Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond

The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human AnimalThe Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal by Jared Diamond
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was both very interesting and entertaining. It precedes Diamond's book Guns, Germs, and Steel. It ties in pretty well with some other books I've recently read including The Sixth Extinction and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and even Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History.

It's a little out-of-date. For example, our ancestor Cro-Magnons and Neanderthals co-existed approximately 100,000 years ago. New research shows that many modern humans contain a little Neanderthal DNA showing that there was interbreeding, whereas Diamond was pretty sure that there was basically no interbreeding.

The title of this book comes from the fact that chimpanzees and pygmy chimpanzees are more closely related to humans than to gorillas. Thus, especially from the perspective of chimps, humans are a third chimp.

Fun topics include the emergence of language in humans, male penis and testes size, sexual selection, adultery, racial variation due to sexual selection not natural selection, aging, menopause as an adaptive solution to childbirth, the arts, agriculture and animal domestication, drug use, the question of intelligent alien life, genocide, and extinction. Whoo. It didn't always feel like it was well-organized or related but it was all very interesting.

Personally, I don't think the menopause explanation makes a lot of sense. It seems like if you weren't well-suited to give birth to your partner's baby, a first or second birth would kill you. At the rate of a baby every 4 years from ages 16-40, you'd be up to 6 births before menopause. Instead, menopause seems to make grandmothers more available to tend to their grandchildren instead of having more babies of their own (think prehistoric Michelle Duggars).

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