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What Makes Us Human?

In this episode, Eve and Julie explore one of our favorite questions with James Suzman, PhD, in a wide-ranging conversation about his book Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots. They talk about which aspects of work are specific to our species and how so much of what we believe to be intrinsic to work is actually just a product of our culture. James also discusses how the way we evolved to find purpose and meaning in work is what distinguishes us from bacteria; why modern people work far more hours a week than we need to; and how we may be in a “plastic moment” where radical changes in the way we work may be possible.

A noted anthropologist specializing in the Khoisan peoples of Southern Africa, James Suzman spent thirty years studying the Ju/’hoansi people, a hunter-gatherer society in southern Africa’s Kalihari desert, whose economic models provide a fascinating contrast to our own. A recipient of the Smuts Commonwealth Fellowship in African Studies at Cambridge University, he is now the Director of Anthropos Limited, a think tank that applies anthropological methods to solving contemporary, social, and economic problems. James’s first book, Affluence Without Abundance: What We Can Learn from the World's Most Successful Civilisation, was a 2019 NPR Best Book of the Year and a Washington Post Notable Book. Work: A Deep History from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots was an Amazon Best Book of the Month. James’s writing has appeared in outlets, including The New York Times, Salon, The Guardian, and Financial Times.

Work: A Deep History, from the Stone Age to the Age of Robots

“Magisterial.” The Nation

"This book is a tour de force." —Adam Grant, New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take

“His book meticulously charts the evolution of labour over 300,000 years, a strategy that brings welcome perspective to our current economic woes. While ostensibly a science book, it is also a devastating critique of consumer capitalism and a kind of self-help guide, underlying just how abnormal our lives are by our ancestors’ standards.” The Irish Times

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