Currier - Book Reviews

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Unbound: How Eight Technologies Made Us Human, Transformed Society, and Brought Us to the Brink
Richard L Currier
Arcade Publishing
Nonfiction, History/Science
***+

DESCRIPTION: Many millions of years ago, our ancestors were indistinguishable from other primates... but something changed us from tree-dwelling creatures to tool-using, upright-walking beings. That "something" was closely tied with our ability to adapt and use new tools to feed ourselves, expand our range, and improve our own existence, eventually transforming us from victims of our environs to controllers - and, all too often, destroyers. The author examines eight pivotal developments, from "digging sticks" and simple spears through spoken language and precision engineering, that irrevocably altered the course of our species... and what those innovations suggest about our future.

REVIEW: Given the backward slide our world seems to be entering, with growing nationalism and denial of science and ever-increasing indications of another global conflict on the horizon, this probably wasn't the best choice of reading material. Still, it's an interesting look at how we humans became what we are, for better or worse. Our abilites to adopt new technologies (the term not limited simply to tools and machines - Currier includes spoken language as a "technology") has brought us far in a remarkably short time. That speed forms part of the problem - our "traditional" definitions of societal roles, genders, power distribution, and so forth stem from earlier eras, and don't necessarily work or make sense in an increasingly urban, increasingly connected, and undeniably overpopulated world. As for the future, Currier seems fairly optimistic that we ingenius ape-kin will inevitably shift and adapt to preserve ourselves and our only natural habitat, the Earth - indeed, he sees several signs that this shift is not only possible, but ultimately inevitable, if still rough and rocky (as transitions tend to be.) I wish I could share that optimism, though I think he underestimates the drag factor at work against change; for instance, he saw Rome as a good example of a large, blended society, conveniently ignoring the many cultures and innovations Rome destroyed to maintain its own status quo. I also was a little miffed that the book itself ends a little after two-thirds of the way through, the rest being footnotes and acknowledgements. Overall, though, it provides a decent, even hopeful examination of our species's long history of technological innovation and major leaps forward. (Whether we're capable of clearing the hurdles so swiftly approaching is another matter entirely...)

You might also enjoy:
Predictably Irrational (Dan Ariely, Nonfiction - The well-known but overlooked tendency of human behavior towards irrationality)
Extreme Science (Phil Clarke, YA? Nonfiction - A look at scientists who have pushed the boundaries of knowledge and ethics)
Eurekaaargh! (Adam Hart-Davis, Nonfiction - A collection of obscure inventions, scientific failures, and leaps made ahead of their time)
Before Adam (Jack London, Fiction - In his dreams, a man relives a protohuman ancestor's life in the Mid-Pliocene era)
Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation (Bill Nye, Nonfiction - The popular scientist explains what evolution is, and why it's important)
Your Inner Fish (Neil Shubin, Nonfiction - The story of evolution as revealed by the fossil record and our own bodies)
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (the Book): A Visitor's Guide to the Human Race (Jon Stewart et al., editors, Nonfiction - A handy guide for aliens visiting post-human Earth)
Last Ape Standing (Chip Walter, Nonfiction - A look at the evolution of homonins, and the physical and mental innovations that led to modern humans)

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