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Body by Darwin

How Evolution Shapes Our Health and Transforms Medicine

We think of medical science and doctors as focused on treating conditions—whether it’s a cough or an aching back. But the sicknesses and complaints that cause us to seek medical attention actually have deeper origins than the superficial germs and behaviors we regularly fault. In fact, as Jeremy Taylor shows in Body by Darwin, we can trace the roots of many medical conditions through our evolutionary history, revealing what has made us susceptible to certain illnesses and ailments over time and how we can use that knowledge to help us treat or prevent problems in the future.
In Body by Darwin, Taylor examines the evolutionary origins of some of our most common and serious health issues. To begin, he looks at the hygiene hypothesis, which argues that our obsession with anti-bacterial cleanliness, particularly at a young age, may be making us more vulnerable to autoimmune and allergic diseases. He also discusses diseases of the eye, the medical consequences of bipedalism as they relate to all those aches and pains in our backs and knees, the rise of Alzheimer’s disease, and how cancers become so malignant that they kill us despite the toxic chemotherapy we throw at them. Taylor explains why it helps to think about heart disease in relation to the demands of an ever-growing, dense, muscular pump that requires increasing amounts of nutrients, and he discusses how walking upright and giving birth to ever larger babies led to a problematic compromise in the design of the female spine and pelvis.  Throughout, he not only explores the impact of evolution on human form and function, but he integrates science with stories from actual patients and doctors, closely examining the implications for our health.
As Taylor shows, evolutionary medicine allows us think about the human body and its adaptations in a completely new and productive way. By exploring how our body’s performance is shaped by its past, Body by Darwin draws powerful connections between our ancient human history and the future of potential medical advances that can harness this knowledge.

304 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2015

Biological Sciences: Anatomy, Evolutionary Biology, Microbiology



“Taylor, a science writer and former BBC producer and director, celebrates the work of Charles Darwin and his successors in this densely packed survey of modern ailments with an evolutionary twist. . . . Taylor covers fascinating territory, and readers willing to wade into its technical aspects will find much to ponder.”

Publishers Weekly

“Drawing on complicated science, interviews, and current research, Taylor describes the body as an evolutionary collection of compromises, leaving the human species susceptible to degeneration and illness. . . . One anthropologist describes evolution as 'a tinker not an engineer.’ Understanding how this tinkerer has molded the body provides greater insight into the ways our health works and fails.” 


“Taylor has accomplished the difficult feat of appealing to the general reader in a book aimed also at medical professionals. Doctors really do need to imbibe Darwinism, not just as the explanation for all life but as a message of direct importance to medicine itself.”

Richard Dawkins, author of The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution

Body by Darwin packages cutting edge science into seven vivid true stories dramatically describing patients and their doctors discovering evolutionary explanations for diseases. More than just the perfect book club book, it advances the field of evolutionary medicine. I will use it in my classes and give copies to my friends.”

Randolph M. Nesse, coauthor of Why We Get Sick: The New Science of Darwinian Medicine

"This is a fantastic book that I found hard to put down. Taylor has tackled some of the primary health concerns for many of us in industrialized nations, including allergies, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and back and knee problems that result from a lifetime of walking on two legs. Each chapter begins with a story of someone who is afflicted with one of these health challenges, drawing attention to real lives in ways that are compelling, and the thoroughness with which each topic is developed sets this book apart from most others that I have read on evolutionary medicine.” 

Wenda Trevathan, author of Ancient Bodies, Modern Lives: How Evolution Has Shaped Women’s Health

“Taylor is often eager to demonstrate that the human body is for the most part a remarkably well-adapted structure. . . . Taylor does a fine job of raising provocative questions and pointing the reader toward the ways in which evolutionary biology has been enhancing medical science.”

Wall Street Journal

“Body by Darwin attempts to trace the evolutionary history of many common medical issues, including heart disease, miscarriage, dementia, cancer, and back pain, with an eye toward what evolution can tell people about the possible origins of these problems and, ultimately, strategies for treatment.  . . . Taylor succeeds in drawing provocative connections between health and evolution that add an important perspective to how people should think about the theory and practice of modern medicine. Recommended.”


Table of Contents

How the Hygiene Hypothesis Explains Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases
How Evolutionary Theory Explains Infertility and Diseases of Pregnancy
The Relationship between Bipedalism and Orthopedic Illnesses
How Developmental Biology Cures Blindness and Rebuts Creationism
Why Cancer Is Almost Impossible to Cure
Why the Evolution of Coronary Arteries Makes Us Prone to Heart Attacks
How Evolution Is Breathing New Life into Moribund
Dementia Research
Suggestions for Further Reading


Royal Society of Biology: Royal Society General Biology Book Prize

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