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What it Means to be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and their Genes
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36 of 47 people found the following review helpful
on October 30, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The easiest thing to do about Marks' work is to dismiss it. Maybe we can simply state that herein lies that 'lefty pinko commie propaganda' that tries hopelessly to be 'PC.' And that's all she wrote! But I am afraid it is not so simple...
Jonathan Marks is writing about _my_ field. I have done some similar work. He is fighting against a popular old force, which tries to ignore not only cultural influence, but also ecological and political, and other influences.
Marks is an expert in his field, and this is very evident. It is interesting that one of the reviewers of this book, Mr. Haines, cites research from past ten years as diminishing to this book. I would like to see this research, not published in a newspaper, please. Genetic determinism, for all its promises, has _failed_ to live up to its expectations. It tries to solve _grand_ answers, and this is pretty hard. Marks is right to question evolutionary psychology, as the field has brought almost _nothing_ but the so-called 'just-so' stories. This is not science, this is myth. And Marks exposes it, as he should. I am also at a loss to observe how Marks wants no Darwinist baggage. This is false; he notes in his work that these explanations can contribute--but again, grand theories based on this kind of 'science' avoid about 150 years of anthropology, which has gone through many of the same pitfalls, by the way.
He is right to question the silliness of invoking the 98% chimpanzee argument, as it is a ridiculous one. He is right to note that folk knowledge manages to mingle in with what is supposed to be science. This is easily the best part of the book, and the dripping sarcasm and the molten anger with which Marks writes is immensely entertaining. However, it is also tragic to observe.
While I do not usually attack a particular Amazon review, I will point that Mr. Haines would benefit from a second reading of the book. Science is generally inaccurate in behavioral sciences (but also elsewhere): this is a simple truth, not an extreme claim. It is also _not_ an attack on science. As a matter of fact, as Marks points out rightly, science is accurate _OVER TIME_, but may be hopelessly misguided sometimes even in the long term. IF this was not the case, there would be no need for new paradigms; but, these do happen, I am afraid. This book is in no way trying to disparage science. If this was the case, Marks would not continue his work. But let me stress this: Marks simply notes that scientists should not put their noses where there is no place for them, or where scientific truth cannot be derived. I do not quite understand why this is a preposterous claim.
Linneus is demonized?! No, Marks simply notes the amount of folk knowledge inherited in this supposedly natural classifying system--what is found 'out there,' in nature. This is a clear point, not demonization. He is showing the arbitrary nature of classification. EVERY biologist should know this, but doesn't. Nor did I, before I got my MA in Physical Anthropology after studying Biology as an undergrad
Particularly, I would like to reply to this comment: "[i]nability to 'get it all right the first time' is inherent in the process. It accomplishes little to portray the process as invalid." Marks _does not_ expect science to get it right the first time. As a matter of fact, a careful reading of his book will indicate that he does not want genetics to fall into the same trap for the _SECOND_ time. Furthermore, far from arguing for abandonment of genetics as a whole, Marks asks geneticists to stop making grand claims when small results are observed: if that is not reasonable I am not sure what is.
Overall, Marks has presented an immensely readable work. Not everyone is going to like it, especially sociobiologists. There is actually nothing terribly revolutionary here. However, Marks' prose and his dripping sarcasm make this a book to read. I have yet to see how it is post-Modern or deconstructionist, for that matter. Marks is interested in science, but wants to see that it does not make mistakes it has so often made in the past. Is that really so controversial?
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
First a couple of structural observations before i look at the content.
It has the organization and transitional structure between chapters of independent essays written for other venues and later shaped into a book. I do not know this for a fact, but the absence of a strong theme which ties the chapters together into a coherent structured book is a hint at it's origin. This lack of coherency as a whole is the main reason i rated it a 4 and not a 5.
Second, i bought the book based on reviews and word of mouth recommendations that were wrong about the themes of the book. I thought it was going to be about what makes chimps and humans different. What it is, is an introduction to anthropologic genetics, behavioral genetics, simply the relationship of genetics to human nature. What i thought was the topic of the book is in fact the issue of chapter 11, titled "is blood so really damn thick?". However it is opposed to sociobiology(evolutionary psychology) in a very consistent manner , so don't confuse the two.
