understand (and embrace) our evolutionary legacy.”
“A massive review of where we came from and what ails us now . . . Would that industry and governments take heed.”