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Tamed: Ten Species That Changed Our World

4.10  ·  Rating details ·  452 ratings  ·  62 reviews
For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors depended on wild plants and animals for survival. They were hunter-gatherers, consummate foraging experts, but taking the world as they found it. Then a revolution occurred – our ancestors’ interaction with other species changed. They began to tame them. The human population boomed; civilization began.

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Hardcover, 368 pages
Published October 19th 2017 by Hutchinson
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Average rating 4.10  · 
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 ·  452 ratings  ·  62 reviews

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A look at the domestication of various plant and animal species in 10 largely standalone chapters, covering dogs, wheat, cattle, maize, potatoes, chickens, rice, horses and apples, with a last chapter covering humans, of which more later.

I took a little while to get into this. The first chapter, about dogs, didn’t grab me, but perhaps I just needed some time to get into the book’s style. I definitely got more interested as I went along. It’s a difficult book to summarise as each spec

The way I see it, Tamed has two great strengths to recommend it: the first is its up-to-date research. If you want to know all the latest debates and study findings in the ancient process of domestication of plants and animals, this book will get you up to speed. Understandably this won’t hold true in ten years, however. The second strength is Alice Roberts’ writing. The author is a well-known figure – at least here in the UK – and indeed her job is to make the historical sciences lucid to the genera
Apr 14, 2018 rated it liked it
interesting science book looking at ten things which have been tamed including humans and a bit science and history but did learn a lot however.
Sam Worby
Nov 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
A good general introduction to domestication and (for me) an update on some of the ground covered in Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel. Clearly this is a fast moving area so the science is likely to go out of date fairly quickly.

I enjoyed the range of types of domestication Roberts covered. Some chapters, especially those on dogs, apples and horses were particularly fascinating. Others were weaker, for example the chapter on cattle didn’t really cover how people might have gone a
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A beautifully written book that documents the stories of how 10 species have been tamed by either themselves, other sub-species or humans. Laid out in classic, intellectual and scientific prose Alice Roberts educates with ease, filling the reader with information in a succinct fashion, yet with enough description from the latest areas of research. I throughly enjoyed the final chapter, the summary of the entire book that touched upon some of the major issues that we as a species have introduced ...more
Chris Demer
This is a very well researched and interesting book by an excellent scientist and science writer.
Roberts looks at evidence from history, pre-history, archaeological evidence and the latest in DNA techniques to investigate the sources of 10 key domesticated plants and animals. As humans have interacted with these other organisms, we have changed them and their behavior to make them more useful to us. They in turn have had a dramatic impact on the development and evolution of humans, even ch
Katy Noyes
Mar 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ten chapters of social history and science - interesting tidbits in there

3.5 stars

This came out last year, but I hadn't heard of it until I saw the Audible version advertised. It sounded like the sort of easy listen that I would enjoy and hopefully learn from, having enjoyed Roberts' television programmes.

It turned out to be a mixed bag. Absolutely fascinating on one hand, but rather long-winded on the other as a listen. The dates and delving do feel quite cumbersome whe
Emmanuel Gustin
Nov 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author is "Professor of Public Engagement in Science" at the University of Birmingham. At first hearing that sounds like an elaborately made-up title, but if you think of for a little longer, it is a vital role. The future of mankind may very well depend on the level of public engagement with science. And this is an engaging book.

If I may quibble a bit: Alice Roberts is a well known television figure, featuring in science and history programs for the BBC, and as she is a talented
Sep 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: jubilee-library
Archaeology, biology, genetics, and climate clues brought together to tell the story of domestication.

Caution: To love this book you have to get into the back-and-forth debate about the dates of domestication, and single vs multiple origins. It turns out I'm not that interested in that. The first two chapters (dogs, wheat) in particular put me right off this book.

But the storytelling grew on me. Yes, there's lots of informed speculation, and the specifics of any story are going to b
Crispina Kemp
Jul 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
As expected of Dr Alice Roberts, her book, Tamed, presents complex biological, anthropological, archaeological and genetic matters in terms everyone can understand.

For the book, Dr Alice Robert chooses ten species: Wheat, Rice, and Maize, Apples and Potatoes, Dogs and Chickens, Cattle and Horses, and Humans.

