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The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  633 ratings  ·  101 reviews
Resistance to malaria. Blue eyes. Lactose tolerance. What do all of these traits have in common? Every one of them has emerged in the last 10,000 years.

Scientists have long believed that the “great leap forward” that occurred some 40,000 to 50,000 years ago in Europe marked end of significant biological evolution in humans. In this stunningly original account of our evolu
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 27th 2009 by Basic Books (first published January 26th 2009)
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A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill BrysonA Brief History of Time by Stephen HawkingCosmos by Carl SaganThe Selfish Gene by Richard DawkinsGuns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
Best Science Books - Non-Fiction Only
303rd out of 858 books — 1,962 voters
Columbine by Dave CullenThe 10,000 Year Explosion by Gregory CochranHouse Rules by Rachel SontagThe Truth Book by Joy CastroThe Meaning of Matthew by Judy Shepard
Non-Fiction -- Best of 2009
1st out of 27 books — 11 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,851)
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David Cain
I was seriously underwhelmed by this work. At a high level, I think it's great that there's a new publication that presents a case for the biological and genetic drivers of human evolution even during the recent historic period. I certainly agree with this perspective, and it adds a nice layer of evidence to other recent popular works dealing with human history in the Holocene. The devil is in the details, however, and this is where the book comes up short.

I was very frustrated by this book's or
Lou Schuler
This was recommended by a friend of mine, an archaeologist. It came out of our mutual dislike of the notion, promoted by some advocates of the paleo diet, that humans of the late stone age were perfectly adapted to their environment, and thus stopped evolving. By that logic, agriculture (and everything that followed) was a huge mistake.

Except, as it turns out, agriculture was a force for rapid and continued evolution. Lactose tolerance was a huge advantage to the first people who developed it. S
Tracy Black
I made it a little over the half-way mark before setting this one down. The writing style is easy to read and there are a few good ideas in there. Here are the problems though.
1. It's dumbed down and watered down. The authors assume the read is an idiot and doesn't know any history at all, and so give broad, watered-down histories. Like the history of agriculture in two pages. It's absolutely no help to someone unfamiliar with it, and frustratingly oversimplified to someone who is.
2. Very few c
Greg Linster
The evolutionary biologist, Steven Jay Gould, once famously said that “There’s been no biological change in humans in 40,000 or 50,000 years. Everything we call culture and civilization we’ve built with the same body and brain.” Nonsense say University of Utah anthropologists Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending. Their book, The 10,000 Year Explosion, dismantles Gould’s claim in elegant fashion by arguing that human evolution has not stagnated, but rather, it has actually accelerated rapidly. In ...more
Aaron Arnold
I remember, back when I was in college, participating in one of those classic college-style drunken debates with some friends about whether evolution was speeding up or slowing down. I argued, no doubt with some slurring of words, that that the increase in the complexity of life meant that there were more and more things for evolution to operate on, and that therefore evolution was speeding up. They argued the opposite, that evolution was fastest back when organisms were simple, and a change in ...more
Conventional wisdom holds that genetic evolution takes place over extremely long periods of time--thousands of years--so that, in the 10K years since the beginning of agriculture, humans' gene-culture coevolution has been overwhelmingly dominated by the cultural component. The book The 10,000 Year Explosion will cure you of that misconception.

Genetic innovation follows the same S-shaped adoption curve as cultural or technological innovation, maybe with similar "crossing the chasm" obstacles. Th
In retrospect, John Derbyshire doing the blurb on the back might have tipped me off, but I'd spotted the book in the Museum of Natural History bookshop and this is the first time they've steered me wrong...

Not good science, plain and simple. Saying something is 'completely obvious' or brushing a countering argument aside as 'incorrect' may sound authoritative, but means nothing if not backed up by evidence. And often, the evidence is lacking. For example, the authors would have us believe that s
Wout Mertens
A real eye opener. The book shows how, contrary to popular thought, humans are still evolving their genome in a process that has accelerated in the past 10,000 years instead of slowing down in the past 40,000.

As a layman I was thoroughly convinced of the validity of their arguments. All the reasoning is are well-referenced. I learned very interesting things about genetics and our history, like how fast a positive mutation can become part of a population and how evolution probably shaped the Eur
James Caterino
I have a long held interest in evolution and anthropology. Beyond an interest actually. More like an endless fascination. Some would even say obsession. I am a the the Tea Party/GOP's worst nightmare. I cannot be bullied into falling into the current line of thinking that the earth is 6000 years old. I know better.

