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Posted April 11, 2003
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza answers questions that has had man wondering since time immemorial. A classic research into the human dispersion, starting from the first appearance of Homo-Sapiens to today's wide variety of races and peoples. First the author illustrates the findings of a more authoratative research technique of comparing genes of different peoples, and estimating the 'distance' between peoples. Later on, he uses other, rather subjective techniques to demonstrate how the results of the genetic comparison can be substantiated. With an interest in anthropology and linguistics, and having read a few books in this area, I found this book a great source of information. Very concisely written, yet touching on all major topics within the scope. A good book to read on a Sunday afternoon, but can be dissappointing if you expect it to be an encyclopedia. One can also notice the author's stance against racism, especially given the author's exposure to scientific research on various races and their differences.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 5, 2000
Finding someone to agree with you is not science.
This Italian geneticist at Stanford thinks that the history of the human race(s) can be figured out by looking at DNA and mitochondria. He says groups that are similar in DNA must have come from the same stock of people in the past, and that the grouping and hierarchy building can be done as far back as he wants to go. The whole research (?) program however assumes that there is no loss or mixing of information in the genetic process. Everything is kept intact and simple, like tinker toys. If that assumption is wrong - in other words if genetics is organic rather than mechanical - then his conclusions fall apart. One of the best comments about science is that ideas or discoveries should be of the sort that can be determined to be either true or false. The author can say all he wants about his reconstruction of ethnic groups from 5 to 50 thousand years ago, and say what he wants about gene mixing as people migrated around the world, but nobody will ever be able to test it, because whatever DNA we have from those times is from a few isolated mummies. At the end of the book, he looks through the range of ideas about how language groups in the world might be related, and in particular languages in the Americas. He finds a simplified theory (Greenberg) that says the hundreds can be reduced to three clusters, and he says, without evidence or argumentation, that this one is the best. All those who say the language situation is too mixed and too complicated to put into three boxes are rejected because of what 'seems' best to him, as a non-linguist. Then his conclusion about how the simplest theory is the best is employed as a support for his previous statements about DNA groups. Instead of getting facts to verify his ideas, he picks out a conveniently similar theory from linguistics to put parallel to his. Since they are parallel, they must verify each other, he insists.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2000
interesting ideas, needs editing
I bought this book following a very interesting review in the NY Review of Books, but I found it something of a disappointment. It seems to me heavy on genes, and somewhat lighter on people and language, so I would not recommend it unless one is interested in the science involved. I also found a persistent mismatch in the amount of explanation given. Some concepts are explained redundantly throughout the book, but other explanations are, in my view, too brief or unclear. I also didn't care for the chatty digressions in some spots, like the introduction to the Chapter 5. The story this author has to tell is a fascinating one, but he hasn't written a very readable book, at least for the layman.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.