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

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HOW TO ARGUE WITH A RACIST

WHAT OUR GENES DO (AND DON'T) SAY ABOUT HUMAN DIFFERENCE

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: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61519-671-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: The Experiment

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: tomorrow

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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