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Genes, Peoples, and Languages [Paperback]

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 3 2001 0520228731 978-0520228733
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza was among the first to ask whether the genes of modern populations contain a historical record of the human species. Cavalli-Sforza and others have answered this question—anticipated by Darwin—with a decisive yes. Genes, Peoples, and Languages comprises five lectures that serve as a summation of the author's work over several decades, the goal of which has been nothing less than tracking the past hundred thousand years of human evolution.

Cavalli-Sforza raises questions that have serious political, social, and scientific import: When and where did we evolve? How have human societies spread across the continents? How have cultural innovations affected the growth and spread of populations? What is the connection between genes and languages? Always provocative and often astonishing, Cavalli-Sforza explains why there is no genetic basis for racial classification.

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Jared Diamond says, "It would be a slight exaggeration to say that L.L. Cavalli-Sforza studies everything about everybody, because actually he is 'only' interested in what genes, languages, archaeology, and culture can teach us about the history and migrations of everybody for the last several hundred thousand years." Cavalli-Sforza has been the leading architect of a revolution (even a paradigm shift) in human genetics since the 1960s. Because of his work, geneticists no longer think that the human species is divided into color-coded races. Cavalli-Sforza's studies of the transmission of family names in Italy, of the relationship between human genes and languages, of migration and marriage, are the benchmarks of our biological self-understanding.

Genes, Peoples, and Languages is less personal than Cavalli-Sforza's preceding book, The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution. And it is far more compact than the magisterial The History and Geography of Human Genes (available abridged for those who prefer not to buy books by the pound). Instead, it is a an excellent overview of Cavalli-Sforza's many-faceted approach to human history and our present condition. It is that rarest of achievements, holistic without any trace of mushy-mindedness. --Mary Ellen Curtin --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

A geneticist well known for his pioneering DNA studies on variations between populations over the millennia, Stanford University professor emeritus Cavalli-Sforza presents numerous startling or controversial findings in this dryly written but provocative survey of human evolution. Modern humans most likely originated in Africa, and arrived in Europe only around 42,000 years ago, rapidly displacing the dominant Neanderthal hominid species, he believes. Perhaps 20,000 years before this displacement, waves of modern humans migrated from Africa to Asia, then on to Australia; Europe came next, while America was probably the last continent to be occupied by Homo sapiens sapiens, he concludes. By correlating global studies of genetic markers with archeological evidence and patterns of linguistic change, Cavalli-Sforza attempts to track the earliest mass migrations, the spread of agriculture outward from the Middle East, cultural and genetic exchanges between prehistoric peoples and the birth of Indo-European languages. Much of this is conjectural, but he is confident enough to state that, from a genetic standpoint, "it appears that Europeans are about two-thirds Asians and one-third African." Moreover, "Black Americans have... an average of 30 percent of White admixture" in their genes, he reports. From the vantage point of DNA, according to Cavalli-Sforza, the idea of separate races is unscientific and fallacious, as different ethnic groups display superficial variations in body surface, mere outward adaptations to different climates--an opinion shared by a growing number of molecular biologists. Illustrated with maps and diagrams, this study sheds light on the origins of Finns, Hungarians, Basques, Native Americans, Asian Indians and other diverse limbs of the human family tree. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read it and use it right away in your daily life. Jan. 21 2003
This is the type of book you don't want to stop reading. After reading, you jump to the site again to see what else the author made in order to buy it. The number of (explained) genetic information the author provides is astonishing. Did you know, for instance, that the American autoctone populations (at least from the European point of view) are 98% blood types O? The author, also, goes the extra mile explaining that this happened because of only one of two possibilities. Want to know? Just read the book and you find why. I am sure you will not be disappointed by the writting style of the Italian author who explains difficult things (genetic vocabulary) in a very easy and unpretentious manner. His adamant position against racism is also pretty interesting, given the scientific data presented, which contradicts all the so-called Aryan theories of the nazi era. Good reading..
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Apparently races do exist after all Aug. 15 2002
Cavalli-Sforza likes to avoid the word "race" but his maximum likelihood tree made on the basis of molecular genetic markers (page 70) substantially agrees with the traditional racial groupings that have been confirmed across cultures and methodologies for decades. I recommend this book to "liberals" and "conservatives" on the race issue alike for enlightenment (although you have to sometimes read between the lines). His data support the currently most accepted view of human origins, the "Out of Africa" theory, which posits that Homo sapiens arose in Africa about 150,000 years ago, expanded northwards beyond Africa about 100,000 years ago, with a European-East Asian split after that. Africans are the most distant group, with Europeans and Asians being closer together. As Cavalli-Sforza observed, "All world trees place the earliest split between Africans and non-Africans, which is expected given that all humans originated in Africa" (p. 72).
Although the methodologies described in this book are still in their infancy, even on the basis of existing surveys, an individual's racial group can be determined by testing his or her DNA at 100 random sites along the genome, or at 30 specifically chosen ones. Even different ethnic groups within a race can be distinguished using only some 50 specifically chosen sites. The fuzziness of racial definitions does not negate their utility. In race differences research, for example, a genetic hypothesis predicts that for those Black individuals who possess more White genes, their physical, behavioral, and other characteristics will approach those of Whites. Of course, in talking about population or racial group differences we are discussing averages. Individuals are individuals, and population groups overlap substantially on almost all traits and measures. Nonetheless, there are very clear group differences to be found, in brain, bone, and behavior, not just genes and language.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ties Things Together May 5 2011
By Bernie Koenig TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Natural Law, Science, and the Social Construction of Reality

An interesting well presented work tying together biology, language, agriculture, and the migrations of people.

