- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (April 28, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143127160
- ISBN-13: 978-1594206238
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.4 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 356 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #50,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History Reprint Edition
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“[A Troublesome Inheritance] is a delight to read—conversational and lucid. And it will trigger an intellectual explosion the likes of which we haven't seen for a few decades.” --Charles Murray, Wall Street Journal:
“Extremely well-researched, thoughtfully written and objectively argued…. The real lesson of the book should not be lost on us: A scientific topic cannot be declared off limits or whitewashed because its findings can be socially or politically incendiary…. Ultimately Wade’s argument is about the transparency of knowledge.” --Ashutosh Jogalekar, Scientific American
“Nicholas Wade combines the virtues of truth without fear and the celebration of genetic diversity as a strength of humanity, thereby creating a forum appropriate to the twenty-first century.” --Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor Emeritus, Harvard University
“A freethinking and well-considered examination of the evidence “that human evolution is recent, copious, and regional.” --Kirkus Reviews
“Wade ventures into territory eschewed by most writers: the evolutionary basis for racial differences across human populations. He argues persuasively that such differences exist… His conclusion is both straightforward and provocative…He makes the case that human evolution is ongoing and that genes can influence, but do not fully control, a variety of behaviors that underpin differing forms of social institutions. Wade’s work is certain to generate a great deal of attention.” --Publishers Weekly
“Mr. Wade is a courageous man, as is anyone who dares raise his head above the intellectual parapet; he has put his argument with force, conviction, intelligence, and clarity.” --The New Criterion
About the Author
Nicholas Wade received a BA in natural sciences from King’s College, Cambridge. He was the deputy editor of Nature magazine in London and then became that journal’s Washington correspondent. He joined Science magazine in Washington as a reporter and later moved to The New York Times, where he has been an editorial writer, concentrating on issues of defense, space, science, medicine, technology, genetics, molecular biology, the environment, and public policy, a science reporter, and a science editor.
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Nicholas Wade in his book states that racism must be opposed on principle, and that politics should not drive science. Perhaps the members of the current academic establishment need to retire so that a newer generation can look a new evidence with new and less prejudiced eyes.
I take it that Nicholas Wade is attempting to make the case (1), that there are distinguishable races, and nations wherein some individual races predominate; (2), that it is plain that some nations have become more 'successful' than others; (3), that though genetic makeup in all is fairly straightforward in content, the presence or positioning of variant forms of those genes (alleles) cause differences in how they perform in the humans they occupy; (4), that said alleles are passed along hereditarily within races and nations, and possibly have the capacity to thrust those races evolutionally and advantageously forward in the human contest to achieve success; (5), that this process can be described as 'higher' societal cultures alongside higher IQs sending certain nations or societies into the forefront of international performance.
Because the above smacks of racism, politically-correct-oriented academics must oppose Prof. Wade's hypothesis. But Prof. Wade argues that academia should set such fears aside in the interest of the furtherance of science's progress towards truth.
My reviewing of the negative reviews of <A Troublesome Inheritance> tells to me that Prof. Wade's views as publicized in his book, will continue to face strong opposition from the PC academia currently ensconced in U.S. institutions of higher learning; this, though Wade's line of reasoning is just as sound if not more so, than those of the 1960s-affected academics. All of this can be described as a continuing standoff between PC and certain opposing ideas that transcend PC.
Together these books represent a major turning point in the public debate about the speed with which relatively isolated groups can evolve: both books suggest that small genetic differences between members of different groups can have large impacts on their abilities and propensities, which in turn affect the outcomes of the societies in which they live. Ever since the 1950s, Wade argues, many academics have denied the biological reality of race, and some have suggested that merely believing in racial differences constitutes a kind of racism (p. 69). But the rejection of race as a useful concept is often more of a political pose than a serious scientific claim, and it became especially popular among academics after the Second World War, during which Nazi pseudo-scientists used claims of racial superiority to justify mass murder.
