Book Review: Uncivilised Genes by Gustav Milne

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"Uncivilised Genes" is one of the first truly academic books that we have found on the subject of the urban paradox - our genetic mismatch with modern life. While the likes of Mark Sisson of the primal / paleo movement have done fine work in raising awareness amongst the general public, a lot of the rationale behind it is left up to secondary sources or stated in fairly generic terms.

The basic premise that we did not evolve for city life makes complete sense for existing sympathizers who have already made up their own minds but breaking the argument down piece by piece into a bulletproof argument is the work of an academic, be it anthropologist or archaeologist.

Gustav Milne is an example of the latter, currently teaching at University College London (UCL). What sets him apart is that he previously spent 20 years at the Museum of London, giving him a unique perspective on evolutionary history within the context of an urban metropolis.

His basic premise is that "wellbeing and good health are dependent on us following evolutionary concordant behaviors". This appears to be a similar starting point to the ancestral health community in California, however Milne adopts more of a macro view that helps set him apart.

When he states that "our uncivilised past is many, many millenia longer than the history of our civilisations", we have the sense of a writer who has spent decades of his own life mulling over this complex theme, attempting to coax it into a series of rules for 21st century living. This book is the fruit of that labour.

Pages 111-112 of the first edition contain a contribution by biofit on evolutionary concordant fitness; Milne himself however is strongest when flipping between deep, evolutionary history and contemporary urban planning themes such as building active design into cities of the future to encourage more walking and cycling. 

Other topics include the importance of building social (semi-tribal) networks for mental wellbeing, the role of music and dance in conveying information, and biophilia (man's innate connection to nature) in urban greenspace. 

A selection of Milne's more punchy Urban Design Protocols looks like this:

  • Put human locomotion at the heart of transport policy and street design
  • Promote and develop participatory urban greenspace, e.g. city farms
  • Promote the development of roof gardens
  • Encourage street-based neighborhoods rather than enclosed estates

Overall this is an sparkling, challenging and highly engaging  book that will suit the newcomer to the subject just as well as the seasoned ancestral health aficionado. Highly recommended reading.

"Uncivilised Genes" by Gustav Milne is available now.