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

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  972 Ratings  ·  113 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 agreat leap forwarda 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 ...more
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Published January 27th 2009 by Basic Books (AZ) (first published January 26th 2009)
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David Cain
Nov 06, 2009 David Cain rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
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
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
Aaron Arnold
Jul 02, 2012 Aaron Arnold rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Lou Schuler
Sep 17, 2013 Lou Schuler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 23, 2012 Lisa rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
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
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
Heather Fryling
Feb 28, 2015 Heather Fryling rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
It started out promising. I thought I was going to get evidence that humans have, in fact, evolved over the past 10,000 years. We may have become civilized, but civilization has its own selective pressures, doesn't it? Well, I got the examples of lactose tolerance (0-90+% of Europeans in 3,000 years) and blue eyes about 6,000 year ago. Ok. So far, so good, but then the 10,000 Year Explosion went completely off the rails, starting with hypotheses based on existing facts (ok so far), then extrapol ...more
Jul 10, 2013 Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Wout Mertens
Aug 21, 2011 Wout Mertens rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Marc Brackett
Aug 07, 2013 Marc Brackett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Aug 09, 2012 Rev rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Alex Zakharov
Jan 22, 2015 Alex Zakharov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Provocative and very entertaining read. The main thesis is that human genetic evolution has been ongoing (if not accelerating) over the last 10000 years (which on a typical evolutionary scale is an insignificant timeframe). And the main mechanism facilitating such development is a rapidly changing culture. For example the shift from hunter-gatherers to agriculture had profound consequences at genetic level. Mixing of modern humans (coming north from Africa) with Neanderthals was another boost fo ...more
Jun 10, 2014 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
A very interesting book. It makes for a wonderful read along with other recent books on the history of prehistory and the intriguing speculation years on what made modern man, particularly what happened around 50-40K years ago when mankind seem to take a quantum leap and soon eliminated all his competitors such as the Neanderthals.

I had often assumed that evolution had stopped with the advent of civilization, but Cochran makes a compelling case for its continuation. The recent books by geneticis
Some interesting ideas - mainly the fact that human evolution is a continuous process, and attempts to provide some evidence of that. Some shoddy logic, sparse citations and tenuously supported ideas (mainly the idea of 'intelligence' in connection to the Ashkenazi Jews - vague definitions all around), but the book has some worth.
Jonathan Sargent
May 09, 2016 Jonathan Sargent rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A few throw away sections. Worth it for the last chapter alone.
Oct 31, 2014 Alina rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Sep 27, 2015 Rossdavidh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: white
"The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution", by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, is the work of two professors, one a physicist and the other an anthropologist; it's about the idea that human evolution has not only not ceased, but it has even gotten faster recently. The fact that Cochran is listed as "a physicist and Adjunct Professor of Anthropology" gives a hint at the boundary-crossing nature of this book's point of view.

Not so long ago (still today, in some
Tony Heyl
I liked the idea of this book. The premise makes sense. Humanity continues to evolve and in fact may be evolving faster than we realize. However, the problems are that this book is pretty boring and that there seems to be no room for any answer except the author's.

The idea that diseases and abnormalities spread through groups makes sense. It's not as mind blowing as the author tries to make it out to be and there is really little debate about it. Same with tolerances for things like lactose.

This short, breezy manifesto book is an extended mostly informal argument for the under-acknowledged role of genes/biology in shaping human history. The prelude begins with the sense or feeling that most scientist believe humans have stopped evolving. That our species has actually stopped evolving reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of evolutionary biology. Whether scientists, from anthropologists to biologists, operate on this misguided belief is probably also false, even though a few (the ...more
Oct 29, 2014 Chrisl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthro, 2000s
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
May 10, 2013 Daniel Hammer rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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
Jun 01, 2010 Robin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 24, 2011 Book rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: evolution
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
Jun 18, 2009 Allisonperkel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, non-fiction
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
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“The motto here is that sometimes the apparently inferior choice has a better upgrade path: Evolution can’t know this, and we aren’t particularly good at recognizing it ourselves. On the genetic level, it translates as follows: Natural selection may solve the same problems differently in different populations, and what appears to be the most elegant solution at the time may not in fact turn out to be the one that works best in the long run. The seemingly inferior choice” 0 likes
“The sphingolipid mutations, in particular, have effects that could plausibly boost intelligence. In each, there is a buildup of some particular sphingolipid, a class of modified fat molecules that play a role in signal transmission and are especially common in neural tissues. Researchers have determined that elevated levels of those sphingolipids cause the growth of more connections among neurons, the basic cells of the central nervous system (see page 221).” 0 likes
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