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A Hunter-Gatherer's Guide to the 21st Century: Evolution and the Challenges of Modern Life Hardcover – September 14, 2021
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—DR. JORDAN B. PETERSON, author of Beyond Order, 12 Rules for Life, and Maps of Meaning
“A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century is the human story retold in beautiful language and moving metaphors. Heying and Weinstein are professorial in the best possible sense: they exemplify the intellectual humility, nuanced thinking, and love of learning that a great liberal arts education should nurture. Everyone who is raising or educating kids, or who wants to change social systems, should first read this book.”
—JONATHAN HAIDT, coauthor of The Coddling of the American Mind and author of The Righteous Mind
“I have never read such a bold, well-researched, and succinct exploration of the puzzling predicament we find ourselves in. Anyone who wonders why the most comfortable society in history—our own—has such astronomical rates of depression, anxiety, and poor health will find abundant answers in A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century.”
—SEBASTIAN JUNGER, author of The Perfect Storm, War, Tribe, and Freedom
“Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein are the brilliant, irresistible professors every student dreams of having. In their hands, complex technical ideas become accessible—and exhilarating. A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century is based on serious science, but it reads like an adventure story.”
—CHRISTINA HOFF SOMMERS, philosopher, author, and host of The Factual Feminist
“A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century has given me at least five evolutionary concepts that have become central to my way of viewing the world.”
—JAMIE WHEAL, executive director of the Flow Genome Project and coauthor of Stealing Fire
“Bret and Heather are highly regarded evolutionary biologists, very clear thinkers and communicators, and as attested to by their notoriety from the madness that their school put them through, they value scientific truth over political correctness.”
—ROBERT SAPOLSKY, author of Behave and A Primate’s Memoir
About the Author
- Publisher : Portfolio (September 14, 2021)
- Language : English
- Hardcover : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0593086880
- ISBN-13 : 978-0593086889
- Item Weight : 1.25 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.29 x 0.99 x 9.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #504 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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The problem, of course, is how far you’re willing to take this argument. It’s one thing to concede that evolution gives us certain predispositions (e.g., the compulsion to binge eat) that no longer match environmental realities (an overabundance of sugary foods), leading to disastrous consequences (obesity, heart disease, etc.), and that by understanding the mismatch, we can modify our behaviors (whole food diets, intermittent fasting, etc.), leading to better outcomes. Few reasonable people would argue against these more clear-cut cases.
But the authors don’t stop there. They want to take the argument further and claim that all long-standing cultural adaptations “evolve to serve the genome” (and they really mean this). This tactic, however, seems little more than using genetics and evolution to support the beliefs and practices approved by the authors. If every long-lasting cultural practice can be said to support the genome, then those practices can be defended on seemingly scientific grounds. But this is nothing more than an illusion, and should be recognized as such by the reader.
It’s not necessarily useful to think of humans in this way. Humanity separated itself from the rest of the animal kingdom primarily via our ability to transcend genetic determination and to decide how to live using reason and experience. And if a cultural practice is bad for the genes but good for the individual, to hell with the genes. The classic example is contraception. This long-running practice of enjoying sex without bearing children cannot have “evolved to serve the genome,” and yet those who practice it by intentionally not having children are not living an impoverished or defective life in any sense simply because their genes may not like it.
If reason tells you that you would prefer a child-free life, then that’s what you should do, irrespective of what your genome would tell you. Similarly, in many matters, evolutionary biology offers us no help whatsoever in making life choices; rather, philosophy becomes far more important. But the authors want to pretend that every aspect of our lives can be guided by evolutionary logic when in reality they’re simply using a particular reading of evolution to justify their own beliefs (don’t watch porn, have casual sex, or take medication). Readers should be able to see through this ruse pretty easily, I would hope.
So take the content for what it’s worth. As I said above, there’s much to learn about our evolutionary past, which can provide deep insights into how we can modify our behavior for the better. But don’t think that evolutionary logic can make all the decisions for us, or that our own reason and capacity for independent philosophical thought cannot or should not override what may or may not be “best” for our genes, or for whatever traditional practices justify themselves on the basis of longevity alone (a BS argument often used by conservatives or religious fundamentalists).
By Lennie on September 15, 2021
Great job guys
You are both appreciated
In the Introduction, the authors suggest that the recent rate of change in our society has caused “our brains, bodies and social systems” to be out of sync. They explain that they have attempted to better understand how these changes have affected modern humans by working from first principles. They attempt to analyze our current problems by examining them through the lens of our evolutionary history, and discuss ways to deal with a world that is changing faster than we can adapt.
The first chapter discusses early humans living in Beringia, the land bridge that connected Asia to North America thousands of years ago. The authors imagine what life was like for these individuals, and use them as examples of humans as a generalist species made up of specialists working together. The authors also discuss Culture vs Consciousness, and culture as an epigenetic evolutionary force. Chapter two explores the history and evolution of humans, starting all the way back from the first forms of life billions of years ago. Major events and adaptations are discussed, including the Chicxulub meteor impact 65 million years ago. This was one of my favorite chapters, as I found it very interesting to follow our evolutionary path.
The next few chapters discuss evolutionary adaptations and trade-offs, medicine and reductionism, food and dietary choices, and sleep, dreams and hallucinations. At the end of each chapter there is a “Corrective Lens” section, that has a short bullet-point list of suggestions for the reader to follow, based on the text in the chapter. The chapter on Sex and Gender might be one of the most controversial in the book, as some of the definitions and ideas discussed in this chapter are currently at odds with some people's beliefs.
