Marlene Zuk

Why I looked at this book

This book is a contender for the 2014 Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books

First impressions

The book starts in a lab, which looks hopeful for a popular science work, and continues with a look at the idea that somehow we are more suited to an ancient environment than the one we live in now - an idea which the rest of the book is presumably going to argue against. So far the book seems to strike the right balance between science and readability - I hope that it continues that way for the rest of the book.

Main review

I felt that the second chapter of the book got a bit repetitive. It argues against those who think that we should modify our behaviour to match those of our stone age ancestors, but there is little sense of the argument developing. Things get much better with chapter3, with more in the way of scientific research mixed in with a few personal anecdotes, and the book continues in this vein till the end. Various areas of our lives are discussed, including diet, exercise, sex, family life and health. Zuk looks at the various ideas which have been put forward on how our distant ancestors managed these areas of their lives and shows how scientific studies generally contradict the claim that these ideas indicate the best way for us to live our lives. Often the conclusion is yes, we could do with changing our lifestyle, but harking back to some imaginary time when we were in harmony with our environment leads nowhere.

The last chapter of the book examines the question 'are we still evolving', and the answer is, yes, in some ways we are. I felt that it might have been better if the arguments of chapter 2 were moved to the end, to act as a summary of the book. That's a minor point though, and overall I felt that the book was very well written. It's easy to read, but with plenty of interesting information I think it's one of the best books of the 2014 Royal Society Winton prize contenders, so it's rather a shame that it didn't make the shortlist.

Reviews Elsewhere

There are a lot of Amazon Reviews and Goodreads Reviews with many positive ones, but quite a few arguing with Zuk's claims - the word 'strawman' pops up a fair amount. See also the review at Mark's Daily Apple for the opinion of a paleo proponent, and that at Evolutionary Psychology Journal for a detailed critique of the book.
Danny Yee felt that Zuk's combatative style distracted from the science and Peter Forbes in The Guardian thought that she spends too much time swatting know-nothings.