As it turns out, Ashkenazi Jews - those from Russia, Poland, and Germany, who were nearly exterminated in the Holocaust - have been consistently found by intelligence researchers to have the highest IQ in the world. The authors of The 10,000 Year Explosion and A Troublesome Inheritance each spend an entire chapter detailing the remarkable achievements of Ashkenazi Jews, and hold them up as exhibit A in the argument that human evolution has been, in Wade's words, recent, copious, and regional. (Wade, chapter 8; Cochran and Harpending, chapter 7). The example of Ashkenazi evolution is supposed to show the absurdity of the view, held by authors like Jared Diamond and Stephen Jay Gould, that human evolution either stopped 100,000 years ago, or that natural selection has somehow continued to sculpt the bodies but not the brains of different groups of people.
Wade uses "race" to refer to groups of people who have been separated long enough to have developed clusters of functionally significant genetic differences, and "ethnicity" to apply to groups within races who have small but significant genetic differences from other groups within a race. The concept of an ethnicity is made especially clear if we understand the coevolution of genes and culture. If within a culturally diverse but racially distinctive region like the Arabian Peninsula, nomadic Bedouins tend to marry Bedouins while city dwellers marry each other, Bedouins and city dwellers may begin to diverge into biologically and culturally different ethnicities as they face different selective pressures. For example, because Bedouins were nomads who increasingly depended on their camels for transportation and milk, those who produced the lactase enzyme (which facilitates milk digestion) into adulthood had a reproductive advantage over those who lacked this enzyme. As the allele for lactose tolerance spread through the population, reliance on camels became even more entrenched in Bedouin culture, and selective pressure increased for lactose tolerance. Despite being both Arab and Muslim, Bedouins have enough genetic and cultural differences to constitute a distinctive ethnic group throughout the Middle East. The important point is that cultural pressures can directly impact natural selection, and pre-existing traits create propensities that shape culture. Wade ultimately invokes gene-culture coevolution to explain, among other things, how Tibetans evolved a greater capacity to tolerate life in the mountains than Indians, how Europeans who have depended on agriculture for thousands of years can consume more carbohydrates without succumbing to diabetes than Native Americans, and how Ashkenazi Jews could have evolved higher intelligence than Sephardic Jews in as little as 1,000 years.
In discussing how differences in gene-culture coevolution can explain the trajectory of different groups, Wade argues that as hunter-gatherers moved into settled communities, certain genetically-mediated traits changed, including a capacity to trust more people, and a greater willingness to defer to impersonal social norms and punish norm-violators. This seems plausible enough, and it may explain why it took so long for humans to move from small and mobile hunter-gatherer societies to large and settled agricultural societies. But it has a troubling implication. Wade thinks that some groups of people, including modern hunter-gatherers and their recent descendants, will have a hard time living in modern nation states - not merely because they are accustomed to a different way of life, but because they are genetically ill-suited to live under alternative institutions.
It is hard to know what to make of claims like this, especially without more knowledge of how genes mediate social behaviors. Although Wade cites studies that suggest some groups have greater frequencies of alleles associated with violence (p. 56), and that hunter-gatherers who are more successful at violent warfare are often rewarded with more offspring (p. 131), he warns his readers that he is going well beyond what the available evidence demonstrates and offering conjectures about why some groups have prospered under modern social and political institutions, and others have not (p. 15).
These claims raise compelling questions about the ethics of belief, as well as the justification of belief. For example, if some stereotypes turn out to have a biological basis, will this reduce our ability to treat each other fairly? It is not always unfair to use information about biological differences to make generalizations (for example, that men are more prone to violence than women, or that West Africans are more prone to sickle cell anemia than East Africans), but sometimes information - even if it is accurate - can be used by some people to unfairly dominate others. Wade's speculation would be innocuous if it wasn't likely to be read by people who will misinterpret it. Thoughtful readers should recognize that while some people will misuse this book to justify repugnant beliefs, its great virtue is that it forces us to face up to the uncomfortable likelihood that science will uncover differences between different groups of people that affect their life prospects.
If you are looking for justification for a racial superiority of any kind, this is not the book. In fact, the less racist you think you are, the more I would recommend this book, as a gateway to expanding your own horizons on the actual background of the subjects.
I read this book in parallel with Steven A. LeBlanc's book Constant Battles: Why We Fight/The Myth of the Noble Savage and a Peaceful Past, and found them very mutually complementary.