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Pandora's Seed: Why the Hunter-Gatherer Holds the Key to Our Survival (Penguin Press Science) Paperback – 7 Jul 2011
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Spencer Wells's writing combines a deep knowledge of the history of human evolution with a most engaging and lively manner of making that story come alive (Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University )
Compelling. (The Independent )
Stimulating and enjoyable. (Financial Times )
Civilization is the problem, not the solution...An urgent call for global cultural reform. (The Times )
About the Author
Spencer Wells is a leading population geneticist, documentary filmmaker and author of The Journey of Man and Deep Ancestry. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1994 and conducted his post-doctoral training with Luca Cavalli-Sforza at Stanford University. His landmark research findings from a field study that encompassed 25,000 miles of Asia and the former Soviet republics led to advances in the understanding of the male Y chromosome and its ability to trace ancestral human migration.
He was previously director of the Population Genetics Research Group at the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics at Oxford and was recently appointed Frank H.T. Rhodes Visiting Professor at Cornell University. Wells is currently National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and spearheads the Genographic Project. He lives with his wife, a documentary filmmaker, in Washington, DC.
Top customer reviews
Mr Wells is best when he is talking about genetic science, which he knows in depth. However, he also tackles issues such as our contemporary environmental challenge, psychiatric disorders and religious fundamentalism. I found these secondary discussions interesting in terms of the questions that are raised but ultimately they remain rather shallow and simplistic. For example he writes at length about the conflict between science and religion (or as he terms it mythos vs. logos) but he ends up sitting on the fence. I accept the dilemma that humans seek meaning as well as knowledge. But we need to take a position so as to sift away the myths of the past that frequently impair rather than enhance our capacity for adapting to the challenges of the contemporary world. Ultimately, as Karen Armstrong has written, humans will always tell myths just as they produce art. But the beauty of art (pun intended) is that art can provide meaning and depth to our lives without the risk of confusing it with knowledge or truth. Again Mr Wells analyzes the problem but leaves us stranded without direction.
In the final chapter the author summarizes the issues which suggest humanity is on an unsustainable and catastrophic course. He then proposes a `solution' by suggesting that we need to learn to `want less.' As a rallying call this slogan makes sense. But again it is a rather hollow call. The only realistic way we might bring about such a major change in the course of history is via regulation (and global regulation at that). The road to this goal will be arduous and will require that we build consensus, while defeating misplaced ideas and beliefs. Mr Wells has left us with just the slogan and no further practical guidance. But it is an important an important start and Pandora's Seed is an important book despite my few critical comments.
Author of The Bridge
Also, the author's personal anecdotes throughout the book mostly just aren't illuminating. The very start of Chapter One, for example, is a description of his car journey out of Chicago - why?
I've given it three stars because I found the earlier parts of the book quite interesting - covering the origins of agriculture and the consequent changes in our nutrition. But other chapters on mental health and climate change were quite pedestrian, and as another reviewer writes, didn't justify some of the author's conclusions.
Recommended if you're interested in the origins of agriculture, and some of its consequences, but not if you're looking for the grand theory the book claims to be (for such a book that doesn't disappoint, check out The Master and His Emissary)
The lack of consistency really lets it down, as some bits are good. But it didn't leave mean wanting to learn more or read anything of Spencer Wells'.
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