Reviewed in the United States on December 30, 2018
This book contains so much more than the title suggests. Yes, Provenza is professor emeritus in Behavioral Ecology at Utah State University and yes, his discussion and stories do cover much interesting information about animal behavior. He discusses how they select the plants they eat and learn to avoid those that can make them sick. He marvels at the diversity of plants they eat and says they provide the rounded nourishment animals need. He mentions a six-month study of infants by Dr. Clara Davis, in which she observed which foods infants would select when provided a wide variety, and pediatricians attested the children ended up healthy and well-nourished.” Yet, the nutritional wisdom of many humans is abysmal. He discusses the relationships between plants and animals, the defensive mechanisms of plants, the caution animals show when eating novel foods, their need for energy and protein, their learned preferences, and self-medication. In contrast, he mentions the effects of artificial sweeteners that humans eat, the taking of aspirin and antacids, how the medical profession has separated itself from nature, dietary advice, and the role we allow our impulses to assume.
There is too much content to do justice to in this short review, and, for me, the most fascinating part of this book is the final third. In a way it resembles Pausch’s Last Lecture. Now nearing his seventh decade, Provenza is attempting to understand his existence, and he clearly is a voracious reader as, for each new topic, he cites ideas by well-known authors. Provenza describes the earth’s age in multiple ways as related to a human lifetime, the length of human civilizations, which he describes as typically falling into stages; the Ages of Pioneers, Commerce, Affluence, Intellect, and finally, the Age of Decadence which he feels the United States is entering, in part due to concentration of power by elites, the automation of labor, environmental degradation, politicians’ inability to make complex decisions, and more. He compares and discusses how animals and human deal with change, with humans having more difficulty and typically needing guidance. He discusses how we have lost touch with nature and our instinct, how we try to control our environment and frequently fail and end up destroying nature and facilitating the extinction of species. He wanders into the metaphysical. He discusses the wide varieties of religions that have risen and been institutionalized, a “universal truth” in each, and how our belief systems affect the way we think. He discusses mysteries; where all things come from, where they go, what is energy, and how energy takes on forms that change endlessly.
This book is thought-provoking read with copious notes for each chapter, a bibliography, and an index. Highly recommended.