Manthropology Paperback – 24 Apr 2012
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""Manthropology" aims to do for the history of man what "Freakonomics" did for statistics. . . . An eye-opener and a bracing call to arms." --"Men's Journal"
"Manthropology" aims to do for the history of man what "Freakonomics" did for statistics. . . . An eye-opener and a bracing call to arms. "Men's Journal""
About the Author
PETER McALLISTER is an archeologist and science writer from the University of Western Australia, where he lectures in science communication. He insists that he doesn't have it in for men, and that he is, in fact, happy being one himself. Besides his work as a scientist, Peter has been, by turns, a journalist, an ad salesman for a country music radio station, and a Chinese-speaking football commentator.
Top Customer Reviews
Good read but ultimately, scannable.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
In our defense we are comparing ourselves to only those hardy enough to survive childhood, so it's a little like comparing apples to oranges.
Back to book:
I wasn't expecting a university textbook: more just an amusing and informative read about mankind's (and I mean man) failing power. The first chapter or so was enjoyable and informative but the more I got into the book, the less I enjoyed. Why? Not because the authors numerous examples of how wimpy we now are upset me but because of the poor research, contrived examples, and terrible attempts at extrapolation he uses to support his claim modern man is a wimp.
I'll give a few examples as way of explanation:
McAllister relies heavily on Greek records to 'prove' how much better olden man is to modern man. I take issue with this, as these records cannot be considered reliable. Most were written years, decades even, after the event based on oral reports that had passed through Lord-only-knows how many mouths. Further, many were basically propaganda to promote the ideal that Greece, and Greeks, were superior. How do we know that a 1/2 ton rock really was hoisted overhead by a Greek strongman 25 centuries ago, and it wasn't just made up to impress and awe an illiterate populace?
He cites examples of how amazing some Greek Olympic athletes were for winning so many events games after games - claiming no-one modern athlete could do this (win at multiple Olympics or win 3 or 4 races in a single day). Steve Redgrave (Gold in rowing at 5 consecutive Olympics), Fanny Blankers-Koenor (competed at the 1936 & 48 Olympics, winning 4 gold) or indeed any decathlete or heptathlete would be surprised to be told this.
It also ignores that the Ancient Olympics were just as liable to hand first prize to the 'ideal' athlete (basically the best looking or most buff) rather than the one who actually came first. This muddies the issue a bit as to whether such-a-such Greek Olympian really did win multiple races in a day (also, he would have been competing against the same athletes so they would all have been tired) or rather was awarded the wins because he was the David Beckham of his times?
McAllister pretends at the start of his book to claim he had wanted to show modern man is the acme of evolution but research 'forced' him into showing otherwise. I feel he is being disingenuous here, as at times he makes a series of increasingly contrived extrapolations and assumptions in order to 'prove' how feeble modern man is.
His example of how the current Arm-wrestling World champion would fail miserably against a much smaller Neanderthal woman is a case in point. He starts off reasonably, citing scientific studies to show how much stronger the Neanderthal bicep is to modern mans. But then he gets incredibly contrived by increasing the Neanderthal's strength by 30% (this increase is needed in order for him to 'prove' the Neanderthal would have beaten the armwrestler) on the claim that the Neanderthal would have been this much stronger had they done modern bodybuilding!
Most of the book is in this vein: when the author can't find a clear-cut example of olden man's superiority, he contrives it. Another example is the Tutsi and their incredible jumping feats, documented less than a century ago by the anthropologist, Alfred Friedrich. McAllister claims that they were easily able to clear 8 feet (the world record high jump being 8'3") - and then makes the further contrived claim that were they to do the 'Flosbury Flop' technique, they would easily clear 9'. One wonders why none of these supermen have ever made it to the modern Olympics, as these incredible leaping feats were documented up until the 1930s.
The only photographic evidence I can find shows one Tutsi apparently leaping well over the head of the Friedrich. On first look, it certainly does appear that the Tutsi is clearing 8'. Closer examination shows the angle of the photo deceptively giving the leaper more air than perhaps he actually was and Friedrich standing in a hollow. Freidrich was not an overly tall man himself. Other photos I have found online show the Tutsi just clearing a man's head leading me to believe this race of superleapers were capable of leaping maybe 7' at the most. While this is still incredibly impressive it's not the 8' or 9' that McAllister demands we believe they were capable of. Again, reading this chapter felt more like he was just trying to make the facts fit his already made-up mind that nothing we do now is better than what has been done in the past.
The low point for me was his claim that modern soldier is a wimp, based on combat fatalities. He cites research that a Roman soldier had a 38% chance of dying on the battlefield whereas a US combat soldier in Iraq had a 29% chance of dying.
