Book review: Dunn's "The Wild Life of Our Bodies"

For the past few years, I have been increasingly aware of the unusual aspects of modern society with regard to technological and cultural development. Compared to thousands of years ago, these developments have led to vast changes in the food we eat and how we spend our time. More of our lives are indoors, away from nature. The more I think about it, the more alarmed I get.

When sentiments like this were echoed in the introduction of the book The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn, I jumped into reading until the end!

Dunn's book is a look at some aspects of our species evolution through interactions with parasites, predators, and diet. More specifically, through the lens of evolution, he examines some of our current problems and what we lack compared to our past that may actually be causing problems for us. The opening part is about parasites such as intestinal worms. He argues that certain intestinal worms may actually have been beneficial and that the chances of getting digestive problems such as inflammatory bowel disease may actually be exacerbated in those that do not have the intestinal whipworms.

The author takes us through other topics such as obesity and anxiety, and how traits that led to these were once adaptive, and colour vision, which is still useful to us (but not to the snakes which possibly led to colour vision). This idiosyncratic tour through our evolution makes the point that to understand ourselves and our modern problems, we should look in the past and discover what we have changed. The book finishes by examining our move away from living where we farm our food, and the growing needs of our increasing population.

Although each of the topics examined by Dunn could be a topic of a book by themselves, Dunn manages to continually entertain the reader through clear scientific exposition combined with the witty writing of a seasoned biologist. The book is consistently enjoyable and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in science or the natural history of humanity.

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