In fact, i was mildly disappointed at this organization and what i thought was a misleading advertising, so much so that i put down the book in chapter 4 and it sank to the bottom of the to-be-read pile for several weeks. This was in addition to what seemed like an eternity spent talking about race. Sadly so because the 6th chapter "folk heredity" is very good on explaining several interesting and illuminating genetic principles:taxonomism, racism, hereditarianism, essentialism(i would have started with chapter 6 if i had known). Simply put i gave up too quickly, don't you make the same mistake. Likewise, since the chapters are not sequential in any particular learning curve way, you can jump and skip around in a manner usually reserved for not-technical non-scientific works, pick and choose what interests you, i expect that you will finish the book as i did, interested and stimulated in my thinking about these important issues.
So after this, what is the common threads that bring the author to create this book? One, is the demarcation problem in science(the author does not however use this philosophic term), that is the question of what is science versus what is not science and two what separates good science from poor. In the author's own words: "We now recognize the need to define the boundaries of science in order to distinguish the authoritative voice of scientists speaking as scientists from the voice of scientists speaking as citizens."pg 94 He uses the term folk heredity, folk science, folk beliefs consistently to separate the science from the common sense general understanding of people. Using folk heredity as others would the term pseudoscience or unscientific common sense.
Along with the demarcation problem he is primarily concerned with the effects of science, with the humanistic concerns for people and how that is subverted or ignored by people claiming to be doing science. This is the topic of chapter 9 "a human gene museum?" where he tackles several sacred cows in science related to the human genome project and in chapter 10 "identity and descent" he tackles kennewick man and the controversy there. This principle is simply that science has as it's ultimate goal the betterment of human lives, and if the means to get there, the technics of science begin to subvert these humanistic goals then scientists better reexamine what they are doing and/or how they are doing it.
The third theme that binds the essays together is the relationship of the anthropology to the genetics in the science of anthropological genetics. To this end several of the beginning chapters, culminating with chapter 6 "folk heredity"(which i feel is the best chapter in the book) deal with the issue of race and genetics. The take home message is pretty simple, race is a cultural abstraction, a societal construction that has no basis in genetics. The variability of characteristics is larger within then it is between these racial groupings. but it takes several chapters to convince the reader that this long held, cherished view of human diversity is in fact not genetic but cultural, not nature but nuture.
Something else that solidifies and holds together the book is the author's passion for science. He protects it when it is under unjustified attack from outside, or being subverted from the inside and criticizes it when it doesn't live up to the high ideals that it proposes. this coupled with the interesting way he writes is reason enough to get the book and read a few of the chapters. He is consistent, plain speaking, mildly addictive, and with a surprise on every page with who he agrees with and who he doesn't. Well worth the time to get to understand an interesting and passionate man who writes about current scientific events with an eye to principles and humanistic goals that is refreshing and important, and unfortunately uncommon in the field.
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59 of 86 people found the following review helpful
HALL OF FAMEon September 18, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Accepting the fallacy of Marks' title, let us start on a positive note. Marks wants to keep apes and humans separate. Fair enough. I don't want to live on termites on a stick, and it's doubtful chimps want to worry about traffic congestion, tax rates or political corruption. Marks wants scientists to do their job well. Who can argue? Marks has courage - he has the temerity to assault the venerable E. O. Wilson, the articulate Richard Dawkins and the revered Jane Goodall. Marks is against racism. Hardly debatable. Marks seems a pretty upstanding fellow. Why then, is this book such an insult to the intelligence?
Mostly because it is a froth of misleading statements, misdirected wrath, misconceptions and mistaken views of science. Marks goes to unusual lengths in dismissing the research achievements of many scientists in both field and laboratory. He blithely dismisses the disclosure that chimpanzee and human genes are nearly identical as "the most overly exposed factoid in modern science." It's not significant because it confuses precision with accuracy. From there, Marks goes on to castigate a legion of scientists for their failure to "get it right" the first time around. Few escape his lash - even Linneaus, who virtually invented classifying life, is a victim, and perpetrator, of cultural artifacts in naming species. This from a man who finds culture an unbridgeable chasm between humans and animals!