The main point That Cavalli-Sforza makes is that there is one human race and all our differences are due to various evolutionary factors.

The meat of the book is how migrations patterns of humans can be traced using both genetics and language. genetic changes and linguistic changes occur for similar reasons, though linguistic changes occur much more rapidly. But by showing how languages have evolved, along with how people have evolved, we get a good picture of both the genetic and the social aspects of the evolutionary process.

Much of the information in the book was not new to me. A lot of it is contained in other books I have reviewed here. But what makes this book stand out is how all the factors are tied together and how the same kinds of factors that lead to biological or genetic change also lead to linguistic and social change.

Indeed, again as other people have pointed out, social conditions can lead to biological change. Cavalli-Sforza develops this theme.

The point is that there are many many factors that are present in the evolutionary process and they influence each other.

A good book to get an overview of the evolutionary process from a wide perspective.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Unfocused work covering an uneven scope. March 26 2004
Like its title, this book is a disjointed work. There is no central thesis in this work. Narratively, it is modeled like how "101 {Concepts|Mechanisms|Analyses|Facts} of Evolution" would be organized. Nevertheless, there are some interesting ideas and data presented, like the correlation of language classification and genetic groupings, or the possible (and probable) outgrowth and expansions of human settlements, arising from Africa. Less interesting, but worth a look, is the narrative on transmission of culture.
However, this is a work best avoided, if only in favour of the abridged version of the same author's History and Geography of Human Genes.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Not well-written, not worth buying Aug. 28 2003
Granted, the author is a respectable scholar in historical genetics. And the topic is interesting. However, this book is poorly written:
1) Translation is generally sloppy. The English text is often funny, e.g. not sure which nouns a dangling clause actually refer to in running sentences. Either the original text is sloppy, or the translation is, or both.
2) Lack of information. Not a lot of actual scientific info is presented. E.g. Maps for principal component analysis for Asia genes would be of interest I think
3) Big gaps in the whole picture: the origins of both Chinese and Indians are poorly explained. It might reflect low level of scientific research in those countries; but from the writing itself, it seems the author does not really care about these people which account for ~45% of the world's population; at the same time, the author keeps pointing out that the Basques are unique.
4) Putting my Chinese head on here:
The language family that includes Na-Dene (in N. America), Caucasian (mainly Georgian), and Sino-Tibetan languages is called the 'Dene-Caucasian' family. I just can't help wondering how the scientific community name things. How can the Chinese language, with at least 800MM native speakers, not part of the name of the language family? It is probably not the author's fault, but as a founding scientist in the inquiry of human origins from genetic & linguistic point of view, the author has some responsibity for the bias I think.
5) Is the scientific evidence robust? In the early section on genetic mapping, each of the dots showing 'races' such as 'Basques', 'South Chinese', 'Dravidians', etc. are defined using considerations in 'location and languages' of the human samples.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Much information, but little detail. Disappointing.
Perhaps I was hoping for too much from this book, in which Prof. Cavalli-Sforza attempts to present the current state of knowledge about the prehistory and orgins of all of the... Read more
Published on Jan. 29 2003 by e1x56u$*w#
5.0 out of 5 stars pretty technical but still provides a good background
Cavlli-Sforza presents a history of the human race looking at how humanity spread out of Africa and has changed and evolved. Read more
Published on Dec 2 2002 by Neel Aroon
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Pencilling Out of 1980 ideas - SEMINAL WORK
Even though this is a slim volume it is deceptively rich in content.
Although a bit jaded and written from the perspectives of the late 1980's it is still a unique and... Read more
Published on Nov. 19 2002 by N. K. Ohannain
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Pencilling Out of this Symbiosis - SEMINAL WORK
Even though this is a slim volume it is deceptively rich in content.
Although a bit jaded and written from the perspectives of the late 1980's it is still a unique and... Read more
Published on Nov. 8 2002 by Naoise O'hannain
1.0 out of 5 stars read-and smell- before you buy
as far as blood types go he is a waste of money. the only good survey in his book is the one that says native americans have a population of 98 percent blood type 'o'. Read more
Published on Aug. 31 2002
5.0 out of 5 stars What intelligent people ought to know and can't keep away
This book is terribly interesting. I was seeking for such a kind long time, one to many interesting things that happened on Earth since the first man-like creatures lived and wich,... Read more
Published on Aug. 14 2002 by Audrius Alkauskas
3.0 out of 5 stars a really terrific subject matter blown over by technobabble
Human migration through the millenia is certainly a fascinating topic, especially now since we have the technology to understand how and when such migration occured by tracing... Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2002 by lazza
5.0 out of 5 stars Double Delight!
A tremendous read. LL Cavalli-Sforza offers up his usual tasty mix of insight and scholasticism. Pushing the volume over the top, however, is Seielstad's nuanced translation which... Read more
Published on Dec 16 2001 by Jon Zifferblatt
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