From Publishers Weekly
Arguing that human genetic evolution is still ongoing, physicist-turned-evolutionary biologist Cochran and anthropologist Harpending marshal evidence for dramatic genetic change in the (geologically) recent past, particularly since the invention of agriculture. Unfortunately, much of their argument-including the origin of modern humans, agriculture, and Indo-Europeans-tends to neglect archaeological and geological evidence; readers should keep in mind that assumed time frames, like the age of the human species, are minimums at best and serious underestimates at worst. That said, there is much here to recommend, including the authors' unique approach to the question of modern human-Neanderthal interbreeding, and their discussion of the genetic pressures on Ashkenazi Jews over the past 1,000 years, both based solidly in fact. They also provide clear explanations for tricky concepts like gene flow and haplotypes, and their arguments are intriguing throughout. Though lapses in their case won't be obvious to the untrained eye, it's clear that this lively, informative text is not meant to deceive (abundant references and a glossary also help) but to provoke thought, debate and possibly wonder.
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Cochran and Harpending dispute the late Stephen Jay Gould’s assertion that civilization was “built with the same body and brain” Homo sapiens has had for 40,000 years. Humanity has been evolving very dramatically for the last 10,000 years, they say, spurred by the very civilizational forces launched by that evolution. They initially retreat, however, to Gould’s 40,000-year benchmark to consider how H. sapiens replaced H. neanderthalensis and to argue for genetic mixing such that modern humans got from Neanderthals the innovative capacity for civilization. Later, agricultural life created problems necessitating adaptations, most importantly to disease and diet, that persist to this day among inheritors of the populations that made them. Lighter skin and eye color arose from other genetic reactions to environmental challenges, and less immediately obvious changes further discriminated discrete populations, as recently as late-eighteenth-century Ashkenazi Jews, among whom intelligence burgeoned in, Cochran and Harpending contend, adaptive response to social pressure. A most intriguing deposition, without a trace of ethnic or racial advocacy, though directed against the proposition that “we’re all the same.” --Ray Olson
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