on June 18, 2000
Cavalli-Sforza's invaluable contribution to the understanding of why, before the more recent diasporas, we lived were we lived, spoke what we spoke and looked like what we looked like, was made concrete with the publication, in 1994, of the excellent "The History and Geography of Human Genes". Much less complete than this book were the more recent "The Great Human Diasporas" and Sforza's last book, "Genes, Peoples and Languages". These somewhat summarize what can be found in the pages of "The History and Geography of Human Genes", by the same author,with which they share several maps and tables.
Nevertheless, "Genes, Peoples and Languages" was worth reading, since it incorporates more recent genetic data and linguistic research, and this is what you are looking for if you want to keep up with the advances in this field. A more comprehensive explanation to statistical methods used to define genetic trees and to draw principal component maps, plus an interesting chapter on cultural transmission explaining how, in the microsphere, it helps to operate genetic and linguistic evolution, are novelties in this publication.
Putting aside race and its seemingly subjective definitions, racism and its definetely scientifically undermined fundaments, I would like to recommend this book to those who, like myself, are curious laymen fascinated by the matter of human biological and cultural origins. A more thorough approach to the subject(more maps, tables, trees, drawings and text)you'll find in "The History and Geography of Human Genes, though.
on March 5, 2005
This is an excellent and easy to read book about the fascinating analysis of the heritage of mankind. The author has developed an extensive multidisciplinary approach that includes: a) archeology, b) history, c) genetics, d) linguistics, and e) mathematics.
Although the author never stresses mathematics as a key discipline to analyze mankind heritage, his work relied on Principal Component Analysis, Multidimensional Scaling, Cluster Analysis, Logistic Regression, and Hypothesis Testing. Thus, the readers familiar with these statistical methods will enjoy reading this book as a fascinating social science application of such methods.
You certainly don't have to be a mathematician or a scientist to enjoy this book. The author has clearly written it as an introduction to this field aimed at the layperson.
You will learn many fascinating concepts. One of those, is that the history of genes, cultures, and languages converge. In essence, they all influence each other back and forth. It is somehow hard to tell what is the main driver of overall changes in population. You run into many Nature or Nurture arguments. Continuing along the same line, he refers to other scientific works explaining the difference in IQ between individuals. Well, it is 1/3 due to heredity (nature); 1/3 due to cultural transmission (nurture); and 1/3 due to differences in personal experience (random). That is a pretty far cry from the 80% to 90% due to heredity that many people believe in. Also, natural evolution will or has already stopped according to the author. This is because medicine in industrialized societies has reduced the natural mortality rate down to almost zero among the pre-reproductive age set. In other words, medicine has eliminated the natural selection process as the survival rate mechanism of our specie. Some of us may have had concepts that humans eventually will evolve and look like aliens with extremely big heads (for superior intelligence and processing powers) and very skimpy bodies (since physical force is useless in an information age). Well, that's not going to happen.
Throughout the book there are many very interesting graphs and maps that beautifully illustrate and clarify the concepts he introduces. The migration map on page 94, clearly outlines all the major original migrations out of Africa starting 100,000 years ago. On page 71, a world map showing the actual genetic distance between locations is fascinating too. On page 164, you can observe the best diagram of the Indo-European languages you will ever see. English is a Germanic language, as we all know. However, English predates German by several centuries!
You can see how throughout his life, he must have been a fantastic university professor. About 6 months ago, I started reselling my books at Amazon Marketplace to cut my cost of reading. However, I am not reselling this one. I am keeping it as a reference. I anticipate there will be so many occasions when I will be glad I have kept it. The book has opened for me a new window of knowledge quest where so many of the social and quantitative sciences have converged into one to crack the mystery of the history of mankind. I hope this book will do for you, what it did for me.
on June 15, 2000
In a book notable for its accessibility to non-specialists, Cavalli-Sforza presents a concise overview of the history of our species. He relies first and foremost on relationships among aboriginal populations that he has been instrumental in delineating through molecular analyses (e.g. use of blood groups and more recently other systems such as microsatellites). He also relies on archeological and linguistic evidence as independent lines of evidence. The attempt at synthesis of these varied lines of evidence is admirable. A few figures--one displaying early human migration and another geographical distributions of 17 linguistic families--show some of the key population movements described in the text. I wish there were more of these kinds of summary figures. The book succeeds in clearly explaining concepts such as genetic drift and the utility of different genetic systems for understanding human evolution (e.g.Y chromosome variations help us understand male histories and mitochondrial DNA female histories in particular). It also contains a chapter on language evolution that contrasts principles of linguistic evolution with genetic evolution, and a final chapter on cultural evolution. Overall, this book contains a good, concise, synthetic account of the history of modern humans, beginning with our origins in Africa 100,000-200,000 years ago, and migrating to different parts of the world since and at different times. Much of the work appears to build on a more technical 1994 work: History and Geography of Human Genes, perhaps a more suitable reference for those with more background on these topics. The book could have been improved with more graphical depictions of the population movements discussed, as well as by pictures of major and frequently mentioned aboriginal populations such as the Saami (or Lapplanders).
