Book review: Human Errors by Nathan H Lents

human errorsEvolution does not mean we are continually moving towards perfection. Mutations happen by chance, and they may or may not be good for us. If they don’t kill us and if they don’t stop us reproducing, they stick around.

Human Errors details some of these ‘errors’ and includes some fascinating examples. Our dodgy knees are a hangover from our primate days, and were never meant to support us standing up. Our retinas are the wrong way round and we’d be much better off if we had the eyes of an octopus.

There are  chapters which focus on the more serious consequences of these errors – such as hereditary diseases and autoimmune conditions which lead the body to attack itself.

I was fascinated by the chapter on reproduction and loved the image of menopausal orca whales leading hunting packs of young males, but when I thought about it later, I wasn’t clear whether the author thinks the menopause in humans is an error at all.

There’s also an epilogue which is more speculative. Lents’ argument seems to be that the inventiveness of humans allows us to outpace our errors, or even turn them into strengths. However these strengths can also be weaknesses. He argues that selfishness and short-term thinking may well lead humanity to destroy itself and the planet. This seems to be more about philosophy than science.

Overall though, this is an informative and entertaining read for a non-scientist like me and the quirky examples make the underlying facts more memorable.

I received a copy of Human Errors from the publisher via Netgalley.
View Human Errors on Goodreads

Enjoyed this? You might like my review of Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker



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