Marks spends much of the remainder of the book discussing racial/cultural undercurrents in science. He finds far too much of it in current anthropology. He's correct in this, but his case is "overblown"- a favourite phrase of his. In a welter of complaints, he finds but two scientists to exonerate of the charge: Richard Leowntin and - himself. He doesn't want any cultural or behavioural relationship between humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, a favourite plaint of Lewontin's. Any hint of sociobiology, which he incorrectly defines as the study of human behaviour, must be rejected. This attitude ignores the wealth of research published during the past generation.
Marks' shots against sociobiology would be amusing except that so many will accept them uncritically. Like his mentor, Marks wants humanity to evolve without any evolutionary baggage. Behavioural studies of modern animals are irrelevant according to Marks. Thus is cast aside the whole realm of Darwin's evolution by natural selection. At least as far as it concerns humans. This attitude fits adroitly with Marks' intended reader community. He blames science for many social attitudes, delving deeply into the history of science to build his case. His brief runs from Plato onward, ending with the efforts to map the human genome. Science has long suffered from its cultural roots. The case is flawed by Marks failure to recognize that all through history, science has sought to reveal natures' secrets. It's a process of fits and starts, each gain a limited success. That inability to "get it all right the first time" is inherent in the process. It accomplishes little to portray the process as invalid. If some people have not performed to his expectations doesn't mean science should give up trying.
The area that Marks clearly wants abandoned is understanding of what drives human beings. That some scientists want to look more deeply into the human genome he perceives as a wasted effort. Along with Lewontin, Marks rails against "genes for" this or that aspect of life - particularly human life. Are we to assume then that we should stop looking? Because faulty genes have been shown to invoke certain disorders but haven't been found for others, is the list now complete? He inveighs against looking for genes for criminal behaviour. We don't know enough about how DNA works to decide one way or another. Do we give up analysing how genes perform? And what exactly is criminal behaviour? Even Marks uses statistics of prison populations to build his case. But none of the Enron executives are in prison, nor are likely to be. Do we exclude them from genetic analysis to unravel what genes lead us to do?
This book will go far in inflaming the already anti-scientific attitude prevalent in North American schools. Statements such as "science is not generally accurate" and "scientific statements are routinely falsified" [p. 279] aren't likely to entice anyone into the scientific fold. Students will not be encouraged to enter science disciplines when they're told "it is no easier to get the average scientist to accept responsibility than it is to get the average four-year-old to accept responsibility. After all, Marks is a scientist himself, his statements must be valid. We must assume, it is supposed, that he and Lewontin stand alone by having donned the mantle of responsibility. Yet his book is permeated with complaints that statements made by other scientists have been uncritically accepted. Marks owes the scientific community an apology. More importantly, he owes every young person interested in science an apology for describing them as likely to become irresponsible children instead of aspiring grown-ups. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2008
Format: Paperback
If you're interested in what can and cannot be learned from the new advances in genetics technology--particularly the applications of that technology to the social sciences, history, psychology, political theory, and so on--then 98% Chimp won't disappoint. Marks is clearly conversant with the details of this rapidly advancing field as well as with the wildly unscientific claims made by many of its practitioners--to say nothing of those made by the technocratic/futurist know-nothings in the media or politics who make hay with research findings--and his outrage about how all this is being conveyed to/understood by the public is infectious. The topic is such that some of Marks' specific case studies are already outdated (published in 2002, revised in 2003, and at the time I'm writing this review, in 2008, the field has already changed quite a bit), but the underlying fallacies that he identifies are just as present and as pernicious as ever. The book is most valuable in providing sympathetic readers with the detailed tools necessary for arguing against genetic fundamentalists, socio-biologists and other extremists. It may not convince those on the other side, but if it doesn't give them at least some second thoughts then they aren't really paying attention.

