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

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,157 Ratings  ·  122 Reviews
The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published January 27th 2009 by Basic Books (first published January 26th 2009)
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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
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 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
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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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
Pablo Stafforini
Feb 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
One-sentence summary: Cultural innovation and natural selection reinforced one another; far from stopping forty thousand years ago, human evolution accelerated considerably in the last ten millennia.
Jonathan Sargent
Feb 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
A few throw away sections. Worth it for the last chapter alone.
Bill Leach
Apr 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: informative
- "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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Aug 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
The rate of human evolution has accelerated radically over the last 10,000 years. This takes a genetic perspective on history and archaeology, benefiting from the vast improvement in the science and technology of genomic knowledge. Organisms, including people, adapt to changing environments, and our environment is changing radically, starting with the Upper Paleolithic, the introduction of farming, settling into towns, domesticating animals (including milk-yielding species), the vast increase in ...more
Joe Q.
Jul 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book cogently argues that, rather than ending with the dawn of modern Homo sapiens, evolution has been continuing apace over the last 10,000 years. Arguments from natural selection are used to explain patterns in world history, including Europeans' success in displacing Amerindians in the Americas and their failure to displace Africans in the tropical parts of that continent. It's a quick read, and very enlightening.

While the authors make their case very clearly, I would have liked to see t
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A masterful exposition of why the "current wisdom" regarding human evolution and behavioural modernity is woefully wrong.
Luna Luna
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
kinda sloopy and badly written but interesting
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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.” 1 likes
“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
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