Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

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Penguin, Mar 27, 2007 - Science - 320 pages
4 Reviews
Nicholas Wade’s articles are a major reason why the science section has become the most popular, nationwide, in the New York Times. In his groundbreaking Before the Dawn, Wade reveals humanity’s origins as never before—a journey made possible only recently by genetic science, whose incredible findings have answered such questions as: What was the first human language like? How large were the first societies, and how warlike were they? When did our ancestors first leave Africa, and by what route did they leave? By eloquently solving these and numerous other mysteries, Wade offers nothing less than a uniquely complete retelling of a story that began 500 centuries ago.

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Before the Dawn : Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

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New York Times science reporter Wade has written a fascinating examination of the biological and sociocultural evolution of our ancestors that focuses on genetic change, social behavior, and symbolic ... Read full review

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I cannot believe it took me 3/4 of the book to realize who this author was. I really could have saved myself a lot of time if I had only connected the name with his newer, even more racist, book.
This book had an incredible amount of potential. It highlights all the best material I learned in my Anthropology of Evolution class. Wade uses a mix of solid science (some stellar science, actually) and a bunch of unsubstantiated old school evolutionary psychology bullshit to tell the epic story of human ancestry from as early as the evidence will allow, to help the reader understand their human lineage.
This book was like a roller coaster. One minute Wade would present a balanced and thrilling description of some evolution phenomenon, e.g. evolution of language, in which he would present hypotheses from contradictory sources, so that his reader could understand what the experts are saying. He is so good at delivering up the arguments for both sides, it is surprising that he, at times, becomes absolutely incapable of seeing more than one skewed (and unscientific) side to various arguments. Immediately after presenting excellent science, Wade would begin presenting pretty shoddy evidence to make an argument, e.g humans are naturally aggressive and that violence was high in prehistoric times and is lower now. To make the aggression argument, Wade used the old, tired "chimps are aggressive, and since chimps are our closes ancestors, we too must have been this aggressive," argument. Never mind that he didn't even mention the species bonobo, who we actually have more in common with than non-bonobo chimps. In addition to that, the aggressive chimps studies themselves have an observation bias effect. The aggression is much higher in chimps than bonobos, but it may not be as high as we once thought.
Wade repeatedly used chimps as our model, without any actual evidence from genetics or from artifacts or fossils to back it up. And why? Because *no such evidence exists*. The implications became more clear as the book went on and Wade explained how our white ancestors were superior in intelligence to our black ancestors. He did this by using genetic "evidence" that has not been substantiated in any way. Main stream science is against him on this. I could not believe what I was reading. I had gotten over my annoyance with his bad aggression research and decided to ignore it, because so many things in this book were presented and supported with excellent science. When I read about how our Caucasian ancestors had superior brains, I felt shocked. I was about to email my anthropology of evolution professor and ask her, "Who was that guy who wrote that unbelieveable racists and scientifically inaccurate book?" Then I sat down at my computer and typed in "Nicholas Wade racist," and sure enough, this 2006 book was followed by his even more racist book in 2014.
This is what the Dawkins, Pinker, Buss, Fisher, and other old school neo-Darwinist thinking leads to. I cannot wait until the "gene jocks" are fully replaced once epigenetics and thermodynamics make their way into the Modern Synthesis of Evolution. I have had enough science backed racism to last a lifetime.

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About the author (2007)

Nicholas Wade received a BA in natural sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He was the deputy editor of Nature magazine in London and then became that journal’s Washington correspondent. He joined Science magazine in Washington as a reporter and later moved to The New York Times, where he has been an editorial writer, concentrating on issues of defense, space, science, medicine, technology, genetics, molecular biology, the environment, and public policy, a science reporter, and a science editor.

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