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on 15 June 2015
Good and informative. As other reviewers have noted there is a certain amount of criticism of various paleo blog entries, but I didn't find this excessive. It is well argued, evidence based and well referenced.
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on 2 October 2014
The book reads nicely and throws some light on the history of our evolution. Like it although have not had the time to read it fully yet.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 16 July 2014
We all enjoy seeing smug people who tell us how to live being taken down a peg, and in Paleofantasy, subtitled ‘what evolution really tells us about sex, diet and how we live’, Marlene Zuk lays into those who promote a ‘paleo diet’ or ‘caveman lifestyle.’ As the book entertainingly makes clear, these concepts are based on a total misunderstanding.

The idea behind the paleofantasy, particularly popular, it seems, among the New York chatterati, is that we ought to try to live more like our Palaeolithic forebears, because this was the lifestyle and diet we evolved for, where now we live in a very ‘unnatural’ environment. Zuk tears this idea to shreds, showing how evolution doesn’t evolve ‘for’ anything, how we weren’t particularly well matched to our Palaeolithic environment anyway, how we’ve evolved since and how the ideas of what, for instance, people of that period ate are wrong both because, for instance, they did seem to eat grains, and also because they weren’t a single population in a single environment, but actually had many, widely differing lifestyles.

This much is brilliant, but the reason I can only give the book three stars is that it really does feel like this part of the content is more a long article than a book, so it then had to be stretched. This produces a couple of problems. One is that Zuk keeps going back to what the people on ‘Caveman’ forums and the likes say, to compare with the science, and after the initial fun, we don’t care. It’s a bit like writing a book on climate change and using the non-science that Nigel Lawson puts forward all the way through as a straw man, rather than briefly mentioning and dismissing it at the start. It gives the paleofantasists who are, after all, a tiny minority, particularly outside the US, more weight than they deserve.

The other problem is that to fill it out there is an awful lot about the specifics of human evolution (or not) and what we can learn from genetics about our behaviour and illnesses and so on that somehow doesn’t quite work. Unlike the early, fun part of the book, it becomes a less interesting read. Perhaps it’s just me, but I couldn’t get engaged with the material.

Don’t get me wrong, there is lots of interesting science in there, from the genetics of different forms of earwax (though this mostly seems to be in to make a good chapter title, as when it comes down to it, the story is rather uninspiring) to the origins and nature of the structure of the human family, but the way it is presented just didn’t get me excited. It’s a book that’s well worth reading, nonetheless.
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on 5 August 2014
Why should there have ever been some golden age in the past, any more than there is now? Humans have always been developing, in a changing climatic, food and cultural environment. A very worthwhile book, thank you.
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on 12 July 2013
This book is full of information related to the current fashion for trying to bring our lives more into line with the perceived life style of the paleolithic hunter gatherers. There are numerous discussion points. It is pointed out that some evolutionary changes are not glacial in their pace, but may be accomplished in only a few generations. This means that we cannot assume that we have not to some extent adapted to changes in life style over the last few thousand years. Also it is argued that evolution does not achieve perfect adaptation but merely compromises, so even the hunter gatherers were not perfectly adapted to their environment. The author also cautions that there are wide variations between the life styles of the surviving modern hunter gatherers.

The same variations may have been true of the paleolithic hunter gatherers. For instance, it is thought that the introduction of the bow and arrow radically changed the type of animals that could be hunted at some stage within the paleolithic period. The actual life styles of the ancient hunter gatheres are a matter for speculation, rather than something on which modern life can be based.

Furthermore, it is difficult to accurately replicate the conditions of the hunter gatherers in the 21st century. The paleo diet tends to lay a great emphasis on meat. But modern farm animals have a much a higher fat content than the animals hunted in the paleolithic period, which would nowadays be classed as 'game' or wild meat. Similarly, vegetable and fruit that existed in the paleolithic held much less nutrition than modern cultivated produce. In the case of footwear that tries to replicate bare foot running, or even those moderns who have returned to running bare foot, the fact of having been brought up with shoes will have rendered their feet different from an ancient hunter gatherer's.

The less satisfactory aspect of this book is a lack of balance as to what might be valid about the paleolithic fashion, and how we should actually try and live now. There is an annoying tendency to knock down straw man in ridiculing the more eccentric paleolithic exponents rather than attempting any helpful comment. It is acknowledged that a life spent in front of the television consuming junk food is not ideal, but there is little indication of what shape the alternative should take.
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on 11 September 2015
Justo a critic to the paleo paradigm but no real world solutions or alternatives.
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on 30 March 2013
As a scientist who is interested in the evolution of humans I greatly enjoyed this book in that it covers many on the factors that shape our everyday life - the food we eat and our ability to digest it - sex and family issues - and whether evolution is continuing. It also has useful notes identifying sources and a good bibliography. (For a more deailed review on my blog see [..]
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on 19 June 2013
Busts some notions. Particularly liked the explanations of how environment shapes genes. Right now I must check on my porridge.
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on 27 May 2013
Whilst her book is an excellent read, she continually sets up and attacks a straw man.
All her evolutionary points are valid, yet she ignores one simple fact: the "Paleo diet" is not a recreation.
In that one sentence the entire argument of her book (that "recreating" a Paleolithic diet is silly) becomes null. Yes, it IS silly. That's why we don't do it. Anyone who'd done any amount of research into the different types of "Paleo diets" would have realized that long before writing a book.
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