THE GREAT DIASPORAS by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza

THE GREAT DIASPORAS

The History of Human Diversity
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

 One of the founders of population genetics describes his life's work and its scientific context in this clear and accessible book, cowritten with his son Francesco. Luigi Cavalli-Sforza (Genetics/Stanford Univ. Medical School), a true polymath, combines the insights of anthropological fieldwork, historical linguistics, and molecular biology to create a history of human evolution, both biological and cultural. Having visited African pygmies in their villages and joined them on their hunting expeditions, he can present the essence of hunter-gatherer societies in a way no theoretician can match. But his field trips also provided him with blood samples for laboratory analysis, which reveals the complex relationships of the human species over its worldwide range. After a quick lesson in the basics of inheritance and genetics, Cavalli-Sforza gives the evidence for the African origin of modern human beings (including the often misinterpreted ``African Eve'' theory) and for the spread of humankind out of our ancestral home. The author was instrumental in reversing prevailing anthropological dogma during the postWW II era; the spread of agriculture, he showed, was a mass population movement, not simply the transmission of the new technology to new users. The story told here is often complex: Several mappings of the distribution of blood types across Europe reveal different patterns of migration. (A particularly fascinating correlation between the Rh- blood type and the Basque language implies that the Basques were among the earliest settlers of Europe.) At the same time, the author points out the genetic triviality of superficial racial distinctions on which bigots and demagogues place such importance. The translation occasionally misfires in rendering scientific terms, but is generally smooth and clear. An excellent book on human origins and modern genetics, as well as an entertaining self-portrait by a leading figure in the study of both. (56 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-201-40755-8
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 1994