Often quirky but thoughtful—solid popular science.

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A BRIEF HISTORY OF EVERYONE WHO EVER LIVED

THE HUMAN STORY RETOLD THROUGH OUR GENES

An enthusiastic history of mankind in which DNA plays a far greater role than the traditional “bones and stones” approach, followed by a hopeful if cautionary account of what the recent revolution in genomics foretells.

According to British geneticist and science writer Rutherford (Creation: How Science Is Reinventing Life Itself, 2013), “we have literally thousands of ancient, hardened bones, found all around the world; many in the nursery of the human story in eastern Africa, many in Europe, and the more we look the more we find.” They reveal clues about how our ancestors looked, hints about their behavior, and vague, contradictory hypotheses about their relation to our species. Deciphering DNA from these relics turns up more specific information about “how our evolution has proceeded.” Neanderthals were close relatives. They separated from a common ancestor around 500,000 years ago and met and interbred with us throughout Eurasia, dying out 30,000 years ago and leaving a small percentage of their DNA in ours. Amazingly, DNA from a single finger bone uncovered another subspecies, the Denisovans, which wandered Asia at the same time, leaving a sprinkling of DNA in Pacific Islanders and Australian Aborigines. Turning to the present, Rutherford recounts this century’s spectacular discoveries in genomics, pausing regularly to grind axes. For readers who wonder if racism has any basis in genetics, he explains at length that it hasn’t. He examines companies that offer to analyze an individual’s DNA and reveals why many of their claims are nonsense. Casting doubt on the steady stream of media announcements that scientists have discovered the gene for…addiction, homosexuality, height, anxiety, obesity, etc…the author emphasizes that dramatic advances in human well-being through genomics are guaranteed, if not quite yet. “Life is the accumulation and refinement of information embedded in DNA,” writes Rutherford. “We are the data.”

Often quirky but thoughtful—solid popular science.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-61519-404-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: The Experiment

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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