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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; Tamu Anthropology edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1603444254
  • ISBN-13: 978-1603444255
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.9 x 9.4 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: #1,177,471 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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
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
There are many useful discussions in this book. One of the best is a deconstruction of TV shows about the “genetic ancestry” of celebrities like Stephen Colbert. Two circles are displayed, one of which shows Colbert’s purported “100% white" ancestry (based on ancestry informative variable sites). The other circle depicts the rest (99%) of Colbert’s variable genetic sites, which are shared by all populations in similar frequencies and thus are “African” in origin. Looked at in that way, the variable part of Colbert’s genome, like that of all of ours, is nearly all African because of the recent African origin of our species and the much more recent migrations out of Africa.

I have to admit that I had hoped for more from this book, based on the authors’ smart takedown of “A Troublesome Inheritance” (“Mr. Murray, You Lose the Bet” in GeneWatch (6/30/14). (I also enjoyed Tattersall’s “Masters of the Planet.” This book is a sort of hybrid between an academic discussion of human evolution and population genetics and a book aimed at a general audience, and is not entirely successful as either. I applaud the authors’ conviction that the notion of biological race must be defeated on scientific, objective grounds. They are at their best showing that human populations have always mixed and mated, and that cluster analysis doesn't prove that “race” exists. However, they fail to convey the urgency of the question, or the grimness of its social reality (as I write this, the city of Ferguson, MO is still enveloped in tear gas following the gunning down of an unarmed young black man by the police). They also don’t clarify the strongest arguments against biological ‘race’ until the end of the book.
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