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)
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