Book Review: Go Wild
Free Your Body and Mind From the Afflictions of Civilization
By John J. Ratey, MD, and Richard Manning
Little, Brown and Company
We’ve seen a great a rise in diabetes, asthma, obesity, and other “diseases of civilization” during the past century. In Go Wild, John J. Ratey, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, and Richard Manning, a journalist, trace the roots of such problems much further back, to the dawn of agriculture. Before that, they argue, evolution brought hunter-gatherers into fine, healthy attunement with their natural environs; afterward, Homo sapiens became more sedentary, and we began to eat things (especially starches and sugars) that wreaked havoc on our bodies. “We are designed to be wild,” they proclaim, “and by living tamely we make ourselves sick and unhappy.”
One food we ate that was good for us was salmon, because as the fish traveled far through seas and rivers, they developed bodies dense with valuable nutrients. Similarly, these authors range wide in their thinking, and though their volume is slim, it’s lucid, forceful, and packed with fascinating, thought-provoking ideas and people. We meet neuroscientists and !Kung tribespeople, sleep researchers and students at a school with an unusual approach to treating autism—not to mention a modern biologist who tried (and nearly managed) to run down an antelope in order to test the methods of ancient hunters.
The authors offer specific exercise and diet prescriptions—trail running stimulates your brain and body much more effectively than treadmills; don’t eat sugar, bread, or pasta—but they warn against single-minded fixes. Instead, they promote longer sleep, greater exposure to nature, more varied movement, and a holistic bundle of other “instructions for re-wilding your life.”