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Understanding Human History Paperback – July 15, 2007
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VDARE.COM - http://vdare.com/sailer/070812_hart.htm August 12, 2007 A Real Diamond: Michael Hart's Understanding Human History By Steve Sailer The ambitious History of Everything book has been an important genre at least since Sir Walter Raleigh's The Historie of the World. The most popular example of recent years: Jared Diamond's 1997 bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel. Diamond attempted to explain the always-interesting question of who conquered whom over the last 13,000 years without mentioning differences in average intelligence among human groups-a factor that he ruled out, a priori, as too "racist" and "loathsome" even to think about. Now, there's another entry in this genre: Michael H. Hart's Understanding Human History: An analysis including the effects of geography and differential evolution (Washington Summit Publishers, pp. 484, $24.95). Hart's book serves as a comprehensive refutation of Guns, Germs, and Steel. It's an impressive and insightful attempt to provide a more careful and powerful answer to Diamond's question about why some peoples came to rule other peoples. Unlike Diamond, Hart is also interested in a second, less bloodthirsty question: who gave what to the entire human race in terms of science, technology, and the arts. This is a fascinating topic-but one that the Diamonds of the world shy away from, since measuring contributions rather than conquests don't present an opportunity for the competitive moralism, the public white-guilt breast-beating afforded by the European expansion of 1400-1900. Over the same period, as everyone knows deep down, virtually every advance that is now the shared patrimony of humanity was made by Europeans or their offshoots. These days, that's a rather inconvenient truth. Hart sums up: "The central hypothesis of this book is that genetic differences between human groups (in particular, differences in average native intelligence) have been an important factor in human history." Hart is a polymath: a rocket scientist with a Ph.D. in astronomy who worked at NASA and was a physics professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. Along the way, he picked up a law degree. Every decade or two, Hart publishes a book for a general audience. His best-known: 1978's The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History. (Hart's top six, by the way, were Muhammad, Newton, Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, and St. Paul. I'm sure your ranking would differ, but that was the fun of Hart's book: it was a great argument-starter. His complete list is here.) Now, in Understanding Human History, Hart changes his focus from individuals to racial groups. He begins with a quick (130 pages) but close to state-of-the-art overview of the human sciences relevant to history-physical anthropology, linguistics, population genetics and psychometrics. This section alone would be worth the price of the book. Hart has mastered the scientific literature through at least 2005. For instance, Hart, who is Jewish, devotes three pages to the fascinating theory published two years ago by genetic anthropologist Henry Harpending and physicist turned evolutionary theorist Gregory Cochran that European Jews evolved their higher IQs just over the last millennium. After reviewing the human sciences, Hart moves on to perhaps the most concise history of the world from the Stone Age to the late 20th Century imaginable. Many of the famous "big histories," such as Edward Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Thomas Babington Macaulay's History of England, Kenneth Clark's Civilization, and Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence are suffused with their authors' personalities. But Hart almost never stops for a self-indulgent aside, which allows him to race through in fewer than 500 pa --http://vdare.com/sailer/070812_hart.htm
About the Author
Michael H. Hart is both a trained scientist and a successful history writer. He did his undergraduate work at Cornell University, where he majored in mathematics, and later obtained a Ph.D. in astronomy from Princeton University. He also has master s degrees in two other fields (physics and computer science). His published work in scientific journals includes several detailed computer simulations of atmospheric evolution. His best known history book is The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, which has been translated into over a dozen foreign languages and has sold several hundred thousand copies. That book has been widely praised for its scope, its lucidity, and its factual accuracy.
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So if IQ is so important today one then asks - how important have population IQ differences been in history? This is such natural question that a book like this is more or less inevitable. As it happens it is Michael Hart who got into print first. Hart will get the credit any fame, if it develops that there is any fame to be dispersed. Alas Hart is not a graceful writer and the book itself is rather ugly in its presentation.
In another sense this book is one of those new Contra-Diamond books. Hart acknowledges his use of the work of Jared Diamond but he also has several criticisms and a whole - if short chapter - on Diamond's errors. Diamond famously argued that agricultural products disseminate faster if they do so in the same climatological area. So crops developed in horizontally oriented Asia could spread better than those that were domesticated in vertically oriented Africa or the Americas. Hart points out that the America are even more vertically oriented than Africa so if there were much to this theory we would expect Africa to be more advanced that the Amerindians. But they're not - just the opposite. In every way the Indians in the Americas were more advanced than the African natives. Diamond is a professor of geography so we should not be surprised that he goes for a geographical explanation. There's something to it but not much. Hart notes that all the Amerindians had evolved in the high artic and crossed Beringia. He thinks they developed better brains in the high latitudes which they then carried south. The Africans have of course always been tropical peoples.
This book is now seven years old and since that time a whole cottage industry has arisen on the problems of Diamond's ideas. Real academics in anthropology with field experience don't seem to favor Diamond's armchair popularizations. For example, the recent work by Hunt and Lipo have pretty much demolished all of Diamond's speculations about Easter Island. Hunt and Lipo like Diamond before them, have made it to the top rank of popular science - they are seen on a PBS 'Nova' episode. Diamond's star is now in the descent.
