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Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of…
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Pandora's Seed: The Unforeseen Cost of Civilization (2010)

by Spencer Wells

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After reading Wells’ The Journey of Man and loving it, I couldn’t wait to dig into Pandora’s Seed, which promised to illuminate how “advanced” the hunter-gatherer societies were and what modern man can learn from these times for sustainability. Where there were a plethora of interesting ideas and facts, I must admit the book never grabbed me for a couple of reasons.

As I said, there are fascinating ideas and much to learn from this book for sure. Who wouldn’t be interested in discovering how the world’s population explosion today has its root in the ending of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and the dawn of agricultural society? Whose ears (or eyes in this case) wouldn’t perk up at the contention that modern society is a breeding ground for illness and disease that was totally foreign to the Paleolithic era. I know I was grabbed by Wells’ claim that our modern style of living fosters conflict and war unheard of in hunter-gatherer societies. These were just a few of the gems in this book, but getting to those gems is where the problem lay for me.

One issue I had with Pandora’s Seed was the feeling of reading for long stretches not quite sure why I was reading about whatever the current topic was or what point the author was trying to make. In all fairness, the point always became clear eventually, but throughout the book, I had a constant nagging feeling of being just the tiniest bit lost.

This disoriented feeling seemed to be compounded by another feature of the book. Throughout, Wells raises another topic and tells us that to learn more about the topic, he (and the reader) must go here – here being either another time, another place, or both. The ‘tale’ jumps around so frequently, the reader could be excused for claiming jet lag. He skips between centuries and parts of the world, saying in order to understand one idea, we have to go…halfway around the world or back 70,000 years. I was dizzy sometimes wondering where I was or when it was, but more importantly, why I was there. The text seemed disjointed, perhaps, too ambitious, and I ended up confused a lot of the time as to the author’s point. Eventually, he would make it, but by that time, I didn’t care.

In addition, I think I was expecting some grand ideas on how to deal with the fix modern humans have gotten themselves into, and there also, I was a felt a letdown from a lack of concrete solutions. I mean, let’s face it – if put to a vote, who would opt for returning to hunting for game and scavenging for berries after they’ve seen Whole Foods and Safeway? Certainly, we can want less, which is Wells’ ultimate advice, but I already knew this without reading this book.

So, in the end, while the book has some interesting ideas, its conclusions and solutions are hardly groundbreaking ( )
  LitLoversLane | Feb 28, 2014 |
Spencer Wells provides a discussion of the differences between our hunter gatherer past and our more recent farming based lifestyle. He covers a plethora of implications and follows the changes in disease development, social patterns, and environmental impacts. He also comments on the future of mankind in a world with increasing population and dwindling resources. He also comments on the recent developments in global warming. I liked the book since Spencer appears educated on a variety of topics from DNA biology, abnormal psychology, anthropology, and paleontology. Spencer also is aware of others writings on similar topics such as Diamond's book on guns, germs, and steel. ( )
  GlennBell | Jul 8, 2011 |
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Epigraph
The gods presented her with a box into which each had put something harmful, and forbade her ever to open it. Then they sent her to Epimetheus, who took her gladly although Prometheus had warned him never to accept anything from Zeus. He took her, and afterward, when that dangerous thing, a woman, was his, he understood how good his brother's advice had been. For Pandora, like all women, was possessed of a lively curiosity. She had to know what was in the box. One day she lifted the lid and out flew plagues innumerable, sorrow and mischief for mankind. In terror Pandora clapped the lid down, but too late. One good thing, however, was there -- Hope. It was the only good the casket had held among the many evils, and it remains to this day mankind's sole comfort in misfortune.

(AS RETOLD BY EDITH HAMILTON)
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To Pam, for peace, love, and understanding
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As I write this, I am 36,000 feet above the Arabian Sea, sipping a glass of wine and typing on my laptop.
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Most countries, however, concerned about the dangers of another Chernobyl-like disaster, as well as the political difficulties of waste disposal (who wants to live near a nuclear waste storage facility?), have not been as pro-nuclear, and overall only around 15 percent of the world's electricity comes from nuclear power. 
This looks set to change over the next century, as nuclear waste disposal methods become increasingly sophisticated and power plants become safer and more efficient.
-- p. 176
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More food but also disease, craziness, and anomie resulted from the agricultural revolution, according to this diffuse meditation on progress and its discontents. Wells (The Journey of Man), a geneticist, anthropologist, and National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence, voices misgivings about the breakthrough to farming 10,000 years ago, spurred by climate change. The food supply was more stable, but caused populations to explode; epidemics flourished because of overcrowding and proximity to farm animals; despotic governments emerged to organize agricultural production; and warfare erupted over farming settlements. Then came urbanism and modernity, which clashed even more intensely with our nomadic hunter-gatherer nature. Nowadays, Wells contends, we are both stultified and overstimulated, cut off from the land and alienated from one other, resulting in mental illness and violent fundamentalism. Wells gives readers an engaging rundown of the science that reconstructs the prehistoric past, but he loses focus in trying to connect that past to every contemporary issue from obesity to global warming, and his solution is unconvincingly simple: Want less. B&w photos.
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The author of The Journey of Man examines our cultural inheritance in order to find the turning point that led us to the path we are on today, one he believes we must veer from in order to survive.

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