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Race?: Debunking a Scientific Myth (Texas A&M University Anthropology Series) Hardcover – September 1, 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"In the footsteps of Haddon and Huxley, a prominent anthropologist and a prominent evolutionary geneticist have teamed up to give us a powerful scientific critique of the commonsensical idea of race.  Distinguished scholars and skilled communicators, Ian Tattersall and Rob DeSalle show clearly how “race” simply cannot be used as a synonym for “human biological diversity”.  In the age of genomics, this partnership of intellectual specialties is particularly valuable, and the result is a splendid testament to the merits of trans-disciplinary collaborations."--Jon Marks, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina-Charlotte

(Jon Marks 2011-03-31)

"If you think you understand what 'race' is, read this book!"--Ian Paulsen, Birdbooker Report, The Guardian

(Ian Paulsen Birdbooker Report 195 2011-11-07)

"Tattersall and DeSalle argue that not only are the differences between the classically defined "races" very superficial, they are also of suprisingly recent origin...The diversity among us has risen in a blink of evolution's eye...began to reverse as formerly isolated human groups came back into contact and interbred...Tattersall and DeSalle confront those industries head on and in no uncertain terms, arguing that "race-based medicene" and "race-based genomics" are deeply flawed."--Jan Sapp, professor in the biology department at York University in Toronto, American Scientist

(Jan Sapp American Scientist 2012-02-17)

"This well-written, enjoyable book should be suitable for a broad range of readers interested in human diversity, its origins, and its future."--S.D. Stout, Choice

(S.D Stout, Ohio State University Choice 2012-02-29)

"Race? is an accessible primer on much of the biological theory relevant to the question of race...this book appeals to both general readers and students of biology, anthropology, and the history and philosophy of science as a valuable, if incomplete, overview of  the topic's major themes."--Paul Mitchell, Expedition
(Paul Mitchell Expedition 2012-11-29)

"In Race? Debunking a Scientific Myth, they [the authors] dismantle the biological notion of race...the authors argue that a valid justification for the concept of race does not exist...that all the variations we characterize as 'racial' accumulated over a relatively short time span...an informative, well-researched, and well-written contribution to the scientific, intellectual (and even mundane) discourse on the lingering problem of race."--Okori Uneke, International Social Science Review
(Dr. Okori Uneke International Social Science Review 2013-05-12)

"This is a helpful book for anyone who wants a short, accurate and scholarly appraisal of race as a concept . . . Students in both anthropology and human genetic courses will benefit from the discussions this book will provide."--Quarterly Review of Biology
(Quarterly Review of Biology)

“Tattersall and DeSalle expertly and clearly summarize the scientific findings that provide the best evidence about the insignificance of race. They also survey, usefully and succinctly, the history of ideas about race from the Enlightenment through the genome project. Summarizing current biological and archaeological work, Tattersall and DeSalle note that all humans have a genetic make-up nearly 100 percent African in Origin.” — Victorian Studies
(Victorian Studies 2014-10-08)

About the Author

IAN TATTERSALL, curator emeritus in the American Museum of Natural History, is also the author of Paleontology: A Brief History of Life (Templeton Press, 2010), The Fossil Trail: How We Know What We Think We Know about Human Evolution (Oxford University Press, 2009), and The World from Beginnings to 4000 BCE (Oxford University Press, 2008).
ROB DESALLE is a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics. He curated the American Museum of Natural History’s new Hall of Human Origins (2006) and has written more than 300 peer-reviewed scientific publications and several books. Tattersall and DeSalle recently coauthored Human Origins: What Bones and Genomes Tell Us about Ourselves (Texas A&M University Press, 2007).



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Product Details

  • Series: Texas A&M University Anthropology Series (Book 15)
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Texas A&M University Press (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603444254
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603444255
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,637 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The authors strive diligently to explain the shifting concepts of race, the flawed arguments for its objective reality, and how the human race is is of recent origin, yet undergoing changes, past and present, which makes attempts at consistent racial classification absurd. They assert that "[O]ur notions of race are born in our heads or are acquired by them." And, later, "it's a hopeless and counterproductive task to recognize and categorize discrete 'faces,' or subspecies among Homo Sapiens today." ... "Biologically, race is better characterized as a non-problem."

