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The Great Human Diasporas: The History Of Diversity and Evolution Paperback – November 6, 1996

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Editorial Reviews Review

The title The Great Human Diasporas implies that this book is a history of human migration, but it is much more. It is a readable, accessible summary of the lifework of Luca Cavalli-Sforza, who has done more than anyone else to reveal the genetic makeup of human populations. Originally written in Italian with Cavalli-Sforza's filmmaker son Francesco, it maintains some qualities of an interview: The Great Human Diasporas is full of anecdotes about the Pygmies with whom Cavalli-Sforza works, the text is frequently personal yet not self-serving, and it clearly shows how he helped tie together population genetics, linguistics, and anthropology to offer a new, non-racist view of human diversity.

From Publishers Weekly

Stanford geneticist Luigi Cavalli-Sforza has spent more than 30 years studying genetic variations in DNA samples from the people around the world. The evidence, he says, supports the belief that modern humans originated in Africa, the Middle East or both regions, then spread around the planet. In this lucid report, written with his son Francesco, an educational film director, he uses genetic differences, maps, computer simulations and an analysis of linguistic changes in the world's languages to hypothetically reconstruct the mass migrations of people across continents since modern humans first appeared. He begins this scientific odyssey with an account of his hunt with pygmies-one of the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers-in an African rain forest; then he discusses the spread of agriculture, cultural transmissions of behavior patterns, the Human Genome Project and the exceedingly slight differences among the races.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Perseus Books; 1st Ppbk Printing, Oct.1996 edition (November 6, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0201442310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0201442311
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #470,758 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

60 of 61 people found the following review helpful By los desaparecidos on September 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
The most rewarding part of this popular science book is the middle, fifth to seventh chapters, in which Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, Professor of Genetics at Stanford Medical School, draws on scientific research in human population genetics, in which he has been a well respected pioneer, to describe the migration of human populations beginning about 100,000 years ago out of Africa until recent times. Because patterns of genetic and linguistic evolution exhibit high intercorrelations--even though their respective elements and mechanics differ--he also cites linguistic evidence for this account of migratory prehistory.
The most valuable contribution of this book to popular understanding is that population genetics provides possibly the best though not sole scientific basis on which to construct the prehistory of human "races." By this evidence, we learn, for example, about the migration of modern Homo sapiens to Southeast Asia and Australia approximately 55,000 to 60,000 years ago or about the spread of Neolithic farmer-cultivators from the Middle East into Europe beginning about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago. I suspect that readers unfamiliar with modern human evolution will find the genetic tree of the world's populations on page 119 intriguing. The diagram shows, for example, that Northeast Asians are more closely related to Europeans than Northeast Asians are to Southeast Asians.
For as rapidly advancing a science as human population genetics, it should not be surprising that some findings are dated.
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95 of 114 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
This collaboration between one of the great population geneticists and his filmmaker son promises much but lets down on delivery. The style and content of the book are uneven. Some topics are told in detail and with compelling narrative, particularly the account of L. L. Cavalli-Sforza's work since the 1960s to establish correlations among genetic, linguistic, and archaeological evidence for the history and relationships of the major human groups. Much weaker, however, is his grasp of cultural anthropology, whether in details or in methods. He attempts to convey an impression of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle (predominant through almost all of human history until the last 10,000 years) through extended references to his field research among African pygmies.
Unfortunately, though he is quite sympathetic to the pygmies and their way of life, much of the effect is lost in empty generalities (p. 16: "The forest may look gloomy to us but pygmies feel entirely at home and safe there. It is a place where little that is untoward can happen to them, where danger is limited and life very pleasant."), and his cross-cultural examples come almost exclusively from pygmies or from his personal experience of various Western Europeans. Some points of history, used as examples, are in error (Bede was an English monk who lived from 672 or 673 to 735; not a "sixth-century Irish monk" p. 80).
Cavalli-Sforza also seems to have little knowledge of modern cultural anthropology.
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40 of 48 people found the following review helpful By on March 25, 1998
Format: Paperback
Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza, a well known and respected geneticist, has teamed up with his son, Francesco Cavalli-Sforza, to write a superb, well-informed, literate, and easy to read book on genetics, race, and evolution. Using the elder Cavalli-Sforza's own research and that of others, the team weaves a story, starting with research on the pygmies, that entertains as well as informs. I am a scientist, but not a geneticist; what I particularly liked about this book is that it spoke in non-jargon language, yet did not shy away from the sophistication and complexity involved in the subject matter. I also liked and applauded the way the authors forthrightly and honestly dealt with subjects of controversy, such as the concept of race, racism, race and IQ, and so forth. Their destruction of the arguments of Jensen, Shockley and Herrnstein that the differences in IQ between Blacks and whites is genetic is beautiful and complete. This is a wonderful book for the layperson as well as the expert who wishes to read outside his or her field.
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25 of 29 people found the following review helpful By John A. Werneken on May 6, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
So easy to read: no science degree required. And so full of the actual scientific information, that I could also play armchair scientist, develop my own theories a few pages ahead of the authors' telling me theirs, and shout AHA! or groan "AW" as further reading showed if I had understood, or not.
The author has been studying for sixty years what we can learn now, from differences in human body types, body chemistry, and DNA, about the past travels of the human race as it came to populate the entire world. I am astonished at how far I could see into the distant past through their work and words.
Words are a second theme of the book, how languages in general seem also, like modern people, to have had one ancient source and then diversified as early humans expanded. He shows how frequently languages spread without the populations involved being in any way replaced, and explains how some changes, such as inventing farming, were so beneficial that not only the new tongues but also the new body types spread widely from small original sources.
There are apparently four great streams of body types: African; Australian; what is called Caucasian; and what is considered Asian, with the last two at different times providing peoples who still have descendants living all the way from Span to different populations of American Indians.
Languages seem to include mainly the results of the four body types plus the results of four separate independent inventions of farming, in Palestine, in north China, in south China, and in central America. Finally the gunpowder and trading revolution in Europe largely replaced American languages, and then the industrial revolution, like farming, vastly expanded our total numbers.
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