WHY DON’T OUR BODIES WORK RIGHT? EVOLUTION GONE WRONG

Let’s get the first, most obvious question out of the way: No, Evolution Gone Wrong is NOT one of those books attempting to explain how evolution is only a theory (like gravity?) and how the proof is that people’s bodies don’t work right.  Quite the contrary: Alex Bezzurides’ book, Evolution Gone Wrong has the subtitle The Curious Reasons Why Our Bodies Work (or Don’t).

The book answers questions about why our bodies seem so easily broken and messed up by talking about our distant ancestors and how evolution has worked on the original forms we started out with.

Bezzurides is a professor of anatomy and physiology, and all I can say is that if I had the opportunity to take his course, I absolutely would, because he has a brilliant ability to take complicated subjects and make them not only understandable but funny as well. He asks the questions you probably wanted to ask at some point in your own life (probably in a state of frustration), and then he tries to answer them.

For instance, why don’t our teeth fit in our heads without braces and removal of wisdom teeth? Why do so many people have troubles with vision?  Why are human babies so prone to choking?  What’s the story with our knees: why do so many of us have problems with blown out knees or ACL repairs or knee replacements?  And our backs: what other animal can throw out its back by sneezing, let alone by any kind of strains?  And let’s not get started on menstruation and the difficulties of childbirth, though there probably isn’t a woman of reproductive age (or past reproductive age) who hasn’t, at some point, wondered why on earth we have to have menstrual periods when other mammals (for the most part) don’t.

It turns out that human beings haven’t been human all that long, evolutionarily speaking.  The author provides us with a brilliant analogy right at the beginning of the book: imagine a man who’s spent the last 20 years designing the perfect boat.  Then, after 20 years, the management of his company changes and tells him they want him to design a car, not a boat, BUT he has to only use the materials from the boat to make this car.  He will, eventually, make a car that works, but it will not be as good as a car designed from scratch to be a car.

In the same way, the things that make us human are, for the most part, the things that lead to our various aches and pains.  It’s our ability to speak, for instance, that makes us prone to choking, especially when we’re young.  Our bipedal gait is the source of our knee problems: hominids haven’t been walking upright long enough for our knees to get all the bugs out (so to speak).  The same goes for our backs.  As my 9th grade gym teacher, Mrs. Irma Berg, used to say, “knees and backs never adjusted to walking upright,” and this author backs her up on this.

He gives vivid examples of how things go wrong, and what materials our ancestors had for us to build from. Clearly homo sapiens is a transitional form, and we can hope that someday our distant descendants (if the species survives that long) will look back on our physical issues with a sigh for our primitive state. 

In the meantime, while knowing why you threw your back out by sneezing or why you need yet another stronger prescription for glasses will not make your life easier, this book will at least give you some understanding, and even some entertainment along the way.  It’s the best kind of science writing: you’ll learn a lot and have a good time doing it.

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