How Did We Get To Be So Different Book by SS O'Connor displayed beside a river in winter on frosted grass

How Did We Get To Be So Different? Review

AD – This book was gifted for the purpose of a review

The second in SS O’Connor’s Secrets of Life Series, How Did We Get To Be So Different answers some big questions in an accessible way. Moving on from the basics of life forms covered in How Did Life End Up With Us? The book looks into how humans evolved to be the most powerful species on earth. In his inimitable style, SS O’Connor summarises the opinions of leading anthropologists, whilst adding in a few of his own.

About How Did We Get To Be So Different?

As an intelligent species, we all often question why humans live the way we do. Whether that is our attitude to nature and the environment that sustains us, our acceptance of societal structure or simply our own questionable decisions. Why do we put up with the way we are treated by certain elements of society? How do we end up with governments in power across the world that clearly are not interested in the welfare of their citizens?

SS O’Connor seeks to answer questions like this. Not by seeking to justify poor behaviour of humans, but by looking at the evolutionary developments that led us here. Walking upright, running long distances, agriculture, trade, language, warfare and the printing press for example. How did our brains manage to grow to a point where we were so much more powerful than other species and build on that?

Throughout this series, SS O’Connor addresses a range of points that most of us wouldn’t dream of learning about. Not because they don’t interest us, but because we don’t have the time to embark on a PhD. Mercifully, the author summarises them so concisely that we can have a good go at an intelligent conversation about them without devoting three years of our lives to learning about them. Other books in this series address different parts of our development as follows:

  • How Did Life End Up With Us?
  • How Did We Get To Be So Different?
  • Why Do We All Behave In The Way We Do?
  • So What Does It All Mean?
Pages from How Did We Get To Be So Different by SS O'Connor including  writing and an image of a deer
The development of cooperation

How Did We Get To Be So Different? Review

Having read the first in this series, I have become accustomed to SS O’Connor’s style of writing. Whilst he summarises complicated concepts, I wouldn’t go as far as to say they are dumbed down. He addresses topics by analysing them and giving examples that are easy to understand.

To sum up the development of cooperation, O’Connor tells a story of people from different areas. One group hunts animals for food, whilst the other is reliant on the sea. Despite an inbuilt fear of strangers, two of these people come together. They agree to swap a deer carcass for a shell necklace. Whilst this is clearly a fictitious story line, it is a great way to explain the development of such a critical aspect of our society.

O’Connor goes on to explain other concepts in a similar way. From the development of the “external brain” to how warfare ended up being beneficial to the invading party. As long as they managed to win! O’Connor also raises some theories that are clearly widely accepted but that I have never heard of. For example, the acceptance of the story of Adam and Eve as an explanation for the development of agriculture. As someone who is not religious, I’d always just ignored stories like this but when it is explained as a way of looking at our evolution, it seems far more sensible.

About the Author, SS O’Connor

SS O’Connor came at this series of books from the perspective of someone who aimed to summarise scientific concepts. Having heard a presenter sum up a complex theory on the radio, he realised that there was space for someone to condense many other notions in the same way. As a former advertising executive, serial entrepreneur, investor and corporate strategist, he has chaired and directed many public and private companies.

If you’ve ever heard a chair person summarise the whole of the last meeting in a few words, making you wonder why the meeting itself took three hours in the first place, you’ve got a handle on SS O’Connor’s skill level. SS O’Connor is an acclaimed novelist who has now turned his hand to non-fiction writing to the benefit of us all.

How Did We Get To Be So Different? By SS O’Connor is now available to buy via Amazon. (Affiliate Link)

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