The authors, in my view, have amply demonstrated some of the many pitfalls of assigning imagined racial differences as the sole source of a great many human variations.

As I read the book, I found myself thinking of the concept "love." It is something that nearly all have experienced and recognize. The genetic basis, if any, of why some love deeply and some not at all remains largely unexplored. Yet, love is a useful and deeply held construct, however flawed, incomplete, and difficult to define and extricate from surrounding facts and influences.

This book provides ample cautionary reasons to avoid facile racial characterization. It does not, in my view, and at the current stage of genetic research, demonstrate that categorization is without hope or merit. For that reason, expect the government to continue using the concept while asserting, as the census bureau does, that it is a social construct. The real differences behind our current understandings of race have yet to be fully defined. Readers in this field should be aware that many excellent books exist on race, IQ, and their historical controversies.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Racial typologists have often claimed, with reason, that if human beings were just any biological species, the things we call "races" would be named as taxonomic subspecies. The fact that they're not (actually they have been, but the nomenclature is not generally recognized or accepted) is taken as evidence that the matter is so politically and socially charged as to prevent the normal exercise of taxonomic judgment. Those who, like the authors of this book, would like the entire notion of "race" to go away, have little choice but to acknowledge the point--and then point out that there is in fact no biological concept of the subspecies anyway, whether one is dealing with moths, kangaroos, or people. A subspecies is anything a taxonomist finds worthy of naming as such, and is thus entirely subjective, with no rigorous scientific criterion for taxonomic recognition. (This is a problem for endangered-species law too, insofar as it allows for protection of subspecies.) During the height of the neo-Darwinian synthesis, there was a tendency to view taxonomic subspecies as species in the making. With the advent of molecular genetics and especially genomics, it is now perfectly clear that taxonomic recognition cannot be taken as a good predictor of genetic differentiation. Some things that look very different are nearly identical genomically, and some things that are virtually identical in appearance show deep historical separation from their nearest relatives.
All of this is explained very well in this book, which makes the point (over and over again!
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Format: Hardcover
With a clear prose, both authors prosecute the case very well that race is more a social and cultural construct than a sound biological reality. A significant portion of the book demonstrates that Homo sapiens is, surprise, surprise, a single species. Within a single species all members by deifinition can interbreed. The book then presents firm and indisputable data, based on genetics, that human beings have always interbred since the end of Ice Age. It was due to geographic isolation in the past that different groups developed different characteristics, primarily through genetic drift and the founder effect. However, once physical isolation and barriers had dissipated, interbreeding amongst these various groups commenced, and reintegration occured. Any "pure group" never ever existed and never will. While these should all be quite obvious, the human obsession to classify things in the universe can lead us astray. The only remedy is sound science which this book amply provides.
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This book is more a history of the study anthropology and genetics. I guess its thesis, regarding race, is that concepts of race are concepts of subspecies, and subspecies cannot exist because there's no adequate way to diagnose these subspecies. That's fine, I guess. But the book takes forever to get there, and the ride isn't very fun. Instead of footnotes, it uses quick attributions (professor x and y at university of z have found that [insert proposition]), and it probably mentions every single person that has ever contributed, even minimally, to anthropology. It feels like it goes on and on that way, like a docent taking through every single exhibit in a museum, instead of showing you the five or ten that are most important.
The reason I wrote "I guess" above is that most racists don't believe there's clear delineation among the races, but that humans can observe differences, at least morphological, among people. The racist theory is that those differences are not just skin deep. I feel that any book debunking race has to debunk that proposition, and this book doesn't do it. It gives just a few pages on the idea, and basically follows the well-established notion that virtue, intelligence, and all that jazz are socially contingent, and that the ability to act in accordance with them is a product of environment. But for anyone who already knows that, this book doesn't offer that much.
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