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Genes, Peoples, and Languages Paperback – Apr 3 2001

3.8 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 239 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press (April 3 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520228731
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520228733
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 1.6 x 21 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #501,514 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Amazon

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

Top Customer Reviews

By Bernie Koenig TOP 1000 REVIEWER on May 5 2011
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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 peoples of the entire world on the basis of the combined fields of genetics and linguistics -- all in a mere 200 pages.
Unfortunately, due to the vastness of this topic I found the quality of information on each point to be quite superficial and unsatisfying for my needs. For example, about the Japanese he merely states that the genetics and linguistics indicate that the modern Japanese are believed to be the product of the combination of the original Jomon people represented by today's Ainu and Okinawans, and the later Yayoi people who crossed over from Korea. And on the Hungarians, he merely says that research reflects their origins in Asia. Well, anyone with even the most basic of knowledge about the early history of these peoples already KNOWS this information and it is hardly anything new. I would be more interested in learning for example whether the genetic results on the Hungarians indicate any sort of genetic input from neighbouring non-Finno-Ugrians, etc. But none of this sort of detail is ever provided.
As I read this book over the Christmas vacation, I found myself likening the experience to eating a piece of traditional Christmas fruitcake. In one paragraph, Cavalli-Sforza might begin talking about a topic of particular interest to me that I found particularly "delicious", and I would say "mmm" in anticipation. But I was then disappointed to find that by the next paragraph (or "mouthful" of information, to continue the Christmas cake analogy), he had already rushed onto another unrelated topic of a different flavour. On the whole, I found the book to be quite uneven (--or should I say "lumpy"?).
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