Reviews

BEFORE THE DAWN: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

Editorial Review - Kirkus - Jane Doe

New York Times science reporter Wade looks at how new knowledge derived from studying the human genome is changing the way we view our species' past and present. The recent deciphering of our genetic inheritance provides a valuable research tool for studying human prehistory, the long, murky millennia between the separation of humanity from its closest primate kin and the springing up of cities in ... 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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Very good read

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History can be a very fascinating subject, and one can easily spend a whole lifetime exploring different historical periods and events. However, the recorded history can take us back only to roughly the beginning of the fourth millennium BC. Most of human history lies well before that date, and it has long been supposed that we'll never get a complete picture of the earliest epochs of our species. That is still the case insofar as particular events and individuals are concerned, but in recent years we've been getting an increasingly detailed and fascinating picture of that "pre-historic" age. A variety of new research techniques and tools have come of age, and they are employed to shed more and more light on pre-historic events from a variety of different angles. Evolutionary psychology, DNA analysis, and linguistic analysis are some of the tools that have augmented our knowledge of the past as they have gone well beyond what we've been able to glean from just archeology. All of these tools and the remarkable discoveries that they elicited are described in "Before the Dawn." The book reads like a cross between a popular science book and a historical novel. At every turn of page there is a new twist to the story, and some of the insights are quite remarkable and unexpected. On an occasion one gets a sense that some of the tales have been oversold as compared to the available evidence, but overall the book is based on solid scholarship and multiple sources of evidence that mutually support the same conclusions. If you are interested in the early human history, I could not recommend a better book to read as an introduction to this exciting subject that promises to reveal even more surprising insights in the upcoming decades. 

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All reviews - 6

All reviews - 6
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