In “The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease,” Daniel E. Lieberman—chair of the department of human evolutionary biology at Harvard University — explains how the human body evolved over millions of years and shows how the increasing disparity between the adaptations in our Stone Age bodies and advancements in the modern world has led to a paradox: we are living longer but are increasingly prone to chronic disease.
Lieberman tells the story of the major transformations that contributed key adaptations to the body: the rise of bipedalism; the shift to a non-fruit-based diet; the advent of hunting and gathering, leading to our superlative endurance athleticism; the development of a very large brain; and the incipience of cultural proficiencies. Lieberman also differentiates cultural evolution from biological evolution, and explains how our bodies were further transformed during the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions. He argues that while these ongoing changes have brought about many benefits, they have also created conditions to which our bodies are not entirely adapted, resulting in the growing incidence of obesity and new but avoidable diseases, such as type 2 diabetes. Lieberman proposes that many of these chronic illnesses persist and in some cases are intensifying because of “dysevolution” where only the symptoms rather than the causes of these maladies are treated. He advocates for the use of evolutionary information to help nudge, push, and sometimes even compel us to create a healthier environment. Daniel Lieberman is professor of human evolutionary biology and the Edwin M. Lerner II Professor of Biological Sciences at Harvard. He has written more than one hundred articles, many appearing in the journals Nature and Science. Lieberman is especially well known for his research on the evolution of the human head and the evolution of running, including barefoot running (earning him the nickname the Barefoot Professor). His research and discoveries have been highlighted widely in newspapers, magazines, books, news programs, and documentaries. Daniel Lieberman recently visited Utah as a part of the Utah Humanities Book Festival. His visit was presented by The King's English Bookshop, the Utah Humanities Council, and the Natural History Museum of Utah