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Genes, Peoples, and Languages [Hardcover]

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza , L. L. Cavalli-Sforza , Mark Seielstad
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)


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Book Description

March 2000 0865475296 978-0865475298 1st
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza was among the first to ask whether the genes of modern populations contain a historical record of the human species. Cavalli-Sforza and others have answered this question-anticipated by Darwin-with a decisive yes. Genes, Peoples, and Languages comprises five lectures that serve as a summation of the author's work over several decades, the goal of which has been nothing less than tracking the past 100,000 years of human evolution.

Cavalli-Sforza raises questions that have serious political, social, and scientific import: When and where did we evolve? How have human societies spread across the continents? How have cultural innovations affected the growth and spread of populations? What is the connection between genes and languages? Always provocative and often astonishing, Cavalli-Sforza explains why there is no genetic basis for racial classification and proposes that a comparison of blood types is a far better means of determining "genetic distance" and explaining linguistic and cultural differences.

A panoramic tour of the major discoveries in genetic anthropology, Genes, Peoples, and Languages gives us a rare firsthand account of some of the most significant scientific work of recent years.



Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

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.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (March 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865475296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865475298
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,008,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
49 of 51 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A summary of human genetic and linguistic evolution June 18, 2000
Format:Hardcover
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.
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44 of 46 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to the history of mankind. March 5, 2005
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a concise population history of our species June 15, 2000
Format:Hardcover
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).
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A huge improvement on its predecessor
The first thing to say is that this is a far better book than its predecessor The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity and Evolution, which covers a lot of the same... Read more
Published 14 months ago by John Duncan
2.0 out of 5 stars Surely outdated by now, with appalling maps
With DNA studies of populations being produced so much more often these days, I'm not at all sure how this work published in 2000 stands up, since it was based on research done up... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Dr Garry
5.0 out of 5 stars A must read on Genetics applied to Anthropology
It is written like a popular book, but the way the methodology is explained makes it book for science people too. Read more
Published 16 months ago by A Duttaahmed
4.0 out of 5 stars Genetics, migrations and ah, yes, let's include something on languages
In this book you will find the first attempts to correlate the findings in genetics and glottology to explain human migrations and the actual mix of people found around the globe. Read more
Published on November 1, 2010 by A. Panda
5.0 out of 5 stars Stimulating read from a pioneer evolutionary biologist and geneticist
Since the appearance of this book nearly ten years ago, the sequencing of the human gene has greatly increased the specific knowledge of the Journey of Man, as Spencer Wells, a... Read more
Published on October 24, 2010 by virtualchemist
2.0 out of 5 stars I wouldn't read it twice
Pretty superficial book, its principal content could be condensed into 30% of the original volume. One worrying finding: the author is extremely careless for a scientist in his... Read more
Published on August 29, 2009 by RF
4.0 out of 5 stars An Excellent Introduction to Genetic Analysis of Human Evolution
Genes, Peoples, and Languages is an excellent introduction to the study of how the human species has evolved and spread out of Africa. Dr. Read more
Published on March 25, 2009 by J. Canestrino
5.0 out of 5 stars The map of peoples migrations
It really stuck to me these 2:
- the description of the concept of race, in his view the concept of race is obsolete and it just does not have any valuable meaning, and he... Read more
Published on October 2, 2008 by Luca
4.0 out of 5 stars Genes, People and Languages
The connection between the categories in the title becomes more apparent after reading this excellent book.
Published on July 30, 2007 by Jeffrey A. Jones
5.0 out of 5 stars Genes, Peoples, and Languages
Excellent reference explaining the current developments and thinking on the evolution of Homo Sapiens.
Published on June 1, 2007 by John A. Guthmann
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