- Publisher: Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Gr
- Date: Oct 2013
From the book
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...
"No one understands the human body like Daniel Lieberman or tells its story more eloquently. He's found a tale inside our skin that's riveting, enlightening, and more than a little frightening." - Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run
"Monumental: The Story of the Human Body, by one of our leading experts, takes us on an epic voyage that reveals how the past six million years shaped every part of us--our heads, limbs, and even our metabolism. Through Lieberman's eyes, evolutionary history not only comes alive, it becomes the means to understand, and ultimately influence, our body's future." - Neil Shubin, author of Your Inner Fish
"[Lieberman] is a true expert in a system where architecture and history intersect: the human foot. He ably describes how behavior and anatomy can lead to foot injuries in long-distance runners." - Wall Street Journal
"In thoughtful, lucid prose backed up by a hard-to-fathom amount of research, Lieberman gives us the language to understand the history of our ancestors--the history that lives on in our minds and in our bodies . . . The Story of the Human Body, expertly researched and told in an original voice, will make you look at your own body more critically--and perhaps treat it with a little more respect. After all, we sit at the edge of millions of years of small refinements that stretched this part and shortened that piece. Lieberman shows how it all fits together and that it was no accident." - Everyday eBook
"Eloquent and precise . . . Lieberman is the first to point out that modern living and technology have made our lives better in many ways. Still, a look back at where we came from can tell us a lot about where we're headed, he says--and how we might alter that course for the better." - Grist
"In thoroughly enjoyable and edifying prose, Lieberman . . . leads a fascinating journey through human evolution. He comprehensively explains how evolutionary forces have shaped the human species as we know it . . . . He balances a historical perspective with a contemporary one . . . while asking how we might control the destiny of our species. He argues persuasively that 'cultural evolution is now the dominant force of evolutionary change acting on the human body.'" - Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Lieberman holds nothing back . . . He cleverly and comprehensively points out the perils of possessing Paleolithic anatomy and physiology in a modern world and bemoans 'just how out of touch we have become with our bodies'. . . If we want to continue our phenomenal run as a species, it is essential to understand (and embrace) our evolutionary legacy." - Booklist
"A massive review of where we came from and what ails us now . . . Would that industry and governments take heed." - Kirkus Reviews