The remaining chapters of the book discuss parenthood and childhood, school, becoming adults, culture and consciousness, and a method for sustaining equilibrium in the future.
This book has some interesting ideas and suggestions, though at times I felt like the presentation was somewhat chaotic. There were moments when I struggled to see how the tangents the authors went on were ultimately connected to their main point, or where the structure of the narrative didn't flow together very well for me. This made reading the book a slower process than I had expected, with a bit of rereading; and I still feel like there might have been a more effective or concise way to convey some of the information. Overall though, I appreciate the insights into evolutionary biology, and the courage of the authors to express some currently unpopular ideas.
Top reviews from other countries
"Nearly every student whom we taught was, in the end, game to be challenged, actually challenged - told when they were wrong, told when they were wrong (sic), and told that they needed to learn to pose real questions, and then sit in the not-knowing for long enough to figure out how one might figure it out."
I'm sure they were most inspiring teachers, and most of their students realised how fortunate they were to have been taught by them (though the goons and cowards who ran Evergreen were too stupid to support them against a small band of malignant and noisy know-nothing ideologues). This is a book from which almost anyone with an open mind and a true thirst for understanding will benefit greatly: but Belles-lettres it aint! - though to be fair, I don't suppose it was meant to be.
Along the way, I read things which were literally life changing, which left me enhanced with new pragmatic insights - texts which provided answers to my fundamental questions: "what happened to me?"; "who am I?"; "how do I get a better?". Books such as Stephen Porges' "Pocket Guide to Polyvagal Theory", Gabor Mate's "When the Body Says No", Heller & LaPierre's "Healing Developmental Trauma", Iain McGilchrist's "The Master and His Emissary" all left their indelible marks on me. Each added a new lens with which to construct a more panoramic view of my inner world and the embedded relationship with culture and society.
These books gave me new tools with which to reconfigure myself and my life in to more healthy states, allowing me to build a new pragmatic toolkit of self-knowledge and understanding, with which I slowly, but surely, began to progressively reduce my symptoms. These books not only made be better, but also made me a better person, through a deeper understanding of, and compassion for, the human condition.
"The Hunter Gatherer's Guide to The 21st Century" is, for me, most definitely the next chapter in the evolution of pragmatic knowledge about myself and my fellow humans, the rightful inheritor to the series of life changing books I've read that altered my perspectives forever, and provided me with much needed actionable insight. In particular, The Hunter-Gatherer's Guide broadens out the answers to my fundamental questions to: "what happened to US?"; "who are WE?"; "how do WE become better?". It has added the Evolutionary Lens to my toolkit of self-knowledge and understanding.
The book also provides further, deeper lessons for becoming better, both in the sense of healthier, more robust and fulfilled, and in the sense of better homo sapiens - how to be more kind and compassionate, more understanding, and more forgiving of the foibles of our shared human condition too.
Perhaps even more so than the others texts I've read, this book is also purposefully empowering and aims to be highly pragmatic, setting out to provide an applied toolkit with which the reader can analyse problems for themselves. It codifies the Evolutionary Lens via a flow of relatively simple questions, such as their "Omega Principle", "Three-part Test of Adaption" and "Precautionary Principle".
In particular, the book answers questions which I have been musing on for some time about the origins of the rise and rise of [idiopathic] [incurable] chronic illness, namely whether it is our brains and bodies which have become so maladaptive, or whether we have created an environment for ourselves that is toxic to our own biology, and which we are continuing to change too fast for biology to keep up. The book comes firmly down on the side of the latter. In fact, the authors' coin a term for this: "hypernovelty".
The authors' illustrate the application of their method by turning it to several hypernovel issues we face in modern life, under the themes of: medicine; food; sleep; sex; parenting; relationships; childhood; school; growing up; consciousness; culture. They do not harken back to a mythological golden age, but seek to make sense of the modern world and navigate a safer way forward. As well as the illustrative analyses, they share their own actionable solutions which they have applied to their own lives at the end of each chapter, via a section called "The Corrective Lens".
The book is written in conversational, narrative style, highly accessible, easy reading and without scientific jargon. The case studies are illustrated with stories from history, nature and science, as well as lessons from the authors' own life experiences. Key points are clearly broken out from the text with bullet point boxes and diagrams.
Perhaps one small point of concern I have, as a person with a sensitive nervous system, is that the author's tend to come out on these issues with all guns blazing... a more conciliatory or humble tone may have helped more people who would benefit be able to listen to the messages.
This book was not easy for me to read.
I’m one of those people who struggled with mainstream education.
I’ve always been hungry for knowledge though.
The book is written well, concepts explained so I could follow in most part.
But having come to the end, I think another, more informed read is needed. And further exploration of the field too – the book contains recommendations.
On reflection – the chapters stayed with me, as I got on with my day – I kept thinking about the content, at points frustrated, as I did not fully grasp – I kind of like and hate that, it keeps me coming back for more, and distracted from what I really ‘should’ be doing.
At no point did I want to stop reading this book.
It gently unfolded the complexities of the natural and social world I never previously thought of.
The evolutionary lens comes to life as a useful tool if Humanity is to find some balance.
I look forward to further publications from the authors.
The book touches on so many topics (and I still have two chapters left) and certainly doesn't explore them in fine detail. But it does provoke the reader to re-evaluate their assumptions around certain hypernovel modern practices and see if they can augment them to better suit their own lives.
It's a great book and if you enjoy books on evolutionary theory and animal behaviour then
it's an obvious read. Readers of self help books will also love this book as it provides a lens or blueprint to thinking through decisions on novel solutions. Definitely a great read.