She follows the development of these ten species from their wild days through to C21st; looks at the various controversial and conflicting theories prevalent throughout the last two centuries and
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
A fascinating book about a bunch of animals and plants that have both changed the world, and been themselves very changed, due to their domestication by humans.
Alice Roberts is a fantastic writer with a wonderful ability to explain complicated scientific concepts without being either boring or confusing. I found I was able to follow unfamiliar topics like archaeology, while not being bored by things I already knew a bit about.
More scientific writing should be like this.
Alexandra Bazhenova-Sorokina
Jul 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
I listened to the audio version of the book, and it provided a perfect mixture of comfort that comes with the author’s soothing voice and accent, and of great interest of the stories told. “Tamed” is a great way to learn about contemporary genetics as well as about paleobotany, and this knowledge comes with seeming effortlessness. The only thing I really found odd and out of place were the lyrical pieces at the beginning of each new part: they were not so powerful, they actually seem off, and th ...more
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Explains very complex issues extremely well, and makes them interesting. Thought provoking.
I bought this book on the basis of the author's December 7, 2017 interview on the BBC History Magazine's History Extra podcast. I had somehow missed that podcast until recently, but upon hearing it immediately bought the book. I was not disappointed.

I thoroughly recommend this book. Roberts is a very skilled practitioner of popular science writing and her work is just so readable throughout. I also like her basic intellectual approach, which both commends and critiques technology and science th
Jun 03, 2018 rated it liked it
Well-researched and presented, but I wish the book spent less time on the phylogenetics and ancestry of the species in question, and more on how they actually changed the world or what made them so suited to do so. Or for that matter, how we changed them.
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
As popular science books goes, this seems like one of the better ones. The first chapter opens with a bit of narrative non-fiction about the beginning of the domestication of dogs and I was worried that the whole book was going to be like that, but I think that's just one forgivable flight of fancy, and the author restrains her desire to add literary flair like that through most of the rest of the book.

I was somewhat surprised at how many of these species were plants, too. I'm not su
Patrick DiJusto
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
How did we get dogs and wheat and potatoes and chickens from wolves and savanna grass and inedible tubers and strange feral birds? We created them!

As the glaciers retreated after the last ice age, neolithic humans began to put their hand to the world around them. They fed meat scraps to tame wolf cubs and over the centuries turned them into dogs. They planted and watered and fertilized common grasses, which burst into new life as wheat and maize. They fed corn scraps to strange groun
Sep 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Tamed looks at how and when animals and plants became domesticated. From dogs and horses to apples and wheat and even humans themselves, Alice Roberts looks into how this species changed from being in the wild to living alongside humans.

There was potential for the book to simplify the information but it doesn't do that at all. Roberts shares very recent research looking into both the archaeological and the scientific (usually DNA) evidence that helps to explain where the species came from. Thou
Mick Kelly
Aug 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Professor Alice Roberts is a well-known and well-respected academic and broadcaster in the popular science field and this book is a tribute to her skill and knowledge. It’s an easy read that imparts a large amount of information while remaining as near to a page-turner as a popular science book can be.

She traces the history of ten species (dogs, wheat, cattle, maize, potatoes, chickens, rice, horses, apples and humans) over the millennia in which they interacted with human beings (in the widest
Lauren M
Apr 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Parts of this book I loved and make no question of it, it is packed with knowledge spanning archaeology, anthropology and biology. The author has clearly spent a lot of time researching the different chapters and is passionate about the subject areas. I thoroughly enjoyed learning the origins of species we encounter daily and the changes they went through to arrive in the 21st century.

However some areas I felt were too light touch and only presented one side of incredibly nuanced discussions. T
Cath Ennis
Jun 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
(4.5 rounded up)

It is so satisfying to find an interesting, well-researched popular science book that is also a pleasure to read.

Tamed tells the story of how humans domesticated nine important plant and animal species, and how doing so helped to shape human history, modern society, and even our own evolution. The book brings together the latest research from various fields including genetics, palaeontology, archaeology, linguistics, climatology, and ecology, mixed with a couple/>
Feb 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Tamed is the story of the domestication of nine species that have proved vital for the development of humans from the Neolithic to the present. For each, Professor Alice Roberts looks at the history and the archaeological record and then brings that story bang up-to-date with the latest from the world of genetics.

