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This new book by Spencer Wells, the internationally known geneticist, anthropologist, author, and director of the Genographic Project, focuses on the seminal event in human history: mankind’s decision to become farmers rather than hunter-gatherers.

What do terrorism, pandemic disease, and global warming have in common? To find the answer we need to go back ten millennia, to the wheat fields of the Fertile Crescent and the rice paddies of southern China. It was at that point that our species made a radical shift in its way of life. We had spent millions of years of evolution eking out a living as hunter-gatherers. When we learned how to control our food supply, though, we became as gods—we controlled the world rather than it controlling us. But with godliness comes responsibility. By sowing seeds thousands of years ago, we were also sowing a new culture—one that has come with many unforeseen costs.

Taking us on a ten-thousand-year tour of human history and a globe-trotting fact-finding mission, Pandora’s Seed charts the rise to power of “Homo agriculturis” and the effect this radical shift in lifestyle has had on us.

Focusing on three key trends as the final stages of the agricultural population explosion play out over this century, Wells speculates on the significance of our newfound ability to modify our genomes to better suit our unnatural culture, fast-forwarding our biological adaptation to the world we have created. But what do we stand to lose in the process? Climate change, a direct result of billions of people living in a culture of excess accumulation, threatens the global social and ecological fabric. It will force a key shift in our behavior as we learn to take the welfare of future generations into account. Finally, the rise of religious fundamentalism over the past half-century is explained as part of a backlash against many of the trends set in motion by the agricultural population explosion and its inherent inequality. Ultimately, the world’s present state of crisis will force us to evolve culturally, but can we self-correct our culture to solve these problems that we ourselves, in our race to succeed, have caused?

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Spencer Wells—explorer, geneticist, geographer, and author—takes us on an exciting tour of the last ten thousand years of our history in order to forewarn us of what we shall have to deal with in the next fifty years.”

    Jared Diamond, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel

  • “Fascinating—this book has some very new ways of looking at very old issues.”

    Bill McKibben, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Wells gives readers an engaging rundown of the science that reconstructs the prehistoric past.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Wells will appeal to a variety of science readers, including those interested in genetic anthropology, health, and the future course of human evolution.”


  • “Spencer Wells’ writing combines a deep knowledge of the history of human evolution with a most engaging and lively manner of making that story come alive.Pandora’s Seed draws upon compelling anecdotes and moving personal narratives to crystallize a crucial turning point in the history of our species, the point at which modern human beings stop and look back at our long evolutionary trajectory, and confront squarely its dark side, its cost. With this knowledge, Wells deeply believes, we can take the necessary steps to chart a common, humane future over the crucial next half century. Pandora’s Seed reflects Wells’ deep learning, and his deep love of our all too human community.”

    Henry Louis Gates Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University, and author of Tradition and the Black Atlantic

  • “Spencer Wells has a provocative and timely message. He argues that we are at a critical juncture where our culture could destroy the very essence of what it means to be human. His closely argued and thoughtful essay gives us hope and a blueprint for the future that relies in part on lessons from peoples who still retain links with the distant past. Everyone with a stake in humanity’s future should read this book.”

    Brian Fagan, author of The Great Warming and Cro-Magnon

  • A Library Journal Best Book in Sci-Tech
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About the Author

Spencer Wells is an explorer-in-residence at the National Geographic Society and the director of the Genographic Project. After studying under genetic pioneer Luigi Cavalli-Sforza at Stanford University, Wells began an unusual career that mixes science, writing, and filmmaking. His acclaimed first book, The Journey of Man, combined his own DNA research with the work of archaeologists, paleoanthropologists, paleoclimatologists, and linguists to show how modern humans came to populate the planet. He is also the author of Deep Ancestry.