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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars genes, languages, prehistoric human migrations
The most rewarding part of this popular science book is the middle, fifth to seventh chapters, in which Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Professor of Genetics at Stanford Medical School, draws on scientific research in human population genetics, in which he has been a well respected pioneer, to describe the migration of human populations beginning about 100,000 years ago out of...
Published on Sept. 21 2002 by los desaparecidos

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2.0 out of 5 stars Wandering through human nature
This collaboration between one of the great population geneticists and his filmmaker son promises much but lets down on delivery. The style and content of the book are uneven. Some topics are told in detail and with compelling narrative, particularly the account of L. L. Cavalli-Sforza's work since the 1960s to establish correlations among genetic, linguistic, and...
Published on June 5 2000


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars genes, languages, prehistoric human migrations, Sept. 21 2002
By 
los desaparecidos (Makati City, Philippines) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
The most rewarding part of this popular science book is the middle, fifth to seventh chapters, in which Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Professor of Genetics at Stanford Medical School, draws on scientific research in human population genetics, in which he has been a well respected pioneer, to describe the migration of human populations beginning about 100,000 years ago out of Africa until recent times. Because patterns of genetic and linguistic evolution exhibit high intercorrelations--even though their respective elements and mechanics differ--he also cites linguistic evidence for this account of migratory prehistory.
The most valuable contribution of this book to popular understanding is that population genetics provides possibly the best though not sole scientific basis on which to construct the prehistory of human "races." By this evidence, we learn, for example, about the migration of modern Homo sapiens to Southeast Asia and Australia approximately 55,000 to 60,000 years ago or about the spread of Neolithic farmer-cultivators from the Middle East into Europe beginning about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago. I suspect that readers unfamiliar with modern human evolution will find the genetic tree of the world's populations on page 119 intriguing. The diagram shows, for example, that Northeast Asians are more closely related to Europeans than Northeast Asians are to Southeast Asians.
For as rapidly advancing a science as human population genetics, it should not be surprising that some findings are dated. Recent evidence suggests, for instance, that North Asians descended from both southern China populations that gradually migrated northward as well as Caucasian populations that migrated eastward, so that some genetic mixing all across North Asia took place and is the source of the observed racial connections between North Asians and Caucasians.
In other chapters, Cavalli-Sforza tackles related topics somewhat unevenly. His anecdotes about the African pygmies are light and sympathetic. While his description of the hominid line is accurate for the time of publication, there are more insightful not to mention updated accounts now in print. His discussion of the links between genes and culture is engaging and humane but from the standpoint of science, no better than educated. His rejoinder to the controversial The Bell Curve (1994) is scientifically persuasive.
I very much enjoyed reading this book, the first I purchased at amazon.com.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Wandering through human nature, June 5 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
This collaboration between one of the great population geneticists and his filmmaker son promises much but lets down on delivery. The style and content of the book are uneven. Some topics are told in detail and with compelling narrative, particularly the account of L. L. Cavalli-Sforza's work since the 1960s to establish correlations among genetic, linguistic, and archaeological evidence for the history and relationships of the major human groups. Much weaker, however, is his grasp of cultural anthropology, whether in details or in methods. He attempts to convey an impression of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle (predominant through almost all of human history until the last 10,000 years) through extended references to his field research among African pygmies.
Unfortunately, though he is quite sympathetic to the pygmies and their way of life, much of the effect is lost in empty generalities (p. 16: "The forest may look gloomy to us but pygmies feel entirely at home and safe there. It is a place where little that is untoward can happen to them, where danger is limited and life very pleasant."), and his cross-cultural examples come almost exclusively from pygmies or from his personal experience of various Western Europeans. Some points of history, used as examples, are in error (Bede was an English monk who lived from 672 or 673 to 735; not a "sixth-century Irish monk" p. 80).
