The Story of the Human Body – Daniel Lieberman

What the cover says: In this landmark book of popular science, Daniel E. Lieberman gives us a lucid and engaging account of how the human body evolved over millions of years. He illuminates the major transformations that contributed to key adaptations to the body: the rise of bipedalism; the shift to a non-fruit-based diet; the advent of hunting and gathering; and how cultural changes like the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions have impacted us physically. He shows how the increasing disparity between the jumble of adaptations in our Stone Age bodies and advancements in the modern world is occasioning a paradox: greater longevity but increased chronic disease. And finally provocatively he advocates the use of evolutionary information to help nudge, push, and sometimes even compel us to create a more salubrious environment and pursue better lifestyles.

Why I picked it up: This was an Amazon recommendation.  I’m a bit of a fan of anthropology and how humans evolved (if you haven’t read Sapiens yet, where have you been?)

What I thought: I found the discussion of evolution, genetics and environment fascinating.  It was really interesting to read more about how humans developed and why we have some of the physical features we do.  The ideas of cultural as well as genetic evolution intrigued me – there is a general belief that humans have stopped evolving but this simply isn’t true, from either perspective.  Lieberman then goes on to explore how we are poorly adapted to deal with many of the environmental factors and triggers in modern society and how this is contributing to a range of preventable ‘lifestyle’ diseases.  He advocates an evolutionary approach to medical research to combat these diseases of affluence, novelty and disuse, to move away from simply treating the symptoms of these diseases which “perpetuate[s] a pernicious feedback loop”.   In short – and this isn’t a short or light read – this was a book that gave me a different perspective on health and well-being in the 21st century.

Bossypants – Tina Fey

What the cover says: Once in a generation a woman comes along who changes everything.  Tina Fey is not that woman, but she met that woman once and acted weird around her.  Before 30 Rock, Mean Girls and ‘Sarah Palin’, Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through a local airport by her middle-school gym teacher.  She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV.  She has seen both these dreams come true.  At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told.  From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon – from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.  Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

Why I picked it up: This was on my list for ages and I can’t remember where I read about this book – I’m pretty sure something else I read recommended it!

What I thought:  There’s no denying Tina Fey is funny. although this wasn’t a laugh-out-loud book for me.  It’s a good autobiography and an easy, pleasurable read.  I’m not sure what else to say about it!  I think I had thought that it was about female leadership – and she does touch on that a little throughout – but it wasn’t quite what I had expected so I’m a little lukewarm about it.  It was a nice light-hearted break between some otherwise heavy reading this month!

The Happiness Hypothesis – Jonathan Haidt

What the cover says: Every culture rests on a bedrock of folk wisdom handed down through generations.  The pronouncements of philosophers are homespun by our grandmothers, and find their way into our common sense: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  Do unto others as you would have done unto you. Happiness comes from within.  But are these ‘truths’ really true? T oday we all seem to prefer to cling to the notion that a little bit more money, love or success will make us truly happy.  Are we wrong?  In The Happiness Hypothesis, psychologist Jonathan Haidt exposes traditional wisdom to the scrutiny of modern science, delivering startling insights.  We learn that virtue is often not its own reward, why extroverts really are happier than introverts, and why conscious thought is not as important as we might like to think… Drawing on the rich inspiration of both philosophy and science, The Happiness Hypothesis is a remarkable, original and provocative book – ancient wisdom in our time.

Why I picked it up: This was another Amazon recommendation – I hate to admit but their algorithms have got me nailed!  I’ve read one of Haidt’s books – The Righteous Mind – before and absolutely loved it so I was excited to read this.

What I thought: I was not disappointed!  Haidt is a social psychologist who manages to bring psychology, anthropology, philosophy and neuroscience together in such an accessible way – I find his writing a pleasure to read.  I’ve been reading a lot in these areas recently so I was familiar with many of the themes that Haidt explores; what I particularly enjoy about his book is how clearly he explains the topics and the way he pulls from so many different disciplines.  And he covers a lot of ground here!   He even presents a formula for happiness (H = S + C + V or the level of happiness that you actually experience (H) is determined by your biological set point (S) plus conditions of your life (C) plus the voluntary activities (V) you do) – this draws on the work of Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, Schkade and Seligman to properly attribute it!  The message I took away were that love, adversity (at the right time and not too much), spirituality (he actually says region as a “Jewish atheist”), work – or purpose – connection, and balance are the key ingredients to a happy life.  Balance struck me as the most important one: achieving happiness is a mix of looking within and outside ourselves and you need a blend of different happiness ‘stimulators’ in your life.  A classic case of everything in moderation!

 


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