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Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins [Paperback]

Steve Olson
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 1 2003 0618352104 978-0618352104 Reprint
In a journey across four continents, acclaimed science writer Steve Olson traces the origins of modern humans and the migrations of our ancestors throughout the world over the past 150,000 years. Like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, Mapping Human History is a groundbreaking synthesis of science and history. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including the latest genetic research, linguistic evidence, and archaeological findings, Olson reveals the surprising unity among modern humans and "demonstrates just how naive some of our ideas about our human ancestry have been" (Discover).Olson offers a genealogy of all humanity, explaining, for instance, why everyone can claim Julius Caesar and Confucius as forebears. Olson also provides startling new perspectives on the invention of agriculture, the peopling of the Americas, the origins of language, the history of the Jews, and more. An engaging and lucid account, Mapping Human History will forever change how we think about ourselves and our relations with others.

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Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins + Deep Ancestry: Inside The Genographic Project + National Geographic: The Human Family Tree
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About the Author

Steve Olson's Mapping Human History was a National Book Award finalist and won the Science-in-Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers. Olson has also written for the Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American, and Science. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where he coaches the math team at a public middle school.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Too much preaching, not enough fact June 11 2003
Format:Paperback
Steve Olson's "Mapping Human History" spews non-stop ideas and concepts that are politically fashionable in today's society, but have no basis in fact.
I generally enjoy reading almost anything. Whether it inspires me to change or reaffirm my opinion on an issue, look at something in a new way. or just come up with good discussion material with my friends, it's generally a rewarding experience. But this book is on a very short list of non-fiction that I couldn't bring myself to finish reading.
From the very first page of the preface, he starts making unsupported claims that racism of some form is the source for all the human-induced suffering in the world, and that it is unfounded. He cites examples of racially diverse areas of the world, such as slavery-era America, the Balkan peninsula, and most of the middle east to show the violence and hate that can spread when people indulge in racially motivated activity. He conveniently overlooks the fact that the same pattern of behavior has emerged from more racially homogenous areas as well. How does he explain the behavior of certain areas of northern Europe, pre-Columbian America, and China without the convenient excuse of racism?
Yes, Steve, genetically speaking I'm 99% identical to people from every continent and racial group. But the same quantity my DNA is identical to that of a chimpanzee, and nearly as much to a rat, horse, or any other mammal. What's your point? In those other racially homogenous areas, people still tended to separate themselves into tribes, clans, or other social structures in order to take advantage of the benefits of a close-knit society. This social splintering happened even without any mentionable racial differences. Why don't you investigate this instead of spouting pseudo-science?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book! May 4 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Steve Olson's Mapping Human History is an excellent introduction to historical genetics, and indeed it has been called by the New Scientist as "the most balanced, accessible and up-to-date survey of the field currently available." It is written by a renowned science journalist, not a scientist, who quotes and discusses the leaders in the field in a quite readable and entertaining fashion. The book has apparently offended some people by discounting ancestry (and racist offshoots) in light of the overwhelming evidence against the concept. However its scientific credentials are impeccable.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A recipe for race? April 6 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Although many words have been written attempting to show the unity of the human species, Steve Olson makes yet another attempt. He feels the need is there to be met. Instead of basing his effort on philosophical or moral grounds, he turns to our genetic record to make his point. It's a valid quest using unimpeachable methods and Olson presents it well. Some of the material, such as Wilson and Cann's "mitochondrial Eve" may be a bit shopworn, but it's an essential element of Olson's scenario. He builds his structure carefully and solidly, so a bit of used material isn't out of place. After all, he's not attempting any new, revolutionary concept in this book. He merely wishes to displace old, traditional ideas with a new reality.
Given the entrenched thinking about "race" in human cultures, calling Olson's task daunting is grievous understatement. The human diaspora from Africa he traces reaches across 150 millennia. Unlike most other species, humanity developed at an astonishing rate. Tracing genetic changes with humans migrating across the planet, not always in one direction is staggeringly difficult. Olson struggles, usually successfully, to reconcile the paleoanthropological finds with genetics research. He demonstrates the likely origins of the Chinese, Europeans, Australian and Western Hemispheric Aborigines. One subset of our species, the Jews, receives some special attention.
Olson recognises that much of the information he addresses is "highly contentious", but he bravely sets out to reconcile the views of many researchers. He examines in some detail, for example, hotly disputed notions about linguistic evolution. Given that the human population at the beginnings of language was already "on the road", his own description of language origins seems a bit thin.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Searching for the great migration Feb. 19 2004
Format:Paperback
This book is a fascinating overview of the work of the many scientists engaged in a truly scientific treatment of heritage (which would complement both our origins both mythical and religious). It's their hope that one day in the future there will be an accurate map of human history which will trace the migration of modern humans from northeast Africa to the Middle East and their subsequent diffusion throughout the world.
But this book also contains several concise arguments against the concept of human "races," a construct that does not hold up to scientific scrutiny at all (but which has been used for the past three hundred years to justify the worst crimes against humanity). The main points are that 1) while there are averages to the features of ethnic groups, these do not hold when taking individuals individually, that is, the variations between individuals of a given "race" are greater than average variations between the races themselves; 2) the vast majority of humans have "mixed" ancestry beyond about four generations; 3) every human being alive today is descended from the groups which left Africa some 65,000 years ago. Racism should really be called "contingencism", that is, when one discriminates against a group of persons based upon the wholly accidental adaptations of their ancestors to local geographical/climatic conditions.
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Most recent customer reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice overview, but no science classic
Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel opened the eyes of a lot of us to questions about human origins. Read more
Published on Jan. 11 2004 by Richard Sprague
5.0 out of 5 stars Well written and proves that racism is biologically wrong
Not only is this book superbly well written, so that mere graduates with humanities degrees like me can understand it, but it also shows that racism is biologically wrong, which is... Read more
Published on Oct. 18 2003 by C. Catherwood
5.0 out of 5 stars We're all in it together
I consider myself to be well educated but I'm by no means a scientist. Some science books scare me...you know the ones I'm talking about. Read more
Published on Oct. 11 2003 by J. Meegan
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating and Highly Readable
Steve Olson's Mapping Human History is a wonderful account of the journeys of modern man. The author explains all of the science involved in a very understandable and readable way... Read more
Published on Sept. 8 2003 by Ricky Hunter
5.0 out of 5 stars Draws some important links between genes and human origins
Science, history, and medical technology blend in Mapping Human History, a survey of the genes and how genetics can produce unique historical and cultural insights as well as... Read more
Published on June 12 2003 by Midwest Book Review
5.0 out of 5 stars Draws some important links between genes and human origins
Science, history, and medical technology blend in Mapping Human History, a survey of the genes and how genetics can produce unique historical and cultural insights as well as... Read more
Published on June 12 2003 by Midwest Book Review
3.0 out of 5 stars An overview with distractions
As a basic, non-technical overview of what genetics can tell us about human origins and migrations, this book could have been half as long. Read more
Published on May 30 2003 by Steven Mason
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