I found GENES, PEOPLES, LANGUAGES, by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza a fascinating read by a noted scholar who has apparently made a significant contribution concerning the role the study of genetics can play in interpreting past and current social patterns. Sforza links what scholars currently know about the genetic composition of various population groups with what contemporary linguists understand to be historical language patterns. He also brings some archeological information into the equation. In all three cases he relies on the syntheses of other researchers, such as J.P. Mallory. to complete his triangulation of perspectives: geneology-linguistics-archeology.
All three disciplines suggest change occurs, if by change you mean that various genes, pots, and ways of speaking evolve, or are overrun by others or overrun others themselves. What is of interest to Cavalli-Sforza is this: What can gentics tell us about change as well as its various outcomes?
All the evidence seems to point to two possible causes of change, the first demic, the second cultural transmission. Demic change occurs when one group physically displaces another though migration or differential reproduction (births). Groups with violent ways may replace more passive groups. Groups with higher fertility may replace those with lower fertility. The second method of change, cultural transmission occurs when Group B adopts Group A's cultural practices - way of speaking, making pots, burial practices, and the like.
Although he looks at change throughout the world, like many scholars, he focuses on the Indo-Europeans more than any other group. Cavalli-Sforza's theory regarding them (which he supports to some extent with detail from various scholars) suggests Renfrew and Gimbutas might both be right. Renfrew apparently links the distribution of Indo-European languages with the spread of farming practices making it a Neolithic event originating from Anatolia around 10,000 years ago. If Cavalli-Sforza is correct, 5,000 years later the Kurgan Bronze-Age culture described by Gimbutus which some scholars suggest probably spoke a proto-Indo-European language overran agricultural areas settled by their own ancestors.
Cavalli-Sforza's book is a fascinating study that those interested in the links between linguistics and geneology might consider reading.
on January 29, 2003
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"?).
This book basically condenses the information contained in Cavalli-Sforza's classic 1994 work "The History and Geography of Human Genes", and mixes it with a dose of basic linguistics. The only new information is data on the genetics of the populations of the Caucasus region, which was previously unavailable. For me, the most useful part of the book has turned out to be its up-to-date bibliography which will directly me to the more detailed information I seek, much of it hidden away in obscure journal articles.
If you are brand new to the area of origins of peoples, this book is probably just right for you. But if you have any knowledge about prehistory or linguistics you will probably find this book as unsatisfying as I have. Overall, I'd recommend spending the extra bucks and getting the original work mentioned above. This is what I will now have to do.
on July 2, 2001
It's difficult to review a book by Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, not because he's obtuse and overly technical - in fact his writing is very readable by non biologists - but because of the fact that this pioneer in population genetics has so much to say about so many fields in modern science drawing from a lifetime of experiences in the field. This is particularly true of GENES, PEOPLES, AND LANGUAGES which is based on lectures that summarize his lifework and theories. The man delves into biology, anthropology, lingustics, statistics, serology, evolution, and of course, genetics. He touches on culture, race, religion, and language; he has theories about human origins, migrations, adaptations, and the switch from hunter gatherers to agriculture. In short in the field of science, when Cavalli-Sforza writes or speaks, people tend to listen and read. We don't necessarily always agree with him, but we'll get to that in a minute.
From the early 1950's Cavalli-Sforza says he wondered "whether it was possible to reconstruct the history of human evolution using genetic data from living populations." This epiphany is significant for two reasons. Firstly that he followed up on it and obtained sufficient blood samples and has compiled a massive data base of human genetic data, is incredible in its own right. Secondly it is such a paradigm shift in the way science has studied human evolution and history. No longer were researchers restricted to the slim pickings from archaelogy, anthropology and history, namely: relics, human bones, and ancient documents. Cavalli-Sforza has made three major contributions to science using his genetic data on human migrations: (1) he was one of the first scientists to develop an "evolutionary tree" of human origins (2) he susequently mapped our migrations and (3) he showed that agriculture was transmitted around the world, not by transfer of cultural traits, but by movement of actual people.
