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on January 25, 2015
Imagine a scientist, Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, recounting his professional life to his son, Francesco Cavalli-Sforza, a creator and producer of educational films. That is more or less what this book is all about. But it is still written as a first-person account, presumably because the interview form would have been too dry. Because the author speaks to a non-scientist you can imagine that the book is not intended for specialists. Obviously a great effort was deployed to make a difficult subject, population genetics, accessible to a vast public. The chapters are quite varied and the reader may have the impression that the author is jumping from one topic to another; but this only reflects the fact that the book covers the entire career of the author and that his professional endeavours are relatively vast in scope. But the overall coherence is preserved because all the topics have something to do with population genetics, which is the common thread here.

If you are already familiar with the basic concepts of the gene you may have the impression at the beginning that the book was written for children. The author seems to assume that the reader knows next to nothing about biological sciences. If that is the case for you you will love it. But if you have already been initiated you will have to be patient and wait for the second half of the book where we enter into the meat of the subject. Here is what you can expect, as presented in the preface:

Chapter 1 discusses the pygmies and the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers, those who still practice the lifestyle that characterized the whole species until ten thousand years ago.

Chapters 2/3 describe what we know of the development of humans up to one hundred thousand years ago and then, with modern humans, until now.

Chapter 4 explores the theory of evolution, and the forces that have joined or divided living creatures over time.

Chapters 5/6/7 tell the story of the peoples colonizing the planet in the last one hundred thousand years, the slow, inexorable expansion of agriculture in the last ten thousand years; and the extraordinary diversification of languages that has accompanied the spread of humankind.

Chapter 8 addresses our cultural and genetic heritage.

Chapter 9 looks at the crucial topics of race and racism.

Chapter 10 is about the genetic future of humans, genetic engineering, and current attempts to describe fully the inheritance of every human being (the Human Genome Project).

After reading this book you will have a better understanding of our origins and where we are all coming from. Be prepared to loose any prejudice you might have about race, which as you will discover is a very hard to define concept. Interestingly the whole book is about genetics but in the end you will find out that this is only one third of what differentiates us as individuals. The story stops as the Human Genome Project is just getting started, so it is not up to date. And of couse it could not take into account the results of the Human Genome Diversity project which followed. Yet it remains essential reading for anyone who wants to understand our origins and is still one of the best introduction to population genetics.
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on November 15, 1999
This is a wonderful introduction to human genetics that focuses on our evolution and spread across the planet. Covering many topics, the book presents an excellent scientific critique of racism, shows the strong linkage between Greenberg's linguistic theories and genetic research, and offers a thoughtful discussion on the relationship between genes and culture in human life.
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on May 28, 2002
Much interesting material, and some difficult concepts explained clearly for the general lay person. However, the book has no clear objective. It is best read as a supplement to the Pulitzer Prize winning book by Jared Diamond, "Guns, Germs and Steel".
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