Not an easy read, but an eye-opening account of significant scientific advances that throw a spectacular, often unexpected...

WHO WE ARE AND HOW WE GOT HERE

ANCIENT DNA AND THE NEW SCIENCE OF THE HUMAN PAST

A surprising new description of how Homo sapiens originated in Africa and spread around the world.

In his first book, Reich (Genetics/Harvard Medical School) describes the revolution in his specialty, genomics, the branch of molecular biology that analyzes our genes, units of DNA that transmit hereditary information from parent to offspring. Since 2001, when scientists sequenced the human genome for the first time, technology has massively reduced the cost of the procedure. At the same time, researchers have become incredibly adept at extracting DNA from bones as old as 400,000 years. Readers who pay close attention will understand Reich’s explanation of what this reveals. As generations pass, strings of DNA in the genome split and recombine, and errors (mutations) appear in individual genes. Comparing one genome to another reveals the relationship between populations more accurately than comparing bones. Mutations appear at a regular rate, allowing researchers to measure time elapsed as evolution proceeds. “Since 2009,” writes the author, “…whole-genome data have begun to challenge long-held views in archaeology, history, anthropology, and even linguistics—and to resolve controversies in those fields. The ancient DNA revolution is rapidly disrupting our assumptions about the past.” Most agree that migrants from Turkey brought agriculture to Europe about 8,000 years ago. They once agreed that these migrants brought Indo-European languages spoken throughout most Western nations, but the studies in genomics reveal that the languages arrived with later migrants: a “ghost population” from the Russian steppes who also moved east and contributed genes to American Indians. Throughout the book, Reich includes numerous timelines, graphs, maps, and diagrams to assist readers in visualizing his material, but those who are not scientifically inclined may find the narrative difficult to follow—though ultimately rewarding.

Not an easy read, but an eye-opening account of significant scientific advances that throw a spectacular, often unexpected light on human prehistory.

Pub Date: March 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-101-87032-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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