More than half (4 out of 6 chapters) of GENES, PEOPLES AND LANGUAGES is devoted to looking at human population genetics. There are two other chapters; one each on the relationship between genes and language and the influence of genetics on cultural evolution. These last two chapters although interesting in their own right don't flow with the rest of the book, nor are they as well written; they could definitely have done with more editing.
Back to the first 4 chapters and my earlier point that some people disagree with Cavalli-Sforza's opinions. He is a major proponent of the view that there is no biological basis for human races. He would definitely be one who would quote the oft heard refrain that "race is only skin deep", and he provides a wealth of genetic data to prove this point. Race however is a lot deeper than skin, it is in the bones. Ask most anthropologists who deal with the human skeleton, or a forensic expert, and they will probably agree that they can differentiate between races. But wait, ask any biologist who looks at humans through a microscope and studies blood, and they will admit they have no idea what race they're looking at. This difficulty in arriving at a definitive statement on the reality of races is just one of the many debates in science. Cavalli-Sforza's opinion is just that - his view. The same is true for his support for the linear descent of human evolution, or the "African Eve" theory, which argues that we can all supposedly trace our beginnings to a single female hominid. The differences between anthroplogists known as "splitters" and "lumpers" is what you'll have to refer to in order to sort out that debate. Also what about Cavalli-Sforza's view that only cultural evolution is now taking place in mankind; contrast this with those who say human evolution is in fact speeding up.
All of this is housekeeping among biologists. Non biologists (myself included) need only be aware of these differences of opinion. This book is not argumentative, so it's not a polemic about race, culture, or politics. As a well written general introduction to some of the more interesting topics in human genetics, by someone universally recognized as a true pioneer in the field, this is a good place to start.
on November 19, 2002
Even though this is a slim volume it is deceptively rich in content.
Although a bit jaded and written from the perspectives of the late 1980's it is still a unique and rewarding book.
I am surprised that no book has been written to date including more updated / symbiotic topics.
It covers some of the history of 'modern man', the title subjects and more, focusing on last 3-5,000 years before present (kYrs bp). We currently only know selective fragmented sections of modern man's history (< 3%).
Although two of the specialism, linguistics and genetics, are united there are still a lot more topic areas to unite in order to provide a fuller map to ancient prehistory, namely climate habitats over time, domesticated animals (their migration & diseases), crops, ancient astronomical/calendar knowledge analysis, seafaring, folklore and cave art.
Maybe then, we will be in a position to use more than conjecture to fill the gaps by using under-utilised or ignored artefacts to see the overlays of the various subject areas thro' time.
I enjoyed his use of PCA, however this should be moved to the appendices to minimise the disruption to the flow.
Although it is well known that climate is the principal force on evolution, effecting the pulses and rhythms of crops/migrations there is no review of the climates over the period in question.
Thus snapshots thro' time showing different habitat zones, groupings ( for hunters, grazers/nomads and agriculturists) and impact on cultures would be of great use.
The analysis of agriculture and Mesolithic/pastoral nomads is scattered and fragmented over the pages.
Unsettlingly maps of Eurasia were provided showing the migrations and influence over time there was no such map provided for Africa and Oceania/Australia.
The author refers to Neanderthals and states that there was no interbreeding with modern man ? No mention is made of Java man in terms of the significance of this region, nor little reference to the, South Asian and Australian Aborigines.
The author accepts that the Australian Aborigines sailed there approx 50-60kyrs bp. Tie this into the fact that the most interesting human explorers, the Polynesian , explored and traded from Madagascar, off the coast of Africa, in the West to Rapa Nui ('Easter' Island) in the East, only 2,000 from Chile. There is no analysis of their influence in Latin America. With the Humboldt current from Peru & Chile would have brought this island within a week or two sailing.
Witness the Palaeolithic rock art and Aborigine remains found by Dr. Walter Neves (Univ. of Sao Paulo) and Marcello Caosta Souza in Brazil and Tierra del Fuego-Chile, see also 'Man Across the Sea' (Univ. of Texas ) by Riley, Kelley, Pennington.
Only one and a bit paragraphs are focused to the Dravidians of South India, recognised as having one of the oldest linguistic branches (older than the Eurasiatic languages at least).
Is it because of our Westerncentric bias, we can only see a cave-man culture in Eurasia, in Late Palaeolithic, and can't seem to enter into our 'Neanderthal' like skulls, that there were other distinctive and hospitable / tropical climates elsewhere, (e.g. Oceania, India, Middle East, Australia, etc), during the ice-age ?