Enough about fables and delusions and on to science and The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution.

As soon as I opened up this book and started to read, I
The basic argument of The 10,000 Year Explosion (10KYE) is two-fold. The first assertion is that biological evolution still affects the human species, which is evident within historic memory. The second half of the argument is that evolution has accelerated since the Agricultural Revolution c. 12,000 years ago. The authors look at four turning points in human development: (1) the displacement of the Neanderthal c. 40,000 years ago by modern humans, (2) the Agricultural Revolutions (more properly ...more
Overall, I felt that this book was lacking in scientific soundness. Where there needed to be citations, there were not. The authors failed to systematically go through objections or proofs for a ton of their claims. The almost-condescending tone that the authors adopted at times was unwarranted, especially in light of their failure to provide sufficient viable resources. As for the chapter about Ashkenazi Jews, I was left asking, "So what?", along with a feeling of great apprehension due to disc ...more
This is a fascinating book on the mutual influence of genes on culture and of culture on genes. The "explosion" referred to in the title was the advent of agriculture, which greatly multiplied the size of the human population, greatly altered culture, and redirected human evolution down new paths to adapt to this new culture. When human population increased the rate of genetic mutations increased correspondingly, which increased the rate of evolution (by 100 fold according to the authors). Human ...more
Paul R. Fleischman
This book about human genetics argues for the hypothesis that human biological evolution remains important. It argues against the more popularly accepted hypothesis, championed by the late Steven Jay Gould, that “Everything we call culture and civilization we built with the same body and brain.” Gould wanted us to believe that cultural flexibility eliminated the need for biological adaptation and evolution in humans. Therefore, this book, which believes that biological evolution is continuing, ...more

Considering the subject matter, it is a light read with a lot of little tidbits thrown in about how many relatives Genghis Khan has that are still living across central Asia, how disease really helped Pizarro and only 168 soldiers tear apart the Inca Empire, where blue eyes originated, and other such scientific matters that make great dinner conversation and cocktail party opening lines.

By the way, i like the cover with the almost stroboscopic depiction of evolutionary influenced skeletal uprigh
The old thinking is that, when cultural evolution took off, biological evolution stopped -- because instead of being shaped by our environment, we began shaping our environment to us. That idea always seemed reasonable to me, but this book has changed my mind. The authors contend that, on the contrary, evolution has sped up since the neolithic revolution. The social innovations associated with agriculture and civilization mean we have subjected ourselves to major new environmental pressures, and ...more
Quotes/ideas from Cochran that appealed "

8.0kya … Kurgans developed the ability to digest lactose … build chariots This gave them a military advantage and enabled them to conquer non-milk drinking enemies. Skeletal remains show they gained about 4 inches in height after becoming lactose tolerant. Dairying produces 5 times as many calories per acre than raising cattle for slaughter.

“ … cattle are far easier to steal than heaps of grain: They can walk. It looks as if the early Indo-Europeans spen
Around this time a year ago, I was having a conversation with Shane and Alex at Beverly's house about Civilization, an ever-fertile topic. We knew that domestication had severely altered the personalities and physiologies of our plant and animal familiars. And it was axiomatic to us that agriculture had “domesticated” humans too—corn gets as much or more from us as we get from it. But was this actually genetic, or merely cultural? Or, to put it another way, if a Jurassic Park-type experiment we ...more
Daniel Hammer
This is just the kind of exciting, accessible and provocative science that I like to read about. For the most part.

Cochran and Harpending's book presents the argument that human evolution has increased in pace over the last 10,000 years. This is in contrast to a more standard view which argues that, due to the ability to culturally and technologically reshape our environment, modern human beings have less of a need to evolve biologically in response to environmental pressures. He begins with a
The authors' premise is that genetic evolution has accelerated in the last 10 millenia due to the selection effects of new environments, i.e. of agriculture and subsequent civilization. Starting with the evidence for limited but impactful breeding with Neantherthals much earlier, they describe the way in which small genetic differences between various modern human populations not only concentrate but can have major effects. Examples include the lactose-tolerance allele contributed by the herd-ma ...more
The 10,000 Year Explosion by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending

The 10,000 Year Explosion is a fascinating book about human evolution. It's main focus is to illustrate how humans have evolved much more recently than most scientists believed. This interesting book also reveals what factors lead to human evolution. The book is composed of following seven chapters: 1. Overview: Conventional Wisdom, 2. The Neanderthal Within, 3. Agriculture: The Big Change, 4. Consequences of Agriculture, 5. Gene
This book was highly schizophrenic - at times too simplistic at times too detail oriented. Sadly, in most cases the logic was simply flawed.

