- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Press; 1st edition (April 20, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781594200793
- ISBN-13: 978-1594200793
- ASIN: 1594200793
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 265 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #613,295 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
Scientists are using DNA analysis to understand our prehistory: the evolution of humans; their relation to the Neanderthals, who populated Europe and the Near East; and Homo erectus, who roamed the steppes of Asia. Most importantly, geneticists can trace the movements of a little band of human ancestors, numbering perhaps no more than 150, who crossed the Red Sea from east Africa about 50,000 years ago. Within a few thousand years, their descendents, Homo sapiens, became masters of all they surveyed, the other humanoid species having become extinct. According to New York Times science reporter Wade, this DNA analysis shows that evolution isn't restricted to the distant past: Iceland has been settled for only 1,000 years, but the inhabitants have already developed distinctive genetic traits. Wade expands his survey to cover the development of language and the domestication of man's best friend. And while "race" is often a dirty word in science, one of the book's best chapters shows how racial differences can be marked genetically and why this is important, not least for the treatment of diseases. This is highly recommended for readers interested in how DNA analysis is rewriting the history of mankind. Maps. (Apr. 24)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Genetics has been intruding on human origins research, long the domain of archaeology and paleoanthropology. Veteran science journalist Wade applies the insights of genetics to every intriguing question about the appearance and global dispersal of our species. The result is Wade's recounting of "a new narrative," which also has elements of a turf war between geneticists and their established colleagues. He efficiently explains how an evolutionary event (e.g., hairlessness) is recorded in DNA, and how rates of mutation can set boundary dates for it. For the story, Wade opens with a geneticist's estimate that modern (distinct from "archaic") Homo sapiens arose in northeast Africa 59,000 years ago, with a tiny population of only a few thousand, and was homogenous in appearance and language. Tracking the ensuing expansion and evolutionary pressures on humans, Wade covers the genetic evidence bearing on Neanderthals, race, language, social behaviors such as male-female pair bonding, and cultural practices such as religion. Wade presents the science skillfully, with detail and complexity and without compromising clarity. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Top customer reviews
I like to read the 1-star ratings of a book before buying it. It struck me that most of the 1-star ratings for this book were motivated by the rater's dislike of non- politically correct topics appearing in this book. Finding a thoughtful book that is willing to speak to non-pc topics was appealing to me. This book's treatment of genetic differences between races seemed fair to me, based on cited research. It is not a broad assertion of the superiority of some races compared with others, but rather some specific (minor) genetic differences that have been documented. For purposes of this book, "race" is defined genomically, based on the continent inhabited. The continent of a person can be reliably determined by genetic analysis, so at least this "definition" of race is factually supported. For example, the book states that the malaria parasite, while very ancient, is thought to have become a common disease among people only in the last 10,000 years or so. "... and perhaps within the last 5,000 years or so when slash-and-burn agriculture was introduced into West Africa." Different genetic mutations confering some protection to malaria have arisen in different populations. Of course there is the sickle cell anemia genes that are present in Africa. This book cites 2 variants of a "G6PD" gene that also help resist malaria, one found in African populations and another in the Mediterranean.
Another variation of the "CCR5" gene evolved about 1,300 years ago, according to this book, and occurs in 14% of Swedes, 5% of Mediterraneans, and not elsewhere.
None of this detail is all that interesting in itself, but it does serve to support 2 interesting ideas. There is such a thing as race, which can be identified by genetics, and there are genetic differences between races. Also, humans have continued to evolve, with important new genetic changes having been documented as evolving as recently as a few thousand years ago.
This book stands up very well to those criteria. It deals with pre-human and human pre-history and the biology that made lfe as we know it possible. The book is an excellent review, no surprise revelations. Take time to follow up on some of the references. It was reccommended to me by a Grandson entering 12th grade.
My only criticism, besides the sometimes dryness of the content, is his unexplained revulsion of the eugenics policies of the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. Other than that, based on the interest in the subject sparked by this book I am looking forward to indulging in a few more titles by Nicholas Wade.