In almost every case, the accepted wisdom is being turned on its head by the geneticists. It's easy for us to think that we clever humans saw the potential of a species, and
Apr 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, kindle, 2018
At first I thought this would be a 'World History through a Narrow Slit', e.g. bit like Kurlansky's Salt, and while it does provide some of that with fascinating insights in the Columbian Exchange, there's also so much more. The main thrust of the book is that modern science has changed a lot of the accepted historical record over the last few decades. Roberts looks at how modern DNA methods of dating and analysis have upended many settled theories, and also looks at other ways of using the mode ...more
Jun 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fic, audio
I listened to this and I had to take breaks to absorb information, which is why it took me a longish time to read it. The author's lively and colorful writing style brings some rather dry subjects to life. She traces our relationship with a variety of plants and animals back to prehistory, mostly to the Neolithic period when people settled down and started farming. She's very thorough in exploring where cultivation of a critter or a plant began, and the subsequent spread and interbreeding with w ...more
Jae Kay
Jun 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
Excellent look at the evolution (as Roberts rightly points out, there's not such thing as artificial selection and humanity's domestication of plants and animals is just as much evolution in action as any other selective pressure) of domestic plants and animals (and humans).

The author's use of the terms "allies" to describe species such as dogs gets to the heart of the issue. Without teaming up with us wolves would be in, as they are today, the mere 100 000s population wise. But by teaming up w
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a fascinating read, full of great insight to a wide range of human, animal, and plant evolution and development. Each chapter gave a thorough history of the archaeology and paleontology for each of the subject species, followed by more recent genetic analysis which either supported the previous theories or blew them quite stunningly out of the water. I didn't realise quite how restrictive mitochondrial DNA analysis is in terms of being just the maternal line, and how more modern full ge ...more
Richard Howard
May 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2018
I find this a difficult book to review. On the one hand I learned a lot and found the origin stories of the ten chosen species fascinating. On the other hand I found myself longing for some visual input to help illustrate Alice Robert's various theories and conclusions. Some pictures would have been welcome, some maps even more. As with a lot of her writings you can see a TV series on the horizon. I hope one does happen as she is a superb presenter.
Her final chapter strikes a thoughtful bu
Holly Cruise
Mar 01, 2019 rated it liked it
A good solid read, which introduces a lot of science and historical/archaeological concepts, ideas and theories. It's episodic by design but has a nice overall rhythm to it and if in later chapters you find yourself predicting the bits where science overturns a conventional wisdom at least it feels like you've learned something.

One piece of advice: this was published in 2017 and part of its thesis is that science moves fast, so read it now before everything has been upended and the a
Jun 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is an interesting look at ways in which humankind domesticated our world, including ourselves. The species covered are varied, including both plants and animals, with some being covered more thoroughly than others, at least in part because of the current state of research into the different species. The book is pretty easy to understand, even for a layman coming fresh to the subject. (I have to admit that that's not me, so my judgement there is rather subjective.) It did drag for me in ...more
Lauri Svan
Jan 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The book mainly domesticating ten different species, essential to our history and food system today, and how they came to be in the form we know them today. In most cases it tells the narrative of locating the origin of species.

My key takeaway was that the variability of a species is typically highest in the origin - an idea that is intriguing, but less than obvious. At the same time it is reminder that the delicious foodstuff we eat today is a results of thousands of year of directe
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

Alice May Roberts is an English anatomist, osteoarchaeologist, physical anthropologist, palaeopathologist, television presenter and author.

Roberts studied medicine and anatomy at Cardiff University, qualifying in 1997 as a physician with a Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MB BCh) degree
“even been suggested that the eventual domestication of cereals in this area could have grown from a culture which invested heavily, not in bread-making, but in beer-brewing – and that alcohol could have flowed freely, greasing the wheels of social intercourse, at these ancient feasts.” 1 likes
“Most chickens, though, grow fast – and are slaughtered at just six weeks old. When we eat chickens, they’re really just overblown, overgrown, big chicks. The ends of their bones haven’t even begun to turn from cartilage to bone yet. A single great-grandmother hen, back in the pedigree flock, can have an astonishing 3 million broiler-chicken descendants – who never make it to adulthood.” 1 likes
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