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The Story of the Human Body

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The Story of the Human Body

Evolution, Health, and Disease
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...
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...
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  • 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.)

    From the Hardcover edition.

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  • Preface

    Like most people, I am fascinated by the human body, but unlike most folks, who sensibly relegate their interest in people's bodies to evenings and weekends, I have made the human body the focus of my career. In fact, I am extremely lucky to be a professor at Harvard University, where I teach and study how and why the human body is the way it is. My job and my interests allow me to be a jack-of-all trades. In addition to working with students, I study fossils, I travel to interesting corners of the earth to see how people use their bodies, and I do experiments in the lab on how human and animal bodies work.

    Like most professors, I also love to talk, and I enjoy people's questions. But of all the questions I am commonly asked, the one I used to dread the most was "What will human beings look like in the future?" I hated this question! I am a professor of human evolutionary biology, which means I study the past, not what lies ahead. I am not a soothsayer, and the question made me think of tawdry science fiction movies that depict humans of the distant future as having enormous brains, pale and tiny bodies, and shiny clothing. My reflexive answer was always something along the lines of: "Human beings aren't evolving very much because of culture." This response is a variant of the standard answer that many of my colleagues give when asked the same question.

    I have since changed my mind about this question and now consider the human body's future to be one of the most important issues we can think about. We live in paradoxical times for our bodies. On the one hand, this era is probably the healthiest in human history. If you live in a developed country, you can reasonably expect all your offspring to survive childhood, to live to their dotage, and to become parents and grandparents. We have conquered or quelled many diseases that used to kill people in droves: smallpox, measles, polio, and the plague. People are taller, and formerly life-threatening conditions like appendicitis, dysentery, a broken leg, or anemia are easily remedied. To be sure, there is still too much malnutrition and disease in some countries, but these evils are often the result of bad government and social inequality, not a lack of food or medical know-how.

    On the other hand, we could be doing better, much better. A wave of obesity and chronic, preventable illnesses and disabilities is sweeping across the globe. These preventable diseases include certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, heart disease, strokes, kidney disease, some allergies, dementia, depression, anxiety, insomnia, and other illnesses. Billions of people are also suffering from ailments like lower back pain, fallen arches, plantar fasciitis, myopia, arthritis, constipation, acid reflux, and irritable bowel syndrome. Some of these troubles are ancient, but many are novel or have recently exploded in prevalence and intensity. To some extent, these diseases are on the rise because people are living longer, but most of them are showing up in middle-aged people. This epidemiological transition is causing not just misery but also economic woe. As baby boomers retire, their chronic illnesses are straining health-care systems and stifling economies. Moreover, the image in the crystal ball looks bad because these diseases are also growing in prevalence as development spreads across the planet.

    The health challenges we face are causing an intense worldwide conversation among parents, doctors, patients, politicians, journalists, researchers, and others. Much of the focus has been on obesity. Why are people getting fatter? How do we lose weight and change our diets? How do we prevent our children from becoming...

About the Author-
  • Daniel 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. He is especially well known for his research on the evolution of the human head, and on 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.

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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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The Story of the Human Body
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Evolution, Health, and Disease
Daniel Lieberman
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Evolution, Health, and Disease
Daniel Lieberman
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