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Marlene Zuk

Paleofantasy

What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live

W. W. Norton 2013

New Books in AnthropologyNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Big IdeasNew Books in FoodNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books in ScienceNew Books in Science & TechnologyNew Books Network April 22, 2013 Marshall Poe

The Hebrews called it “Eden.” The Greeks and Romans called it the “Golden Age.” The philosophes–or Rousseau at least–called it the “State of Nature.”...

The Hebrews called it “Eden.” The Greeks and Romans called it the “Golden Age.” The philosophes–or Rousseau at least–called it the “State of Nature.” Marx and Engels called it “Primitive Communism.” The underlying notion, however, is the same: there was a time, long ago, when things were much better than they are today because we were then “in tune” with God, nature, or whatever. Thereafter we “fell,” usually due to our own stupidity, and landed in our present corrupted state.

Today we are told by some that the paleolithic period (roughly 3 million to 10,000 years ago) was, similarly, a time in which we were “in tune” with nature. According to the paleofantasists, we were selected in the paleolithic environment and it is to the Paleolithic environment that we became most “fit.” After the paleolithic, they say, came the fall (domestication, cities, states, industrialization). Today, they continue, we are “out of tune” and, as a result, we are suffering all kinds of nasty consequences.

Or so the story goes. But Marlene Zuk says it just ain’t so. In Paleofantasy: What Evolution Really Tells Us about Sex, Diet, and How We Live (W. W. Norton, 2013), she points out that we were always out of tune because evolution makes it impossible to be truly “in tune.” The environment was always changing and we were always changing;the environment is still changing and we are still changing. What is “natural” to us is a kind of moving target. One millenium something seems “natural”; the next millenium not so much. Evolution is a ceaseless and surprisingly rapid process.