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Genes, Peoples, and Languages Hardcover – March 1, 2000

ISBN-13: 978-0865475298 ISBN-10: 0865475296 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: North Point Press; 1st edition (March 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0865475296
  • ISBN-13: 978-0865475298
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #304,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

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Customer Reviews

The author has clearly written it as an introduction to this field aimed at the layperson.
Gaetan Lion
At least in this book Cavalli-Sforza recognizes that many experts are opposed to this approach, but he doesn't provide a very clear account of why they are opposed.
John Duncan
It is written like a popular book, but the way the methodology is explained makes it book for science people too.
A Duttaahmed

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Pedro Lobo Martins on 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 By Gaetan Lion on 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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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Peter Gray on 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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