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Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization
In this provocative, wide-ranging book, Richard Manning offers a dramatically revisionist view of recent human evolution, beginning with the vast increase in brain size that set us apart from our primate relatives and brought an accompanying increase in our need for nourishment. For 290,000 years, we managed to meet that need as hunter-gatherers, a state in which Manning believes we were at our most human: at our smartest, strongest, most sensually alive. But our reliance on food made a secure supply deeply attractive, and eventually we embarked upon the agricultural experiment that has been the history of our past 10,000 years.
The evolutionary road is littered with failed experiments, however, and Manning suggests that agriculture as we have practiced it runs against both our grain and nature's. Drawing on the work of anthropologists, biologists, archaeologists, and philosophers, along with his own travels, he argues that not only our ecological ills-overpopulation, erosion, pollution-but our social and emotional malaise are rooted in the devil's bargain we made in our not-so-distant past. And he offers personal, achievable ways we might re-contour the path we have taken to resurrect what is most sustainable and sustaining in our own nature and the planet's.
Deceptively easy-to-read book on a complex topic
By C. Naylor
- February 23, 2004
In many ways Manning has written a remarkable book. The basic thesis, very gently stated by the author, is that the advent of agriculture has caused the loss of what it means to be human by replacing our ancestral senses of the many flavors and varieties of nature with the dull security of industrial monoculture based overwhelmingly on just three crops. It has also heralded the breakdown of social egalitiarianism, led to vast numbers of malnourished poor worldwide, and is ultimately unsustainable on its current scale.In making his argument, Manning wanders through numerous disciplines: cultural anthropology, archaeology, evolutionary biology, climatology, cognitive science and ecology, even religion. He begins with an explanation of how agriculture developed and spread despite its apparent disadvantages to the hunter-gatherer lifestyle (worse nutrition, less leisure-time) and then develops these disadvantages more fully, surveying the prevalence of famine in agricultural... read more
Thoughtful assessment of the sorry state of agriculture.
By Paul Tognetti "The real world is so much more...
- September 28, 2004
Walk into to any supermarket and you probably feel very good about all of the choices you have. After all, the average supermarket carries over 25000 items these days. But if you are like most people, the vast majority of the items you will wind up purchasing are highly processed and contain precious little in the way of nutritional value. Did you know that nearly 2/3 of the calories the average American consumes come from just three crops--corn, wheat and potatoes?
Author Richard Manning sure got my attention with this fascinating book "Against The Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization". Manning argues that for the vast majority of history human beings were "hunter-gatherers". That is, people would migrate to where the food was and partake of a vast assortment of foods, everything from fruits and vegetables, to nuts and legumes and fresh meat. This all began to change about 10000 years ago with the advent of agriculture. Over the centuries people came to... read more
Questioning Common Wisdom*
By tom abeles
- June 28, 2004
I received this volume for review at the same time that Manning's article, Super Organics: Inside the New Science of Smart Breeding, appeared in the May 2004 issue of "Wired" magazine (1). In the article, Manning describes the ability of scientists to tag genetic elements which have been identified as yielding desirable traits. This innovation allows one to more effectively carry out conventional breeding on an accelerated time-table, giving more certainty as to outcome and none of the concerns of the possibility of the claim of creating "Franken Foods" which has plagued the genetic engineered crops. Given Manning's concerns regarding human footprints on the environment, one can almost hear a sigh of relief and feel the hope that this technology might foreshadow a kinder and gentler approach towards agricultural practices, globally, as well as herald the loosening of the economic grip which many believe the multinational agri-business firms hold on the world's food supply.Manning... read more
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