I wanted to write a review of this book, but although I remember liking this book a lot – it had been a while since I read it. So I re-read it to give it a proper review.
This book goes way back into “cave man” era of the hominid species, and touches on Neanderthals, Homo Sapiens, Homo Erectus and a few other extinct species of humanoids. That was pretty interesting, but what I found more interesting were the philosophical themes within the books. Mostly, about how we cooperate as a species and how that’s possible. Cooperation and group living is a key aspect to our evolution and our survival, and it’s interesting to see different theories on how that developed. It goes into the idea that even now our society is based on common myths/beliefs that we all just agree to follow in an effort to coexist successfully.
It went into the agricultural revolution, and how even though our numbers soared after we figured out how to harvest crops instead of relying on hunting/foraging – that our ‘quality of life’ went down significantly. We grew in number at the cost of comfort and ease of living.
It went into how whenever we showed up on a new continent, the flora and fauna of that area suffered greatly. We caused several mass extinction events where ever we migrated to, and the most devastated groups were the large mammal species of that area. There used to be giant mammal species like the giant sloth here in the Americas that went extinct in the blink of an eye as soon as we showed up.
It also went into how we developed different number systems, language, ancient data storage and ancient vs modern governments and societies. It even went into the philosophical implications of having things like limited liability corporations.
It made me reflect a lot on how far we’ve come and what it means to live in the era we live in now with mass technology, an overabundance of food – but we still have people starving. We have medicine and vaccines and technically we have the capability of helping people that we simply don’t help.
This book is accessible to people who don’t have a strong background in anthropology or evolution, you don’t have to be a scientist to get something from this book.
It’s also not written in a harsher overtone in regards to religion like some authors of science tend to be (cough Richard Dawkins) – so if you’re religious and want to read about evolution and how we came to be this would be an okay book to pick up. It doesn’t involve creationism it’s firmly in the Natural Selection camp – but it doesn’t shit on religions either.
This book wasn’t dry, it definitely kept my attention from beginning to end, and even though I’ve got a strong background in this sort of thing I still learned a lot, I had forgotten so much since it has been a while since I read it.
Overall 4.5-4.7 but I rounded up
I’ve had this on my shelf waiting to read for ages but thought it required background knowledge in anthropology/evolution/human history beyond my levels.
I’m surprised to hear we caused several mass extinctions of other species. Were these all in pre-agricultural times? And does he suggest why that may have happened? That’s a very believable scenario for modern day human behaviour, but I always assumed that hunter-gatherer societies were more harmonious with nature in that regards. Maybe there were extreme environmental conditions that put more pressure on survival.
Have you read Homo Deus by the same author also? I think it’s entirely focused on potential future scenarios this. By all accounts that guy appears to have encyclopaedic knowledge.
We were particularly devastating to the Americas and Australia as far as wiping out species.
Large mammals and large birds didn’t have much in the way of predators in Australia, and in North America there was a delicate balance that we tipped when we arrived.
Large animals don’t breed often, and usually have smaller broods. So, take out a few of the fertile females and you start doing irreperable damage to the ecosystem and eventually it will collapse. As soon as we showed up in Australia we killed off nearly all large bird and large mammal species, and although it took longer in North America, the decline of those animals was directly coorelated to our arrival. It was… depressing to read about.
I haven’t read the next book but I do plan on doing that.
There’s not a lot of jargon in the book, you should be able to read it without much trouble. maybe a term here or there you need to look up, but def not note-taking head scratching level.