I was disappointed in the blind adoption of current dogma as the earliest migrations of the modern humans into the Americas via the Bering straight ? Similarly the author contends that agriculture only came about in the last 10 ky bp (page 160).
To 'nit pick' further, the book refers the family structure favoured by the Celts in France as 'patriarchal', however anybody who is familiar with Celtic society would recognise that women ARE accepted as 'chief of the household' and one only has to look to female chieftain warriors such as Queen Bodica, who fought the authors compatriots in Roman times, to answer that view.
Little or no mention was made to the hypothesis that mankind migrated on coastal routes, with it's adequate supply of food, similar habitats and fresh water supplied by river sources. Only later was the interior explored, along river routes. This provided food, water and transport mechanism, hence navigation, even to cross rivers, was an early not later skill as indicated in the book.
Were there distinct patterns to distinguish hunter-gathers, nomadic herders and farmers. Such that hunter gathers were early domesticators of dogs, while nomadic herders adopted horses and farmers held pigs ?
Very interestingly he indicated strongly that the Basques/Euskera were related to early Cro-Magnion Europeans and possibly related to the Hunza people speaking Burushaski language in Pakistan, this was all too brief and sketchy.
I found the section the Turkish colonisation of Byzantium very interesting. What struck me was the statement that there was little genetic trace of the original conquerors, all that really changed was the 'software' (language, culture and religion).
It is a young science, but it struck me how this might effect the human discourse in the trouble spots of our 'intelligent' species
Lounes Chikhi, (UCL UK), and colleagues, are looking for markers/tracers by analysing Y mutations, Unique Event Polymorphism's (UEPs).
Can we find out a bit more information on earlier and later population contacts for the Basques, Indian Dravidians, PNG, the Guanche of Canary islands and Negritos/Aborigines of Asia.
More linguistic research work of the type carried out by Joseph Greenberg on the Papua New Guneans, Aborigines of Oceania-Australia-SE Asia, and of course the Dravidians.
Research into the flow of domesticated animals, such as pigs, dogs, goats, horses etc or fruit, rice, cereals, sugar cane and sweat potatoes needs to be carried out. Witness techniques such as RAPYD (Randomly Polymorphised DNA) and plant finger-printing being carried out by Dr. Paul Keim, USA.
There was an all too brief section on Cultural Transmissions/Imprinting. How are old native cultures to survive in the hegemony of the dominant cultures, assist in conserving cultures and languages such as Basque/Euskera. inEurope and ? elsewhere !
on October 12, 2004
There is almost no scientific paper on etnology and antropology that doesn't refer to Cavalli-Sforza's work, which spans several decades and accounts for dozens of publications on the most prestigious scientific journals. The capacity of Cavalli-Sforza of translating into popular science the work that he has accumulated in years of world-class research is admirable.
The book features a re-adapted collection of lessons he held in Paris. It is perfectbly suitable for anyone from the layman to the scientist. In order to make the tractation more fluid, notes with more specific details are found in an appendix. The book summarizes the most important steps in the development of Cavalli-Sforza's scientific quest and projects into areas of interest for which he is less famous, namely glottology.
This book is a must read for anyone interested in etnology, antropology, glottology and genetics. It is not too long and can be considered the first inspiration to continue reading on the subject. At times Prof. Cavalli-Sforza's personal comments on the social and political aspects of research on science are expressed, and maybe sometimes they result out of place. Another limit of the book is that, being so short, some topics are just mentioned, and not enough information is given. This may be upsetting, but then again, it is another reason for reading more on the subject.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in tracking the history of humanity through the differentiation of the genoma, learning about the different families of languages spoken on our planet and searching for accounts of practical achievements of population genetics.
on November 15, 2000
From the perspective of a microbiologist, this work was light on methods & materials and figures and heavy on semantics. As a hobbyist of the great human diaspora, I thought it was a wonderful amalgamation of several disciplines. The spirit is certainly science as it should be - using every tool available to reach an inclusive conclusion. It missed a five star rating from me simply because I felt he could have gone into more depth in almost every chapter.
on December 2, 2002
Cavlli-Sforza presents a history of the human race looking at how humanity spread out of Africa and has changed and evolved. He looks at things such as blood types and proteins explaining why differences might arise between different groups of people. He looks at different of primates such as neanderthals showing how modern man arose. He also gives reasons for genetic variation such as drift and chance. He also looks at groups such as the Basque and Lapps in Europe who have unique genetic makeups and languages that seperate themselves from other Europeans. One impressive thing that is dealt with in the book was the link between language and evolution. He shows how groupings of languages can show how humans spread through time.