Cavalli-Sforza also seems to have little knowledge of modern cultural anthropology. Chapter 8 "Cultural legacies, genetic legacies" is particularly weak, treating a number of topics in a very superficial way, showing no knowledge of the huge body of literature on, among others, marriage patterns and the incest taboo, national character, or "cultural evolution". Some of the problems with this book undoubtedly rest with the translator, who seems to have chosen occasionally awkward or confusing phrasings in English.
The book is best when it recounts Cavalli-Sforza's personal experiences and the quest for a unified picture of the relations among human groups. His anecdotes and observations add a human and historical perspective to the story of population genetics, and the technical matters are explained in a comprehensible and even entertaining way. He makes a strong case that differences among human "races" are only skin deep, reflecting adaptation to different climates over the last sixty thousand years, and tells some of his own part in the battle over the IQ and race debate (recently re-ignited with the publication of _The Bell Curve_). One suspects that he would be a great conversationalist at a dinner party, and the portrait of the author (along with his substantial knowledge of human genetics and historical linguistics) is what keeps one reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Facinating History of how human types & languages developed, May 6 2000
By 
John A. Werneken (Oregon USA) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
So easy to read: no science degree required. And so full of the actual scientific information, that I could also play armchair scientist, develop my own theories a few pages ahead of the authors' telling me theirs, and shout AHA! or groan "AW" as further reading showed if I had understood, or not.
The author has been studying for sixty years what we can learn now, from differences in human body types, body chemistry, and DNA, about the past travels of the human race as it came to populate the entire world. I am astonished at how far I could see into the distant past through their work and words.
Words are a second theme of the book, how languages in general seem also, like modern people, to have had one ancient source and then diversified as early humans expanded. He shows how frequently languages spread without the populations involved being in any way replaced, and explains how some changes, such as inventing farming, were so beneficial that not only the new tongues but also the new body types spread widely from small original sources.
There are apparently four great streams of body types: African; Australian; what is called Caucasian; and what is considered Asian, with the last two at different times providing peoples who still have descendants living all the way from Span to different populations of American Indians.
Languages seem to include mainly the results of the four body types plus the results of four separate independent inventions of farming, in Palestine, in north China, in south China, and in central America. Finally the gunpowder and trading revolution in Europe largely replaced American languages, and then the industrial revolution, like farming, vastly expanded our total numbers.
It is fascinating to understand how the body type and language migrations left traces here and there around the globe that on the surface imply that there is no order to our genetic or linguistic inheritances, but that can be explained on historical grounds as relics of great and ancient migrations.
Finally the authors turn to a third theme, which I suspect is their motivation not only for the book but also for the work that made it possible. The Cavalli-Sforzas explain in detail how very similar all peoples are in both genetic heritage and in measurable ability.
We are all brothers and sisters and perhaps may come to treat each other more as all our great religions and philosophies suggest that we should, if we can come to better understand and accept our common heritages.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Politics disguised as science, May 1 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
This book is a rather embarassing political tome under the guise of science. Cavalli-Sforza has undoubtedly been in the cross-hairs of the politically correct given his field of population genetics, and his response is to insist that he is a good servant of the Party. The book consists of ten chapters plus a postscript diatribe against "The Bell Curve", but only chapters 5&6 are worth reading. The initial chapters are exceedingly basic biology (in addition to an irrelevant paen to pigmies), and the remainder consists of the author's pronouncements on politics, religion, and other matters about which he apparently knows nothing, all presented in a pseudo-authoritative tone. Examples include the author's assertion that Broca's speech area of the brain is in the temporal lobe (actually the frontal), his repeated excoriation of the Catholic Church for its courageous defense of the unborn, and his reference to the "Hoover depression". In his Bell Curve diatribe, the author writes,"I cannot avoid feeling scared by the arrogance with which the authors always know what interpretation of data is right or wrong, what is good for the country, and what we should do...I have never found scientists who know the sure answer." With the exception of himself, of course. Cavalli-Sforza's son, a film director, is listed as co-author; apparently the book is aimed toward his fellow brain-dead Hollywood types. Given the author's many errors and unproven assertions, one finds oneself doubting the data presented in the small part of the book which actually deals with his population genetics research.
