A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History

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Penguin, May 6, 2014 - Science - 288 pages
4 Reviews
Drawing on startling new evidence from the mapping of the genome, an explosive new account of the genetic basis of race and its role in the human story
 

Fewer ideas have been more toxic or harmful than the idea of the biological reality of race, and with it the idea that humans of different races are biologically different from one another. For this understandable reason, the idea has been banished from polite academic conversation. Arguing that race is more than just a social construct can get a scholar run out of town, or at least off campus, on a rail. Human evolution, the consensus view insists, ended in prehistory.

Inconveniently, as Nicholas Wade argues in A Troublesome Inheritance, the consensus view cannot be right. And in fact, we know that populations have changed in the past few thousand years—to be lactose tolerant, for example, and to survive at high altitudes. Race is not a bright-line distinction; by definition it means that the more human populations are kept apart, the more they evolve their own distinct traits under the selective pressure known as Darwinian evolution. For many thousands of years, most human populations stayed where they were and grew distinct, not just in outward appearance but in deeper senses as well.

Wade, the longtime journalist covering genetic advances for The New York Times, draws widely on the work of scientists who have made crucial breakthroughs in establishing the reality of recent human evolution. The most provocative claims in this book involve the genetic basis of human social habits. What we might call middle-class social traits—thrift, docility, nonviolence—have been slowly but surely inculcated genetically within agrarian societies, Wade argues. These “values” obviously had a strong cultural component, but Wade points to evidence that agrarian societies evolved away from hunter-gatherer societies in some crucial respects. Also controversial are his findings regarding the genetic basis of traits we associate with intelligence, such as literacy and numeracy, in certain ethnic populations, including the Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.

Wade believes deeply in the fundamental equality of all human peoples. He also believes that science is best served by pursuing the truth without fear, and if his mission to arrive at a coherent summa of what the new genetic science does and does not tell us about race and human history leads straight into a minefield, then so be it. This will not be the last word on the subject, but it will begin a powerful and overdue conversation.




From the Trade Paperback edition.
 

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User Review  - dcunning11235 - LibraryThing

I'd give this 4 stars for discussing a topic that is almost completely taboo in polite company, and for understandable reasons. I've giving 3 because of some obvious issues I found (toward bottom of ... Read full review

LibraryThing Review

User Review  - neurodrew - LibraryThing

Wade presents many lines of evidence for his hypothesis that human evolution has continued in the past 10,000 years, resulting in genetic changes that can detect racial and geographical groupings ... Read full review

Contents

Praise for A Troublesome Inheritance
PERVERSIONS OF SCIENCE
ORIGINS OF HUMAN SOCIAL NATURE
THE HUMAN EXPERIMENT
THE GENETICS OF RACE
SOCIETIES AND INSTITUTIONS
THE RECASTING OF HUMAN NATURE
JEWISH ADAPTATIONS
CIVILIZATIONS AND HISTORY
EVOLUTIONARY PERSPECTIVES ON RACE
Acknowledgments
Copyright

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About the author (2014)

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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