That said, Marks doesn't always seal his arguments in an air-tight manner. I'm essentially 100% in agreement with him. But I kept imagining using his book to debate an intelligent, determined science fundamentalist, and I found on virtually every page an overly facile generalization, a straw-man argument, or an attempt to dodge thornier issues, all of which would be jumped on by an attentive opponent. In most cases I could see how to close the loophole myself, but I shouldn't have to work that hard to do what I take to be the author's job.

Lastly, I found Marks' style really distracting. The constant shifts in register are obviously intended to mark moves in and out of his "sarcastic voice," but listening to an author sneer all the time, even when you agree with him, is a bit unsettling. Especially when the author is writing about such an important subject and one where his opponents are likely to already be on the defensive.
And the short paragraphs.
Don't even get me started on the short paragraphs.
Or the loose structure, in which dozens of such short paragraphs could be moved virtually anywhere else in a given chapter without affecting the meaning.
It often feels as if Marks simply grouped his notecards together and hit "print."
I kept wondering how California's editors let this pass unrevised.
It will do little to instill good writing habits in you or your students.
You get the point.

So all-in-all a useful book, if not quite the slam-dunk this topic desperately needs.
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25 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Format: Hardcover
A catchy and provocative title is now de-rigueur for popular science books on the subject of genetics. It's somewhat surprising then that the message of WHAT IT MEANS TO BE 98% CHIMPANZEE is that it doesn't really mean that much at all. Marks takes a distinctly middle-of-the-road position on most of the scientific debate that has spun off from the human versus ape discussion. Marks says that "the extent to which our DNA resembles an ape's predicts nothing about our genetic similarity to apes, much less about any moral or political consequences arising from it."
In chapters such as "The Ape in You", "How People Differ from One Another" "The Meaning of Human Variation" and "Human Nature" the author lays out his views on hot-button topics such as the biological reality of "races" and "nature vs nurture". Marks is not a believer in strict genetic determinism and therefore does not take a reductionist view of human nature - i.e genetics as a causal factor for everything. He's somewhat more of a humanist but this nod to a more environmentally deterministic view does not extend to an all embracing view of our fellow primates. The non-human primates - Chimpanzees, Bonobos, Gorillas, and Oranutans have an increasing number of human advocates who say that there are moral and ethical consequences that stem from the genetic similarity between apes and humans. Primatologists such as Jane Goodall argue that the higher intelligence and emotional awareness of apes demands a distinction in how we view them, and more importantly, how we treat them. In the chapter "Human Rights for Apes?" Marks discusses the Great Ape Project and the long term objective of getting an U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Apes. Marks will have none of this and sees such positions as pretentiousness on the part of scientists.
The science on animal consciousness is still inconclusive especially as it relates to the Great Apes. It's in the area of self-awareness and higher order thinking ("thinking about thoughts") where much of the debate takes place but this is not Marks' primary interest. Marks' main point is that there is a better approach to understanding these issues, one that is holistic rather than a binary "either/or" argument. Marks introduces us to his speciality in chapter one - "Molecular Anthropology" - and tells us that it combines the reductive power of genetics with the humanistic vision of anthropology. It thus allows practitioners to steer clear of ideologically influenced science.
It's ironic because in arguing about the merits of his field of study, Marks himself comes across as tunnel-visioned and obviously enamored with his own view of things. This is the only problem with this otherwise well written and wide-ranging discussion on some of the current debates in science. Although Marks wouldn't support it because it talks about a sentient Gorilla, for me, Daniel Quinn's book ISHMAEL provides the best overview on this whole debate. Our scientific beliefs give us a view of the world. Ishmael says it's going to be hard for us to give it up because what we're doing is "right" and "giving up would mean that all along [we've] been wrong. It would mean [we've] never known how to rule the world. It would mean relinquishing [our] pretensions to godhood." As if to prove the point, this book can't end without trying to tackle the "big" questions. Marks concludes with a chapter on "Science, Religion, and Worldview".
