August 20, 2017

An ecological digest

Review of: Readings in Man, the Environment and Human Ecology by Arthur S. Boughey. Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York. Collier Macmillan, London 1973

The purpose of this massive reader (578 pages and 73 articles) is primarily to provide additional material for use with the textbook, Man and the Environment: An Introduction to Human Ecology and Evolution. Among the articles presented more than half have been taken from Science, Bioscience, New Scientist, Environment and Scientific American.

The book is divided into six parts: The first deals with the Ecosphere in general terms. This is a good section, with articles by such masters as Eugene Odum, La-Mont Cole and F. H. Bormann.

The second deals with Human Evolution. This section is a bit light on theoretical material. There is no article, for instance, on evolution itself, a process which has never been adequately defined. This is particularly important as it is only by understanding it that one realises the anti-evolutionary nature of the industrialisation process with all its implications. I would have liked an article by Stephen Boyden covering this question.

Part three is on the Origins of Society—this section is not very well covered. Most of the articles simply shouldn’t be there. For instance, what has Richard Lynn’s article, “Genetic Implications of the Brain Drain” or Athelstan Spilhaus’s “The Experimental City” got to do with the origins of society?

Part four is on Demography and Population Density. It contains a lot of interesting material. I was particularly impressed by George J. Armelagos and John R. Dewey, “Evolutionary Response to Human Infectious Diseases”. The theme is basically that most of the infectious diseases which have ravaged settled populations since Neolithic times, were probably absent among our hunter gatherer forebears who lived in nomadic groups which were too small to constitute a niche for viable populations of the vectors of these diseases.

The fifth part is on Pollution and Environment. Again it is weak on theoretical material. There is no article dealing with the basic principles of pollution for instance, nor is there an article on the social and political factors which are probably more important than the technical ones. Nevertheless, it is an interesting section with very varied articles dealing with such problems as weather modification, radiation, eutrophication, pesticides, antibiotics in livestock, noise, oil and thermal pollution.

Part six entitled, “Conservation and the Future”, deals more with the former than the latter. The only article which attempts to predict explicitly what the future holds in store for us, is called “By the end of the Twentieth Century” by David Sarnoff. It is a caricature of a technomaniac’s dream, which I assume was included as a best available description of what the future is least likely to hold in store for us.

To conclude, this book contains a mixed bag of articles chosen with average discrimination and organized with less.

Nevertheless, it makes interesting reading and does, in fact, contain a few important articles which may have failed to attract the attention of the professionals when originally published in the relevant journal. For the student who requires to get a feeling of the sort of problems mankind faces today, and a vague idea of why present solutions cannot work, it is indeed a very useful book.


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