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

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  1,585 ratings  ·  154 reviews
The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published January 26th 2009 by Basic Books (AZ)
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David Cain
Nov 06, 2009 rated it did not like it
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
Aaron Arnold
Jul 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Greg Linster
Feb 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 13, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
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
Mar 20, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Alex Zakharov
Jan 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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
Mar 09, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Jan 12, 2014 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
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
Jul 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Bill Leach
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
- "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
Aug 07, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Wout Mertens
Aug 08, 2011 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
Heather Fryling
Feb 19, 2015 rated it did not like it
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
Jonathan Sargent
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
A few throw away sections. Worth it for the last chapter alone.
Paul R. Fleischman
Apr 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 24, 2011 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
David Merrill
Jul 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Dave Schoettinger
May 02, 2019 rated it liked it
In the late nineteenth century, Darwin's thoughts on evolution were appropriated by many to show that the evolution of homo sapiens had resulted in the ascendancy of white peoples. This "scientific" evidence of white superiority was used to justify all types of outrages committed against "less evolved" forms of humans. The scientific community, horrified by the misuse of evolution, stressed that homo sapiens were all the same and race was not a means of ranking people. To support this position, ...more
Jun 01, 2018 rated it did not like it
This book was really promising at first and the subject is very interesting. I was really impressed in the first chapter and then it went downhill. The writing is accessible, however leaves a bit to be desired when the author inserts snarky comments at inappropriate times. I was also unimpressed by the lack of detail when talking about the historical context of genetic development. Obviously history is complicated and nuanced, but the lack of detail and the brief overview of various periods was ...more
May 01, 2019 rated it liked it
I enjoyed it because of the occasional tidbit mentioned that I hadn't heard of before but it's very basic and lacks sufficient citations and evidence for the less modest claims. Lactose tolerance (0-90+% of Europeans in 3,000 years) and blue eyes about 6,000 year ago, great! Then towards the end it went off the rails. Take it with a grain of salt and read it for a different perspective but don't necessarily believe everything presented. ...more
David Shimm
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating book about how human evolution has proceeded, and even accelerated, during the recent time period.
Aug 03, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Scott Waldyn
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it
This is alien territory for me, as I know minimal about genetics or anthropology.

However, I did find this book interesting in the way that it looks at the construction of modern civilization, the roads leading to where we are now, through a lens of genetic evolution and acquiring traits necessary to climb the next rung. While this book seems more in the realm of anthropology rather than genetics, the theories posited are interesting and do lean into the authors' argument that we have been evolv
May 15, 2012 rated it did not like it
This was one of the worst things I have ever read. It was actually painful to finish, but I did make it through. I think the only decent part of this book is the title.

First off, this book is horribly written. To me the entire book reads like a bunch of badly connected and poorly written undergraduate essays. As others have pointed out, this book is also very schizophrenic in its inability to decide whether it should be too simplistic or overly detail oriented.

The authors also do not appear to
Nana Cowper
Sep 04, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Scientific racism

I'd give it zero if I could. An interesting title used to promote a rational for racial supremacy not worth my time or money

Joseph Hirsch
Nov 22, 2018 rated it liked it
Depending on a whole host of factors (your scientific background, religion, personal experiences, and biases, to name a few) one could come away from "The 10,000 Year Explosion" thinking that anthropologist Greg Cochran is an intellectually voracious man who wants to know where and how humans differ in their genes in order to cure diseases and increase social harmony, or conversely, that he is a latter-day Cesare Lombroso who wants to bust out the calipers to measure our heads to find out which ...more
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