MisMatch - Why our world no longer fits our bodies

MisMatch - Why our world no longer fits our bodies

Peter Gluckman and Mark Hanson 

Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press | 2006 | 304pp | ?16.99(HB) | ISBN 01902806831 

Reviewed by Laura Howes

This compelling book looks at how humans as a species have evolved complex strategies to make sure they are best suited for the environment into which they are born and how, by changing our world so much, these adaptations no longer work to our advantage.  

The scene is set by telling the story of how, as a young scientist, one of the authors travelled with a group to study the Sherpa in the Himalayas, living at the edge of what the authors call the human ’comfort zone’ and how the Sherpa had to make a trade-off in terms of health to survive, as we all do. The book is then split into two sections: ’match’ and ’mismatch’. 

’Match’ looks at the various ways in which animals, including humans, make sure they are born with the best set of tools at their disposal to survive and reproduce. The authors take great pains to explain specialist terms in a language that anyone with a passing interest in science should be able to understand, and give a very clear description of the new topic of epigenetics. In explaining so many of nature’s clever tricks, ’match’ is full of those ’wow’ moments that make you realise just how fascinating the natural world can be. 

The book then moves on to ’mismatch’, which, perhaps disappointingly, is the shorter of the two sections. Having looked at the advantages conferred through various methods, the focus shifts towards how these traits and adaptations are no longer suited to the world we have made for ourselves. This is no simplistic argument that we simply need to do more exercise and eat less, although these are certainly contributing factors towards the rise in obesity and diabetes. For example, the discussion also highlights how changes in our health and society can lead to a mismatch between the psychosexual development in young people and the lowering age of puberty, and the personal and social cost of our increased longevity. 

Just as this book does not stick to simplistic arguments about the modern mismatch in our world, neither do the authors offer simple solutions. Ultimately Gluckman and Hanson leave us to take the next step with the information they have provided, but along the way they add just enough sugar to help the medicine go down.