Author: Alice Roberts
Publication: June 7th 2018 by Windmill Books
Genre: Nonfiction, History, Science
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For hundreds of thousands of years, our ancestors depended on wild plants and animals for survival. They were hunter-gatherers, consummate foraging experts, taking the world as they found it. Then a revolution occurred – our ancestors’ interaction with other species changed. They began to tame them. The human population boomed; civilisation began.
In Tamed, Alice Roberts uncovers the deep history of ten familiar species with incredible wild pasts: dogs, apples and wheat; cattle, potatoes and chickens; rice, maize and horses – and, finally, humans.
She reveals how becoming part of our world changed these animals and plants, and shows how they became our allies, essential to the survival and success of our own species.
Enlightening, wide-ranging and endlessly fascinating, Tamed encompasses thousands of years of history and archaeology alongside cutting-edge genetics and anthropology. Yet it is also a deeply personal journey that changes how we see ourselves and the species on which we have left our mark.
This book was both a surprising but also not so surprising read. Let me explain… It was surprising because it was such a good and really fascinating book to read and not surprising because the previous book I read from Alice Roberts (The Celts) was also a 5 star read so I’m not sure why it should be even a little bit surprising to me that I loved this one too. It definitely puts up the pressure for any future Alice Roberts books I will read.
Tamed is about ten species that changed our world (as the full title says) and is written in ten chapters. Which makes sense. The chapters are about dogs, wheat, cattle, maize, potatoes, chickens, rice, horses, apples and humans. I will do it a little differently in this review and write down my short thoughts on each chapter.
As a dog owner and someone who is obsessed with dogs it wasn’t a surprise that I adored this first chapter. It went into how our dogs are descendant from wolves but of course Alice Roberts puts it in a more eloquent way. I was really surprised to learn that the domestication of wolves went as far back as 32.000 years. I was really wowed by that. It was a really great first chapter and opening to the book + dogs! I just love dogs!
I’ve gotta admit when I reached this second chapter I was a bit skeptical because I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy reading about what is basically a grass. But once again I was really surprised because the author’s passion was really shining through and it was a really interesting chapter actually. I really enjoyed learning more about wheat and how we as humans cultivated it in the first place.
In this chapter we’re back to animals and just like the other two chapters this was a really interesting one as well. A big part was focused on the Aurochs (a large species of cattle that are extinct now) and I thought these animals were very intriguing to read about. Actually they might make a comeback at some point in our future as scientists are working on that, apparantly. Not sure how I feel about that but nevertheless is was interesting to learn.
Color me surprised when a chapter about maize of all things ended up as my favorite from the entire book. I did not see this coming at all. I’ve never thought much about maize in general but I just loved reading about the early days of when the Americas were rediscovered (I say rediscovered because obviously the vikings had reached it all first). The chapter went also into the Aztecs and how they venerated maize which also really fascinated me. I just couldn’t get enough of this chapter and wanted it to go on forever.
This was another really great chapter (all of them were great though). Potaties have played such an important part in our history even though they came to Europe not so early and there were quite some misgivings about them, which surprise me to learn. Needless to say the author also talked about the Irish Potatoe famine and how there’s still less people living in Ireland currently than before the famine. I did not know this so that was also pretty surprising to know about.
Yet another surprising chapter that kinda wowed me. Chickens and with that I mean the chickens we now know and eat were pretty late introduced to us and all because of a contest in the 1940’s. I really had no idea. A big part of the chapter was about DNA and genetic modification. If I had known about this before that a big part was about that I probably would’ve been a little reluctant to read it but once again I ended up actually being really fascinated by it all. Like damn, I wanna learn more about it actually.
This was yet again a chapter about something that we eat but also an interesting seed of grass species to learn about. This chapter went deep into the prehistoric past of Asia which I, of course, loved. Alice Roberts also talked a lot about pottery and pottery where rice may have been stored in. This chapter could also be called: things just keeps getting older and older and older (which I love so much). And I will leave it at that.
I knew beforehand that I would really enjoy this chapter because I love horses. It’s funny because lately I’ve been watching some documentary style youtube videos that go into horse domestication in our past. That stuff is just so fascinating to learn about. So of course this was a very interesting chapter for me. Like how did we go from hunting horses for meat to riding them. I would absolutely love to read a whole book about that, seriously!
One topic I had not seen coming in this was this one. I had never thought about apples to be life changing for us humans. I like to eat apples but that was it. But obviously this was a chapter that was really interesting. Especially learning about the wild species of apples versus the apple orchards. Very fascinating stuff!
Alice Roberts is an anthropologist so of course she had to dedicate a chapter to humans. It was a great final chapter. I was even a little sad that it was the final chapter because I didn’t have anymore to look forward to. But even so I really enjoyed reading more about early humans like neanderthals for example. I’ve always been fascinated in our very early past so it was another excellent chapter that I loved reading.
Overall, Tamed: Ten Species That Changed Our World was a really fascinating read. Even though I didn’t think I would enjoy reading some chapters Alice Roberts changed my mind and kept me hooked until the very end. I can’t ask for more from a book. Compelling doesn’t even begin to cover it!
About the author:
Alice Roberts originally studied medicine and anatomy at Cardiff University, and worked as a junior doctor in South Wales before becoming a lecturer in anatomy at Bristol University, where she worked for eleven years. She taught anatomy at undergraduate and postgraduate level, and undertook research in osteoarchaeology, completing a PhD in palaeopathology. She developed a strong interest in public engagement, becoming a television presenter, writing popular science books, and giving public talks. Alice has been Professor of Public Engagement with Science at the University of Birmingham since 2012, and chairs the university’s Public Engagement with Science Committee.