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1.0 out of 5 stars Politics disguised as science, May 1 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
This book is a rather embarassing political tome under the guise of science. Cavalli-Sforza has undoubtedly been in the cross-hairs of the politically correct given his field of population genetics, and his response is to insist that he is a good servant of the Party. The book consists of ten chapters plus a postscript diatribe against "The Bell Curve", but only chapters 5&6 are worth reading. The initial chapters are exceedingly basic biology (in addition to an irrelevant paen to pigmies), and the remainder consists of the author's pronouncements on politics, religion, and other matters about which he apparently knows nothing, all presented in a pseudo-authoritative tone. Examples include the author's assertion that Broca's speech area of the brain is in the temporal lobe (actually the frontal), his repeated excoriation of the Catholic Church for its courageous defense of the unborn, and his reference to the "Hoover depression". In his Bell Curve diatribe, the author writes,"I cannot avoid feeling scared by the arrogance with which the authors always know what interpretation of data is right or wrong, what is good for the country, and what we should do...I have never found scientists who know the sure answer." With the exception of himself, of course. Cavalli-Sforza's son, a film director, is listed as co-author; apparently the book is aimed toward his fellow brain-dead Hollywood types. Given the author's patent intellectual dishonesty, one finds oneself doubting the assertions of the small part of the book which actually deals with his population genetics research.
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5.0 out of 5 stars My beginnings of a diaspora theory, based on the book, June 6 1999
This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
Here is a theory that springs to mind from reading this sometimes overly simple primer but enjoyable explanation of the fantastic lifework of a humane (if sometimes rather kneejerky liberal) genius, a statistical anthropologist (most anthropologists only think they are scientists, Cavalli-Sforza really is): The map of the "Megalithic culture" in the book, based on their megalithic remains, has a striking similarity to the map of the genetic characteristics of people associated with the Basques, except for there being no Basque strain on Sardinia. And a map of the Celts in Western Europe is highly similar. And if memory serves, so is a map of the dispersion of the Vikings in Western Europe (the latter two, even had an impact on Sicily, as I recall, based on a wave of Celts/Phoenicians). What would cause the familiar pattern? 1. This is a natural pattern by people who settle the Western European lands by arriving at them by sea. 2. They are forced onto border areas by indigenous people or by new groups immigrating by land. 3. Both 1. and 2. The Basques may have found refuge in the Pyranees and been there so long that it accounts for their genetic radiation from that stronghold, but note that otherwise they tend to be a coastal people hugging the Western shores and islands. The lack of representation on Sardinia (although there is some representation on Corsica it appears) could be due to the Basques being so ancient and to island peoples in the Mediterranean being more easily replaced or diluted racially by invaders than on the mainland (even though islanders may be more completely isolated for longer periods of time than mainlanders).
This is a fine book, and the translation from Italian seems to have generally worked very well-- except for the translator not being up to the legerdemain required to explain English pronounciations of cognate words from the languages and language groups, and the occasional use of "and" when "but" was in order. The book fails to make any mention of the climatic effects on geography that would influence these diasporas-- the glaciers and tundra to the North as they waxed and waned, the less distance by water the New Guinainas/Australians had to travel to become New Guinians/Australians due to lower water level and tectonic lift, the nicely watered pastoral fertility of the Shahara for most of early man's existence, etc. The book also does not use qualifiers when it should. I know it is the Strunkian style, but here it is incorrect and I believe may reflect a too simple mind-set of Caralli-Sforza's. There are a lot of mistakes along the lines of using "the first" when the truth is "the earliest we have found so far". And the evolutionary development of modern humans is surely a bushy tree filled with dead ends instead of the orderly simple tree anthropologists routinely present to us as proven fact. I blame the publisher and the editor, in this day of superb computer support, for not seeing to it that the all important maps were better detailed and in color.
