The author offers few crushing debating points but an excellent overview of human genetics.



An earnest review proving that the concept of “race” has no basis in science.

The title is misleading because it implies that, confronted with the evidence, a typical white supremacist will admit the error of his or her ways. Sadly, countless scientific studies have proven that deeply held beliefs are usually impervious to facts. Regardless, British science writer and geneticist Rutherford, author of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived (2017), writes a lucid history of Homo sapiens, emphasizing that 200,000 years of wandering, breeding, and wandering again has jumbled our DNA so thoroughly that we have become a single species with a great deal of genuine though not terribly consequential variation. “Racial purity is a pure fantasy,” writes the author. “For humans, there are no purebloods, only mongrels enriched by the blood of multitudes.” This didn’t prevent dominant cultures—e.g., the Chinese for millennia as well as the Romans and Aztecs—from taking their superiority for granted. Skin color played almost no role until the Age of Exploration, when white Europeans encountered societies that, lacking Western technology, were easy to exploit, often to brutal ends. Since almost all of the members of these societies had dark skin, that seemed a proxy for their weakness. After the scientific revolution in the 17th century, research overturned many nonsensical beliefs, but scholars still can’t explain why, with few exceptions, it missed the boat on skin color. Great thinkers, including Linnaeus, Kant, Voltaire, and others, expressed confidence in black inferiority, and 19th-century anthropology remained in the dark ages. In the 20th century, genetics came to the rescue by proving that far more variation exists within than between traditional races and that many racists beliefs are based on explanations that don’t involve genes. Rutherford admits that refuting the pseudo-scientific arguments of racial ideologues is futile, but he spends a great deal of time doing so; hopefully, readers are open to his arguments.

The author offers few crushing debating points but an excellent overview of human genetics.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61519-671-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: The Experiment

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

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Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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