A population geneticist examines how human endeavors have shaped the world and finds that not all the changes have been beneficial.
When prehistoric man first sowed seeds some 10,000 years ago, they had no idea they were starting humans down the path to agriculture, settlements and civilization, a state now faced with grave challenges. Wells (Deep Ancestry: Inside the Genographic Project, 2006, etc.), director of National Geographic’s Genographic Project, takes the reader back in time to reveal the alterations that have taken place since the Neolithic period within the human body, in society and in the environment. The author shows that farming and the subsequent growth and spread of populations led to enormous changes in human lifestyles that altered our DNA. More disturbing are the external changes. Shaping the landscape to grow plants and animals for food, Wells argues, has created a mismatch between human biology and the environment, which has promoted the spread of major diseases, such as malaria and AIDS. Further, he argues that our present densely populated, socially stimulating, noisy world is likely the reason for the rise in mental illness in most societies. Wells does not overlook the more familiar issues of environmental pollution and climate change, calling global warming the biggest social challenge of the 21st century. Most of the world’s problems, he writes, stem from greed, and technology cannot provide the solution. What is required, according to Wells, is a new way of viewing the world. As we move further away from our origins as a species, he says, perhaps we should downsize our lifestyles and learn to want less.
At times demands close reading of fairly technical material, but the narrative is lightened by the author’s informed firsthand accounts of encounters with people around the world.