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Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins [Paperback]

by Steve Olson
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2003 0618352104 978-0618352104
In a journey across four continents, acclaimed science writer Steve Olson traces the origins of modern humans and the migrations of our ancestors throughout the world over the past 150,000 years. Like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, Mapping Human History is a groundbreaking synthesis of science and history. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including the latest genetic research, linguistic evidence, and archaeological findings, Olson reveals the surprising unity among modern humans and "demonstrates just how naive some of our ideas about our human ancestry have been" (Discover).Olson offers a genealogy of all humanity, explaining, for instance, why everyone can claim Julius Caesar and Confucius as forebears. Olson also provides startling new perspectives on the invention of agriculture, the peopling of the Americas, the origins of language, the history of the Jews, and more. An engaging and lucid account, Mapping Human History will forever change how we think about ourselves and our relations with others.

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Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins + The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey + Deep Ancestry: Inside The Genographic Project
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Steve Olson's Mapping Human History was a National Book Award finalist and won the Science-in-Society Award from the National Association of Science Writers. Olson has also written for the Atlantic Monthly, Scientific American, and Science. He lives in Bethesda, Maryland, where he coaches the math team at a public middle school.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618352104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618352104
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #571,800 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
35 of 38 people found the following review helpful
This is an excellent book, which I would highly recommend using in parts (or the whole) for introductory level college classes. What is so helpful about it is the way that it brings together the last 50 years of research in paleoanthropology, paleobiology, genetics, and related fields to explain the convergence towards a very wide-spread consensus about the primordial history of our species. The book puts in clear context the snippets that many people have read about 'mitochondrial Eve' and 'Y-chromosome Adam.' Few laypeople realize that there is now such a strong consensus in the scientific community that all contemporary human beings are descended from the same small group of primordial human beings in central East Africa some 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. But this finding, and the related explanations of superficial differences between the "races," is of enormous cultural and political importance. It is as important in anthropology as the discovery of the big bang was in cosmology. It ought to be taught in all our schools. Moreover, while the detailed examples added in the various chapters may be considered 'padding' by some scientific readers, they are very helpful in bringing the ideas alive for non-expert readers. The text is highly accessible and quite gripping -- perfectly usable for college or even high school audiences.
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101 of 119 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Should be a 20-page paper instead January 13, 2005
As mentioned by many reviewers, this book has a lot of preaching about the invalidity of the concept of races.

What interests me to the book was the title "Mapping Human History". 10% of this book content is in this area, and if those content are condensed into a short paper, it'd make really good reading.

The whole book is a quick read. The key "mapping" can be summarized as follows:

1. "Out of Africa" hypothesis (sole source of modern homo sapiens is from Africa) is affirmed by genetic research.

2. First wave out of Africa (~65,000 years ago) is by sea along Arabian peninsula to Indian Ocean which has two streams afterwards, one earlier stream down Oceania and a later stream up East Asia.

3. "Mongoloid" characteristics are formed relatively late (~20,000 years ago? I don't recall anymore)

4. Second wave is through Sinai peninsula by land ~45,000 years ago and completely displaced Neaderthals in Middle East & Europe by around ~30,000 years ago

5. First wave and second wave met in (north) Central Asia from different directions

6. Primarily the East Asia stream entered the Americas ~15,000 years ago (but could be earlier), though some genes from the ME/Europe stream have also entered (because of 5.)

7. All these really happenned before the invention of agriculture (and culture). Agriculture (and potentially other key technologies such as use of iron) privileges the groups who are the first to under-go population explosion. A lot of racial mixing especially on the fringes afterwards. This is where Jared Diamond's "Guns, Germs and Steel" picked up.

If you're just interested in the mapping, you don't need to buy the book-- save it for something else.
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21 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars DNA Lite July 2, 2005
By Falken
If you are looking for a general overview of human migration over the last 60 millennia then this book might fill the bill. However, if you are looking for DNA tracing with useful data, buy something else because this one don't go there.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Searching for the great migration February 19, 2004
This book is a fascinating overview of the work of the many scientists engaged in a truly scientific treatment of heritage (which would complement both our origins both mythical and religious). It's their hope that one day in the future there will be an accurate map of human history which will trace the migration of modern humans from northeast Africa to the Middle East and their subsequent diffusion throughout the world.
But this book also contains several concise arguments against the concept of human "races," a construct that does not hold up to scientific scrutiny at all (but which has been used for the past three hundred years to justify the worst crimes against humanity). The main points are that 1) while there are averages to the features of ethnic groups, these do not hold when taking individuals individually, that is, the variations between individuals of a given "race" are greater than average variations between the races themselves; 2) the vast majority of humans have "mixed" ancestry beyond about four generations; 3) every human being alive today is descended from the groups which left Africa some 65,000 years ago. Racism should really be called "contingencism", that is, when one discriminates against a group of persons based upon the wholly accidental adaptations of their ancestors to local geographical/climatic conditions.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book! May 4, 2004
By A Customer
Steve Olson's Mapping Human History is an excellent introduction to historical genetics, and indeed it has been called by the New Scientist as "the most balanced, accessible and up-to-date survey of the field currently available." It is written by a renowned science journalist, not a scientist, who quotes and discusses the leaders in the field in a quite readable and entertaining fashion. The book has apparently offended some people by discounting ancestry (and racist offshoots) in light of the overwhelming evidence against the concept. However its scientific credentials are impeccable.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly biased!
Instead of relying on the science of genome mapping, Olson relies on political correctness: for example, Olson contends that virtually all behavioral and intellectual differences... Read more
Published 4 months ago by sashamanda
2.0 out of 5 stars Wishful Thinking
The genetic origins of humans, as well as of any other species, is as subject matter intrinsically interesting. Read more
Published 8 months ago by George O'Har
2.0 out of 5 stars Re-Plowing and pontificating
Mr Olson as a "Science Writer" is plowing the same ground as a number of scientists who did the original research,and have written about it. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Frank Hasty
5.0 out of 5 stars Mapping Human History, Genes, Race, and Our Common Oridins
This excellent book written by renowned science writer represents contemporary knowledge in one of most thrilling
sphere of science - history of migration humans from... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mikhail Reynberg
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Well written and easy to understand, I would recommend it to anyone who desires and understanding of how we came to be.
Published 14 months ago by James S. Cooper
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Read
Informative, well researched, well written, and enjoyable.

The book covers every continent and how the human genes spread though that land. Read more
Published 24 months ago by HappyBuyer
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book
This book delivers. It is a thoroughly enjoyable exposition of whence we came. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Jewish genetics. Read more
Published on February 7, 2011 by Bob Rothman
4.0 out of 5 stars a good read
This book by Steve Olson is about DNA and where we human beings came from. For instance he says that all of the 6 billion people alive today have descended from a small group of... Read more
Published on April 22, 2010 by J. Robert Ewbank
2.0 out of 5 stars Misleading account
"No significant difference was found in genes belong to different races"

Olson seems to subordinate science for political reasons. Read more
Published on November 2, 2008 by Viewer
5.0 out of 5 stars ROFLCOPTER!
I went to and searched my name...Jarred Stephen Olson. Then I clicked the "I'm Feeling Lucky" button and it came to this book. Read more
Published on September 19, 2008 by Alphabet Soup
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