A concise and useful book of evolutionary science.

THE ACCIDENTAL HOMO SAPIENS

GENETICS, BEHAVIOR, AND FREE WILL

A lively addition to the literature on the “unfathomable mystery” of human beings.

With the genetics revolution in full swing, a steady stream of books explains the role heredity plays on our development and behavior with the proviso (most authors agree) that it is not the sole influence. In their contribution to the genre, Tattersall and DeSalle (co-authors: A Natural History of Beer, 2019, etc.), both scientists at the American Museum of Natural History, deliver a highly learned lesson in what we do and don’t inherit from our parents. “We all come into the world,” they write, “with the potential to absorb any language or set of cultural norms…yet by an early age, we may have absorbed an unshakeable perspective on the world that is completely incompatible with that of members of other societies (or even, occasionally, of our own).” Genes have a great deal to do with this, so the authors rock no boats by beginning with Gregor Mendel, whose discovery of simple, single gene inheritance has the advantage of being easy to understand but the disadvantage of explaining little because essentially all inherited traits result from the complex interaction of many genes. Discoveries of the gene for (…homosexuality, violence, religion, IQ, etc.) make headlines but turn out to be wrong. Evolution proceeds through the selection of organisms whose traits give them a reproductive advantage. Plenty of brilliant researchers have contributed to understanding this process, and the authors show little patience with a few whose theories and books seem to simplify matters and have convinced many colleagues. These include works that attempt to explain evolution as the result of competition between units of heredity—e.g., Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. Tattersall’s legions of fans will recognize his contribution in the eloquent history of the evolution of Homo sapiens, both in body and brain. Genomicist DeSalle delivers an intelligent lesson in the basics of heredity and population genetics, although readers will have to pay close attention.

A concise and useful book of evolutionary science.

Pub Date: April 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64313-026-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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