There is one thing I can't stomach in a science book and that's arguments along the lines of "because if moderns and Neanderthals lived near each other, its obvious that they cross bred and all the amazing advances that might date from around that time stem from that. That's all the proof I need - and even though you can't see the genetic evidence, I can te
As a long time reader of science books I was immediately attracted to this book due to its great title – titles are important, take note publishers. The last science book I read was the great The Fifth Miracle by Paul Davies, which was an examination of how life evolved. Cochran and Harpending’s book promised an argument against the long held theory that humans stopped evolving fifty thousand years ago, just after emerging out of Africa. The book describes itself as the “…the latest edition to t ...more
This book has opened my eyes to so many issues; to say that it is transformative is understatement. I had been taught in college that human evolution stopped with the advent of culture, that culture made adjustments to the environment thus eliminating the need for biology to fine tune our bodies. I had also been trained to view IQ tests as simply racist tools used by white patriarchal society to convince the priveleged that minority people are inferior - it sounds hyperbolic but I was actually t ...more
David Merrill
I really wanted to give this book 3 1/3 stars, so it was a debate to go high or low with the rating. It would have been easily 5 stars for the information in the book, but the writing style really gets in the way. Snarky judgements and comments throughout the book, I'm guessing to make the book more accessible to a broader audience, for me just put the authors' scholarship into question. This weakened their theories and arguments. It's a shame because these comments were such a small part of the ...more
Cochran and Harpending dispel the long-held scientific notion that human evolution reached a plateau tens of thousands of years ago, as well as all change has been cultural. Instead, they argue that cultural change has effected genetic change, and vice versa. Not only did agriculture select for certain characteristics – like lactose tolerance as a result of animal husbandry, for one – but so introgression with Neanderthals, which has been historically frowned upon in the scientific community due ...more
As a book written for the layman about new ideas in genetic research, _The 10,000 Year Explosion_ is an important book. Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, two professors at the University of Utah (physics and genetics, respectively), are basically saying in their theories that it is our genetic make up that determined our ancestors' fate, and it will determine ours too.

While I accept that different races are composed differently of genetic codes, resulting in different eye and skin colors and
Billy Lau
This book gets to a great start, and provides a pretty good introduction into how the human genome has been continuously changing since, well, forever. There are a lot of scientific articles that go into much greater detail but focus on specific genes or traits. I was looking for a book that address this topic from a general science point of view and from reading the first chapter I thought I had found it.

The book later goes into topics like inter-hominid mixing, agriculture-induced changes, and
An easy read to blow through, unless you really want to think about what its saying. And its saying some interesting stuff!

Overall thesis seems solid, maybe individual ideas will eventually be disproven, but the broad sweep of it sounded good to this layman.

I was actually left wanting more. More detail, more individual ideas blown into full chapters, etc. Like why do humans have such a high miscarriage rate? That was a section in a chapter, and it teased me with its brevity (likely driven by ins
Bill Leach
- "Since the social sciences - anthropology in particular - haven't exactly covered themselves with glory, we have decided to take a new tack in writing this book, one that takes the implications of evolutionary theory seriously while cheerfully discarding unproven anthropological doctrines."

1 - Conventional Wisdom
- scientists have long felt that the "great leap forward" 50,000 YA marked the end of significant biological evolution, with development of culture freeing humans from the press
Marc Brackett
This was one of most interesting books that I have read in a very long time. Not only is this book most politically incorrect it also has a number of disturbing implications.

One of the current most treasured beliefs in society is that we are all equal. We all know this really isn't true as some of us will become nuclear chemists, Olympic athletes, and most of us will just be average people trying to get through life.

Another of the core tenants of our understanding is that genetics and environm
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“Biology keeps culture on a leash, which is why you can’t teach a dog to play poker, never mind all those lying paintings.” 0 likes
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