A freethinking and well-considered examination of the evidence “that human evolution is recent, copious, and regional.”



Deploying his natural science background, New York Times journalist Wade (The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures, 2009, etc.) strides into the political minefield of genetic influence on racial differences.

The author would be the first to admit that the classification of humans into races—and the possibility of there being a genetic component to the variations—has been hijacked to propagate invidious policies, from racism to eugenics to the Holocaust, which in turn has made further study of how genetics may play a role in the history of the races taboo. Nonetheless, Wade asks, is it inevitable that comparing races foments racism? Why wouldn’t one look to genes for traits: literacy, nonviolence, thrift, numeracy, etc.? In a fluid tone, the author dusts the fingerprints of “natural selection as it molded and reworked the genetic clay.” First, he examines the less-contentious material of social behavior—cooperating with the group, following norms, punishing violators—as well as elements of fairness and reciprocity within the group, intuitive morality and “genetically influenced behaviors, the expression of which is shaped by culture.” Is it really a stretch, as Edward Wilson was pilloried for suggesting, that “[h]armful cultural practices may lead to extinction, but advantageous ones create selective pressures that can promote specific genetic variants.” Following evolutionary theory and history, Wade also tackles some time-worn curiosities. Why did the Industrial Revolution happen where it did? Because the rich, with more surviving offspring, infused their values throughout English society and a critical mass was reached in the human economic behavior that had evolved over the previous 10,000 years. What force shaped the nature of Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence, their skill with words and numerals? It is possible that their engagement in moneylending, which was cognitively demanding but also rewarding, “was important because it enabled Jews to secure a considerable degree of reproductive success.”

A freethinking and well-considered examination of the evidence “that human evolution is recent, copious, and regional.”

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-59420-446-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2014

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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