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

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: 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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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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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