An overreaching travesty that could have been a useful compilation of genetic modifications over time.



Physicist Cochran and anthropologist Harpending team up to recount changes in population genetics that they say mark an explosion in human evolution.

But do they? The post–Ice Age rise of civilization, particularly the invention of agriculture and domestication of animals, led to a population explosion, changes in diet, new diseases and challenging environments as people spread across the globe. But we are still one species, still stuck with evolutionary compromises like back problems and painful childbirth to accommodate walking upright. The authors mostly report on adaptations during the past 10,000 years of local groups, such as barrel-chested Bolivians living at high altitudes or sickle-cell trait carriers protected against malaria. Give Cochran and Harpending (Anthropology/Univ. of Utah) credit for explaining that these are the result of rare beneficial mutations that propagate in groups because of the survival advantages they confer, and also for explaining how world genetic maps are enabling the tracing of adaptations. The authors provide sundry examples, noting that as populations increased, so would the number of mutations, which could spread via trade routes, conquest, colonization and intermarriage, activities that reflect cultural evolution. They breeze through the millennia, glibly opining that modern Homo sapiens interbred with Neanderthals or attributing the Spanish success in the New World to the Amerindians’ lack of immunity to disease (no mention of the conquerors’ use of horses, for example). Their speculation reaches its apogee in a declaration that Ashkenazi Jews have developed high intelligence because they were largely an inbred group restricted to cognitively demanding jobs as financiers or merchants, and that recessive neurological diseases common to Ashkenazis, such as Tay-Sachs, are associated with expanding neural connections in the brain. Readers’ exasperation will only grow as these conjectures are interspersed with such statements as, “It has been shown that poets are unusually likely to be manic-depressive.”

An overreaching travesty that could have been a useful compilation of genetic modifications over time.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-465-00221-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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