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2.0 out of 5 stars Politically correct spin covering up superb research, Oct. 11 1998
This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
Cavalli-Sforza holds the world's most politically incorrect job: tracing the origins of genetic differences among races and ethnic groups. Not surprisingly, C-S loudly asserts a series of pious cover stories about the meaning of his work, even though the wonderful data he accumulates subverts fashionable ideas like "There is no such thing as race." Obviously, people can't agree on exactly how many races there are, what to call them, or precisely who is in them. But the same criticisms can also be made of the concept of "extended family," but that doesn't mean extended families don't exist. The reason for the similarity between the concepts of race and extended family is simply because races are extremely extended families.
Similarly, C-S likes to say there is far more differentiation within groups than between groups. Of course, in reality it all depends on which trait you are talking about. Consider the job of identifying individuals for police investigations. Fingerprint variation is largely individual, skull shape is a mixture of individual and racial, while the general appearance of a living person (the gestalt of skin color, hair, facial features, etc.) is largely racial.
Fortunately, C-S doesn't seem to take his politics seriously, so he plows ahead with the world's best research into genetic differences.
C-S's genetic diagrams point to a reasonably coherent 5 or 6 race model: Indo-Europeans (Caucasians); sub-Saharan Africans; Amerindians (related to Asians of course); Papuan/Australians; and East Asians, who can either be thought of as one race or as two divided into Northeast Asians and Southeast Asians. There are of course a number of smaller groups that don't fit the model particularly well.
This book, written for a general audience, is especially larded with political correctness. His more technical and more expensive books are more informative.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A superb, informed discourse on genetics, race and evolution, March 25 1998
By 
This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, a well known and respected geneticist, has teamed up with his son, Francesco Cavalli-Sforza, to write a superb, well-informed, literate, and easy to read book on genetics, race, and evolution. Using the elder Cavalli-Sforza's own research and that of others, the team weaves a story, starting with research on the pygmies, that entertains as well as informs. I am a scientist, but not a geneticist; what I particularly liked about this book is that it spoke in non-jargon language, yet did not shy away from the sophistication and complexity involved in the subject matter. I also liked and applauded the way the authors forthrightly and honestly dealt with subjects of controversy, such as the concept of race, racism, race and IQ, and so forth. Their destruction of the arguments of Jensen, Shockley and Herrnstein that the differences in IQ between Blacks and whites is genetic is beautiful and complete. This is a wonderful book for the layperson as well as the expert who wishes to read outside his or her field.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Really good, I Recommend it, May 14 2002
By 
Sergio A. Salazar Lozano (Tampico, Tamaulipas Mexico) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
Ok, this will be a short one. The book is really good, I recommend it vastly. As a molecular biologist I am impressed with the expertise of L. L. Cavalli-Sforza in varios areas of science. He does not only manage to comunicate in an easy manner the complexities of genetics and molecular biology (related to this subject), but also accomplishes to clarify lots of linguistic information gathered through his life studies. This last topic was the hardest for me to understand, though I believe language studies are not easy. So, as said in the beginning, this book is highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Recovering human prehistory, Aug. 6 2001
By 
Geoff Puterbaugh (Chiang Mai, T. Suthep, A. Muang Thailand) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution (Paperback)
This book is an excellent presentation of the life-work of Luca Cavalli-Sforza, and his apparently successful attempt to recover human pre-history.
It was (and is) an amazing feat: linguists did a bunch of research and theorizing, and geneticists did a bunch of research and theorizing, and when the two camps compared their results they were identical! (That is an oversimplification, but not by much.)
Brian Sykes' new book, "The Seven Daughters of Eve," adds a lot more interesting information to this slowly developing picture.
Highest recommendation!
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The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution
The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity And Evolution by Luigi Luca Cavalli Sforza (Paperback - Nov. 6 1996)
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