Enjoy the book for what it is: a good general introduction to genetics, with particular reference to apes and ourselves. Just remember that scientists - even iconoclasts such as Marks who does a great job of cutting through the debate - still are subject to their own biases and particular worldviews. Science itself is still undecided on much of what you read about here.
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9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2002
Format: Hardcover
For about two decades we have been hearing that chimpanzees and humans own 98% of their genetic identity. And for the past few years biological determinism seems to be making a comeback. If crude efforts like "The Bell Curve" are properly dismissed, we still find out that everything from alcoholism to homosexuality is determined by genes. News reports argue that by looking at chimpanzees we can find the truth about our own agressive natures. At the same time we hear about identical twins separated at birth, who are in the same professions, have wives and dogs with the same names, and even have the same styled moustaches. Surely, this is proof of the power of nature.
Well, actually no, and it is the value of this book that it shows the weaknesses of this vulgar Darwinism. The book is somewhat repetitive, and readers may find its invocations of eugenics and Social Darwinism both old news and somewhat unnuanced. But in clear accessible language Marks shows the weaknesses of the above propositions. For a start, the famous homosexuality study, which had a number of weaknesses Marks points out, stated that only 5% of whether one was a homosexual could be explained by genetics. This makes sense, since homosexuality in human societies varies widely, being endemic in some societies at some stages in life (like Classical Rome and Greece) to be harshly repressed in others. Likewise the 98% figure is based on one of a variety of ways of measuring our genetic identity, and Marks points out that it was manipulated in such a way so that chimpanzees would appear closer to us than to gorillas. Obviously we and chimpanzees are very close genetically, but how can we tell whether a trait in chimpanzees explains an aspect of human society? The possibilities are that a) it does reflect a common inherent trait of both species b) it reflects a common trait that humans evolved out of or c) it reflects a trait that evolved in chimpanzees after they differentiated from our ancestors. We cannot simply tell by just looking, and without a genetic explanation. As for the identical twins, think about it a little more closely. How could the choice of one's profession, the shape of one's moustache, the name we give our dog, or the name of the person who decides to marry us, possibly be genetically determined. It is too good to be true, and it usually is (more likely the reason is sureptitious contact between the "separated" twins.)
Marks goes on to provide many other interesting asides, such as why black athletes are not "genetically" superior to others. He discusses the strange tale of "Kennewick Man" reported in the media as a Caucasian skeleton that American Indians politically correctly wanted to take away from the scientists who wanted to study it and bury it so it would not refute their beliefs that they were in America first. Marks points out a whole list of problems with this account, starting with the important fact that you cannot tell that a skeleton is "Caucasian" from examining it, and then pointing out a number of other non-sequiturs the scientists used to keep the skeleton from its legal owners. Marks also provides good reasons not to panic over cloning, as well as good reasons not to give apes human rights (simple answer; they're not human). He also points out the long history of "projection" in which scientists saw their own societies reflected in their studies of primates. For people who know little about molecular anthropology, Marks provides a helpful introduction.
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on February 12, 2014
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
He's a bit political. If that doesn't bother you it's a great read with fun info about our differences and similarities. I prefer Jared Diamond because he's not political and irritated like Marks. Great info though!
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on April 12, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
"What it Means to be 98%Chimpanzee" is an accessible and very interesting book. Marks provides a thoughtful and well written response for much of the popular science that finds its way into the press and popular books. Elaborate inferences based on the suppostion that humans are "98% chimp" based on DNA similarities are quite typical and at times rather silly. This is one of the best books providing reasonable responses to an all to typical excess. The book is polemic, but it is also thoughtful and worthy of a careful reading. Enjoy.

