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Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins

42 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 004-6442352109
ISBN-10: 0618352104
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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.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (April 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618352104
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618352104
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,414 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 43 people found the following review helpful By John Davenport on June 19, 2005
Format: Paperback
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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107 of 125 people found the following review helpful By Derek Law on January 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
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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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Falken on July 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By aharnisch on June 19, 2008
Format: Paperback
As mentioned in previous reviews, this is a politically correct journalist tackling human genetic diversity. At a minimum I anticipated a scientific review of the latest research in the field, a survey of recent findings. Instead I was subjected to an endless barrage of Mr. Olson's opinions, and I do emphasize the word opinions, on the genetics of race. I would expect an experienced science writer to at least make an attempt to separate his opinions from scientific fact...no such luck here. Save your money and purchase a book written by a "real scientist."
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Maya Suri on April 13, 2005
Format: Paperback
I picked up this book by chance at the bookstore and would highly reccomend it to people who are interested in learning about the scientific roots of races. First, I found the writing to be fairly simple and at least for me, easy to understand. I find that picking up a scientific book can leave me searching for terms on the web but that was not the case with this book. I was at times bogged down by some weighed down language but none the less a very good book. I felt that the author gave a very well "mapped" out depiction of how we evolved as humans. Overall, i would reccomend this book, especially to anyone who is an enthusiast of human origin.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By C. Gardner on February 19, 2004
Format: Paperback
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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