Before The Dawn Hardcover – Apr 25 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Scientists are using DNA analysis to understand our prehistory: the evolution of humans; their relation to the Neanderthals, who populated Europe and the Near East; and Homo erectus, who roamed the steppes of Asia. Most importantly, geneticists can trace the movements of a little band of human ancestors, numbering perhaps no more than 150, who crossed the Red Sea from east Africa about 50,000 years ago. Within a few thousand years, their descendents, Homo sapiens, became masters of all they surveyed, the other humanoid species having become extinct. According to New York Times science reporter Wade, this DNA analysis shows that evolution isn't restricted to the distant past: Iceland has been settled for only 1,000 years, but the inhabitants have already developed distinctive genetic traits. Wade expands his survey to cover the development of language and the domestication of man's best friend. And while "race" is often a dirty word in science, one of the book's best chapters shows how racial differences can be marked genetically and why this is important, not least for the treatment of diseases. This is highly recommended for readers interested in how DNA analysis is rewriting the history of mankind. Maps. (Apr. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Genetics has been intruding on human origins research, long the domain of archaeology and paleoanthropology. Veteran science journalist Wade applies the insights of genetics to every intriguing question about the appearance and global dispersal of our species. The result is Wade's recounting of "a new narrative," which also has elements of a turf war between geneticists and their established colleagues. He efficiently explains how an evolutionary event (e.g., hairlessness) is recorded in DNA, and how rates of mutation can set boundary dates for it. For the story, Wade opens with a geneticist's estimate that modern (distinct from "archaic") Homo sapiens arose in northeast Africa 59,000 years ago, with a tiny population of only a few thousand, and was homogenous in appearance and language. Tracking the ensuing expansion and evolutionary pressures on humans, Wade covers the genetic evidence bearing on Neanderthals, race, language, social behaviors such as male-female pair bonding, and cultural practices such as religion. Wade presents the science skillfully, with detail and complexity and without compromising clarity. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top Customer Reviews
Writing to his defined audience, Wade’s use of Biblical metaphor touches a nerve. It’s a useful technique as he opens with “Genetics & Genesis”. There’s no doubt in the reader’s mind that “genetics” will be the guiding theme as this book progresses. Genetics and DNA analysis have “enriched our view of the past”, he notes. He assures us, as well, that the processes they depict are still working to guide us into the future. He lists some of the insights these tools have given us. The clear continuity between “the ape world of 5 million years ago and the human world that emerged from it” opens the inventory, which includes cultural input and various social factors, why our global dispersal was so rapid, and how language impinged on our development as a species.
Among the more captivating aspects of our evolutionary track is the number alternative paths we might have followed. Wade explains how ape diversity has made discernment of our lineage an onerous task. An indication of what’s to follow emerges in a section on why we became “naked”. The loss of fur meant that exposed skin required protection from the African sun. All humanity’s skin cells contain melanin, with variations determined by geographic location. The human diaspora out of Africa led to many variations in our make-up.Read more ›
Apparently, we non-Africans descend from a single group of perhaps no more than 150 hunter-gatherers who left Africa across the southern end of the Red Sea and over the next several thousand years spread across the rest of the globe. Wade describes these ancestors of ours, who were most probably clothed (the genetics of human lice apparently tells us this) and may have spoken the founding language of the species. He shows us how we spread across the continents; explains the impact of the various most recent glacial periods and much more. He's particularly good on the evolutionary basis for warfare, religion and trade.
There is a great section where he speculates on where, when and how we domesticated the dog, or perhaps as he explains, how wolves domesticated themselves into dogs. But wolves don't bark. Is this a crucial behavioral adaptation which attached dogs to our species? Did dogs in turn introduce to humans the idea of private ownership (because dogs attach themselves to an individual, not a group) and did they make the first settlements practical (because they bark at intruders)?
This is also an optimistic book because Wade explains how humans have chosen to balance their instinct for aggression with another instinct for reciprocity which suggests that we are in fact, not doomed after all.
I strongly recommend the book to readers who are interested in history, prehistory, genealogy and new developments in sciences.
The Rideau Reader
Most recent customer reviews
A great read,answers a lot of questions that we wonder about, where did we come from?Published 9 months ago by Garth Olson
certainement un de meilleurs livres sur l'évolution que j'ai lu dernièrement. la place de lagénétique pour expliquer certaina aspects de... Read morePublished 18 months ago by atheesapiens
Easy to read, Beautiful summery of man kinds journey so far. Incorporating current physical and evolutionary theory and fact together with histories twists and turns. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Alex Stern
An excellent, if not the most elegant, multi-disciplinary presentation on human evolution. It might not be a be-all end-all in understanding human evolution, no single book could... Read morePublished on July 8 2014 by Josh Gaudet
Wade is an enthusiastic genetic determinist, but at least he almost invariably prefaces his questionable assertions with a comprehensive and interesting framing of the issue at... Read morePublished on May 11 2014 by ogilvie
This book by Nicolas Wade opens our eyes to what we are and where we come from. It also reveals to us the common threads that bind us all together. Read morePublished on April 26 2014 by Larry
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