4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
What did civilization do to our health?, Dec 31, 2022
The central message of this book is easy to convey: With the rise of civilization, health deteriorated. Of course this doesn't hold true for all of civilization all the time. But even to date the health of the less privileged in many Third World countries, and may be even that of the less privileged in our own big cities, is not better than that of hunter-gatherers from Paleolithic times. Contrary to current ideas held by many, the rise of agriculture, which allowed the birth of civilizations of ever increasing complexity, meant a step backward as far as health and nutrition is concerned.
The main part of the book is rather short, some 140 pages. Written as an extended essay, this part reviews the evolution of human society, the history of disease as related to this evolution, and the impact this evolution had on nutrition. Two chapters, one on present day hunter-gatherer societies, the other on palaeopathology, then evaluate evidence for the views presented in the earlier chapters. Cohen is clear to point out the weaknesses of the various forms of evidence, but taken together the evidence substantially supports his case.
The next 80 pages are notes, while another 25 pages contain references, all in small print. These notes contain a wealth of detailed information; sometimes they are more like a small review on a particular topic than a simple note. This level of detail would certainly detract from the line of argument if it were included in the main part of the text. So I found this choice for presenting the material a happy one.
The main text is particularly well organized and well written too. Despite the fact that the information content is dense, the text is surprisingly readable. All in all, the author has done a particularly good job. For anyone interested in the history of health, this is a must read!