Timothy E. Kennelly
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on October 20, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book I bought for my husband. He is reading it and has enjoyed all of it so far. Thank you for letting him buy it to read.
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Format: Hardcover
What it means to by 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes - by Jonathan Marks

What it means to by 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes written by Jonathan Marks is a book with razor-like sharpness and a powerful critique of primatology, comparative anatomy, and molecular anthropology. Arguments about the biological basis of human behavior have become increasingly influential in popular and scientific writing in recent years. In "What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee: Apes, People, and Their Genes," author Jonathan Marks responds that the apparently scientific character of molecular anthropology, the reduction of human evolutionary traits to molecular genetics, is misleading. He maintains that biological interpretations of human behavior frequently use "folk anthropology," ideas about people based on cultural and political preconceptions, to shape judgments based on social preconceptions.

This book is a radical reassessment of science as we know it, showing ultimately how it has always been subject to social and political influences and teaching us how to think critically about modern findings. The author does some superb teaching spiced with witty prose making for a rather lively read. The book's central point (although the reader may need a reminder from time to time) is the conviction that there is no special significance in the degree of closeness between human and non-human genetic information. "Ultimately, there is no self-evident meaning in the structural similarity of chimp and human DNA, any more than there is in the structural similarity of our phlegm or our little toes" (p. 261). However, in making this otherwise succinct point, the author pulls in many issues that are at first glance only tangentially relevant. For example, Marks takes on the concept of race (emphasizing its blatant misuses and its limits even as a concept), the animal rights movement, eugenics, the Human Genome Diversity Project, and even the very concept of biological kinship. (He seems especially annoyed by the symbolic use of blood to represent kinship, which habit he helpfully identifies as a form of the literary device called metonymy).

There is some powerful critiquing of reductionist claims about genetics, human behavior, cognitive abilities and racial differences. Reading this book will shed some light on the rather new science called molecular genetics. The author does stray too far and makes the book highly readable and somewhat easy to understand. You may not agree fully with the author's approach, but understanding of the science of human evolution requires an uncluttered mind... an open mind.

Marks begins with the celebrated finding that humans and chimpanzees share the same structure for 98% of their DNA. He points out that this percentage can vary, depending on what aspects of DNA are used as the basis for comparison. Marks goes on to look at how cultural views shape other attempts to reduce human behavior to a supposed genetic basis. One of his particular targets is The Bell Curve, the 1994 book by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray that viewed contemporary socioeconomic status as largely a product of genetically determined intelligence. Marks also engages in an extended criticism of the attempt of scientists to use racial classifications as a strategic weapon in the struggles with Native American tribes over ancient skeletal remains in the Kennewick Man controversy of the 1990's. Ultimately, Marks returns to the chimpanzees and concludes that the 98% similarity is scientifically meaningless.

Marks writes with a lively, if sometimes combative and sarcastic, style. His demand that all genetic arguments about human behavior be supported with direct genetic evidence may be overly strict, since this amounts to assuming purely cultural and historical causes unless biological causes can be definitively proven. Still, this book should be read by all who are interested in current debates over topics such as sociobiology and evolutionary psychology.

The popular press has long proclaimed that we share 98.5 per cent of our genetic material with chimps, which are said to be our closest relatives. Just this month new research by Roy Britten of Cal Tech reduced that estimate to less than 95 per cent of our genetic material, a three-fold increase in the estimated variation between humans and chimps. However, the actual amount of difference between our DNA and that of chimps is irrelevant, according to Jonathon Marks, professor and author of "What It Means to Be 98% Chimpanzee."

With frequent digressions into the history and culture of science, Marks takes the reader on a somewhat rambling, sometimes polemic journey into - - and beyond - - the genetic similarity of humans and apes.

Throughout the book Marks weaves in curious tales of historical errors, some of them deriving from the political climate of the times but others based in what was thought to be sound science in those days. The implication is strong that such errors were not only numerous but commonly resulted in unpleasant (or worse) real-world consequences, and that science now has the special obligation to moderate, mitigate, or prevent such errors. For example, the concept of race has a long tradition in anthropology and although essentially illusory, has produced countless problems for humans over the millennia.

One quality of Marks' writing that may put off some otherwise receptive readers is his intentionally vituperative style. Though some of his issues are indeed contentious, his comments occasionally seem hostile or demeaning. In contrast to the playfully quarrelsome style of H.L. Mencken (who even warrants a mention or two here), Marks' style sometimes just seems disgruntled. The reader may begin to suspect there was more fun in the writing of this book than there is in the reading of it. It would be unfortunate indeed if the author's provocative style were to obscure the very real concerns expressed in the book.

So what's the point? At the end of the book the reader might ask: If we're not related to chimps, so what? The issue isn't really about chimps or to what degree we're related to each other. Rather, the reader should come away thinking deeply about what it means to be 100% human, and thereby perfectly related to all the others of our species.

This book covers areas of interest ranging from the differences between apes and humans to the biological and behavioral variations expressed in the human species. All in all, this book can and probably will stir up controversy as the author tries to equate the common ancestry of humans and daffodils, not to mention similarities the common fruit fly.
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