However, this reduction is not enough for McAllister to 'prove' modern man is a wimp: he then manipulates and obfuscates the data by claiming that the ratio of combat soldiers to support soldiers (i.e. soldiers not on the front line) in the modern US Army is 1:11. He then makes the arbitrary decision of dividing the 29% by 11 (here making an incredibly elementary math error: a ratio of 1:11 would mean dividing by 12, not 11) to arrive at 2.6%: this 'proves' that the modern soldier is a wimp because they only have a 1 in 40 chance of being killed.
This is data manipulation at its worst. He's comparing two totally dissimilar sets. In combat the Roman had a 2 in 5 chance of dying whereas today's soldier has a 2 in 7 - barely a reduction. You can't add in non-combatants to drag down one number while leaving the other alone. Why stop at just soldiers in Iraq? Why not add in all the soldiers stationed back in the US or around the world to really pull the death rate down? Heck, why not just add in the entire US population while you're at it to prove a US soldier only has a 0.0000001% chance of dying in Iraq!
He also ignores the fact that medicine has improved exponentially in the last 2000 years: many of the soldiers wounded today who survive would certainly have perished from their wounds 20 centuries ago. Add those into the mix and one could easily claim the US soldier today is in far greater danger than their Roman counterpart 2 millennia ago.
Again it's a sad, contrived attempt by McAllister in order to prove his pre-set hypothesis.
He then uses Samuel Marshall's claim that 'only 15% of American troops' actually shot their weapon in combat in WWII. He uses this claim to 'prove' that the modern male is a cowardly wimp, no match for the incredible bravery and aggression of previous era's warriors.
There are two major problems with his claim:
1. The percentage Marshall used was 25%, not 15% which shows at best a sloppy bit of research and at worst deliberate misrepresentation.
2. Marshall's claim is total BS! It was proven wrong decades ago. Marshall himself eventually admitted that he made this number up, and that he had not done even one of the thousands of interviews he claimed to have conducted. Other war historians who actually served and were in combat AND actually interviewed fellow soldiers have shown that nearly all soldiers fire their weapons in combat. The biggest problem found was running out of ammo.
Things like this turned this book from an enjoyable read into a disappointing one. I'm still giving it 3* as it is lively and informative (up to a point!) but overall the research and the obvious pre-determined point the author has decided upon mars it too much to be truly enjoyable.
The author postulates as early as page 3: "...from battling to boozing,babes to bravado there's nothing we can do that ancient man, and sometimes women haven't already done better,faster, stronger and usually smarter." That certainly doesn't cut the testosteronically inclined gender much slack does it?
The basic premise of the book is that our current puny male gender can be explained through combination of culture, ontogenetics [development or the Use It or Lose It idea], and genetics.
As with other books in the field of evolutionary psychology and/or biology, although this book is listed to be in the field of paleoanthropology, the idea is that all these changes happened to gain the attention of the fairer sex. But we might ask if testosterone makes males bigger, tougher, faster, and etc. why would we genetically, culturally, and developmentally head in the other direction. Here again the thinking is that although Brutus Beefcake is fine for a one night assignation, for the long term Herman Milquetoast may be a better choice. Brutus is fun for the short term, but his eyes and other body parts may quickly wander and he is a lot less likely to be around to help in raising the little rug-rats. So it became a toss up between short term pleasure and long term fulfillment, and we have the proof to see which one won.
The book is filled with too many FACTOIDS to list all, but a few are: The US Army requires a basic training graduate to run 12 miles in 4 hours [although 3MPH would only euphemistically be called a run], while the Imperial Guard of the Yuan Dynasty of China had to run 56 miles in 4 hours [nope, that isn't a misprint, according to the author]; Alexander of Macedonia's troops ran 36 to 52 miles a day for eleven days straight through mountains to capture King Darius of Persia and his troops and then proceeded to annihilate them. The champion boxer Theogenes of Thasos fought 1400 bouts[with bare hands] over a 22 year career, while Muhammad Ali fought 61 bouts over a 21 year career. But the truly amazing part was that although Muhammad's record was splendid 56 and 5, old Theogenes had the all time world record of 1400 and 0. Now that is truly a bad boy!
Since a lot of discussion was about the Olympics and its contestants, it should be noted that the Olympics was never designed to be an amateur contest, as the athletes were better paid valued at current dollars than our highest paid athletes; they drew larger live crowds; and actually got more girls, they even had better rappers, but you need to read the book to find out how and why. It will make for an enjoyable few evenings or days if that is your choice.