Summary:

Do not miss this book.  Jared Diamond is extremely opinionated and this detailed chronicle of the social and physical evolution that begat our peculiar species is full of extreme conclusions balanced delicately on tenuous extrapolations from often scanty hard data. But what a good read!!!

Nuggets:

  • What is WITH our weird life cycle? Unique among primates and even mammals, we are helpless well beyond weaning, have sex constantly for fun, and rear any resulting babies in (relatively) monogamous couples where Dad is nearly as important as Mom.
  • Human females live well beyond reproductive age. Evolutionarily speaking, those last years would seem to be a waste of good biological space. No other species does this: females keep pumping out offspring pretty much to the end. Diamond has an explanation – and if you’re a post-menopausal woman, you’ll like it.
  • Speaking of reproduction, what is WITH those giant male reproductive organs? Human males have moderately sized testicles but the rest of the apparatus is ridiculously outsized. Why? It is, as Diamond says, “a field ripe for investigation.” His theory: it’s about preening, but NOT in front of women!
  • Goodbye, Noble Savage: Evidence is strong that mass extinctions of megafauna have followed everywhere we have gone, as have equivalent attempts to exterminate our fellow humans. On the plus side, this does mean our current situation is not the result of some modern technological Fall From Grace.
  • But if  we did have a technological Fall From Grace, it was the Agricultural Revolution. When we moved from tribes of hunters & gatherers to settlements of farmers, the more abundant food supply could support higher concentrations of people. This was not an unmixed blessing. Human lifespan actually decreased, we separated out from largely egalitarian social organization into classes with winners and losers. In other words, we invented poverty. Congratulations.

Take Away:

You’ll look at your fellow humans differently after reading this—more skeptically, perhaps, but with a dose of rueful understanding.