Hunt and Lipo of course had the inestimable advantage of knowing what they were talking about when they wrote their book. Diamond has visited New Guinea often but never Easter Island. He seemed to have seen only the Hollywood movie and read a lot of apocalyptic environmentalist tracts by Gaia worshipers.
Diamond's biggest seller was 'Guns, Germs, and Steel'. It covers roughly the same territory as Hart's book and aims at roughly finding answers to the same kind of questions. Hart tries to understand why the modern world is the way it is. Diamond characteristically has a more interesting manner of expressing this question. He want's to know the answer to 'Yali's Question' - Why do the Westerners have so much more cargo than his people?
Diamond tries to argue that New Guinea natives are just as intelligent as Americans. This puts him at a disadvantage since they are not - and if he didn't know that he should have. His statement could only be willful ignorance. But he represents a large number of Americans - many of whom buy books - that want to think exactly the same thing. The idea of universal intellectual equality sells books but it is unlikely to gain you scientific immortality. Diamond's reputation has peaked. The question prospective readers of Hart's book must ask is - Will Hart become famous? Is this book an important book will live on?
Probably not. 'Understanding Human History' is just not a carefully woven narrative as are most of Diamond's books. The only advantage Hart has over Diamond is that he's almost certainly right while Diamond is usually wrong.
But Hart's book does do one thing that is important - it makes you think differently. I've been reading some economics lately. Economists always assume the model of 'the economic man'. That is to say an interchangeable man who follows his best economic interests. We know that real men often act against their best economic interests because of other factors like religion or ideology. For example, ISIS fanatics cut off the heads of others even when there is no immediate profit in such actions. Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons even though their GDP would probably benefit from another policy.
Another thing you never see in economics oriented books is IQ. But after reading Hart's book that will appear to you as an obvious omission. South Korea has emerged as an economic powerhouse. The contrast with North Korea provides a lesson on free markets versus communism. But why Korea at all? Why not Swaziland or Uganda? Both of them have more natural resources. If you've read Hart's book you will be likely to note that Korea has the highest national IQ on earth and that might be relevant. After reading this book you will probably look up national IQ scores on the Web more often.
The book begins literally at the beginning of human history before our exodus from Africa circa 100,000 years ago and progresses in linear fashion to the present time, attempting to demonstrate how cognitive superiority was the deciding factor in contests between nations and technological advances. Hart convasses data on human intelligence, differential maturation patterns among races, Philip Rushton's rK theory of human evolution, and Rushton's ideas regarding latitude and IQ, i.e. that IQ decreases from north to south on average, due to the selection pressures caused by harsh winters. An original theory of Hart's is that invasions tend to occur from north to south, following the pattern of IQ gradient, thus indicating a conferred technological or strategic advantage. Examples include the Mongol and Manchu conquests of China and India and the Norman colonization of most of Europe. In those cases where the pattern is reversed, such as the Islamic invasions of Europe during the middle ages, the territorial and cultural gains tend to be fleeting, whereas Islam continues to hold sway in much of north Africa, where semitic languages are still spoken. An important caveat to reading this book is that the subject-matter deals with broad scale trends over long expanses of time. Similar to evolutionary theory itself, there are numerous special case exceptions to Hart's theory that other reviewers have pounced upon as refutations of his entire theoretical framework. Also, there are occasional factual inaccuracies and simplifications employed by the author. The reader should keep in mind the ambitious scale of the work--no individual can be an expert in all fields, and some factual inaccuracies are to be expected. Again, the overall trend is what is at issue.
Hart gives detailed considerations of the intellectual achievements of each of the great civilizations of human history, trying to countenance the pattern of advance with the known intelligence data. There are fascinating lists of the astonishing technological inventions of Europe spanning the 17th to 20th centuries. He offers powerful arguments why Greek and Roman civilizations showed greater innovation than rival Egyptian and Middle Eastern cultures. There is a fascinating section on Ashkenazi Jewish IQ, the group with highest average IQ, where IQ data are reviewed, as well as Jewish superiority at games of skill such as chess(50% of worlds champions) and contract bridge. Curiously, I might add in support that there is a new card game of skill, Magic the Gathering, that also boasts a world championship, with the list of champions dominated by Jews and Japanese(avg IQ 107). Theories of Jewish evolution are discussed, as Jewish advance would appear to contradict the north/south theory, another exception to the general hypothesis. Hart decides that the IQ advantage must be related to conscious eugenic breeding practices among Jews.
The book is full of interesting material and philosophical asides. For example, Hart discusses how the emergence of great literary works appears to require a lower average intelligence than technological innovation, taking the great epics of India as witness. I would suspect this is because works of literature tend to be written by individuals, whereas technological advance generally requires an exchange of ideas amongst peers. But contrast the great explosion of diversity in the Anglo/American science fiction and fantasy literature of the 20th century. One civilization virtually invented and completed both genres!
Overall, Understanding Human History is a tour de force not to be missed by the honest, intellectually audacious mind. While IQ is not the only driving force in human history, it must be a critical piece of the puzzle. What does it say about our times that an honest, brilliant book like Michael Hart's is published by an obscure press and not carried by bookstores, while dreck like Guns, Germs, and Steel is rewarded with the Pulizter Prize?