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Fewer ideas have been more toxic or harmful than the idea of the biological reality of race, and with it the idea that humans of different races are biologically different from one another. For this understandable reason, the idea has been banished from polite academic conversation. Arguing that race is more than just a social construct can get a scholar run out of town, or at least off campus, on a rail. Human evolution, the consensus view insists, ended in prehistory.
Inconveniently, as Nicholas Wade argues in A Troublesome Inheritance, the consensus view cannot be right. And in fact, we know that populations have changed in the past few thousand years - to be lactose tolerant, for example, and to survive at high altitudes. Race is not a bright-line distinction; by definition it means that the more human populations are kept apart, the more they evolve their own distinct traits under the selective pressure known as Darwinian evolution. For many thousands of years, most human populations stayed where they were and grew distinct, not just in outward appearance but in deeper senses as well.
Wade, the longtime journalist covering genetic advances for The New York Times, draws widely on the work of scientists who have made crucial breakthroughs in establishing the reality of recent human evolution. The most provocative claims in this book involve the genetic basis of human social habits. What we might call middle-class social traits - thrift, docility, nonviolence - have been slowly but surely inculcated genetically within agrarian societies, Wade argues. These "values" obviously had a strong cultural component, but Wade points to evidence that agrarian societies evolved away from hunter-gatherer societies in some crucial respects. Also controversial are his findings regarding the genetic basis of traits we associate with intelligence, such as literacy and numeracy, in certain ethnic populations, including the Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.
Wade believes deeply in the fundamental equality of all human peoples. He also believes that science is best served by pursuing the truth without fear, and if his mission to arrive at a coherent summa of what the new genetic science does and does not tell us about race and human history leads straight into a minefield, then so be it. This will not be the last word on the subject, but it will begin a powerful and overdue conversation.
Customer ReviewsMost Helpful
By Cassandra on 12-10-14
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Yes, I already have. Ok, so I didn't actually turn any pages, but I did listen to the last two-thirds of the book in one Saturday sitting. This is a subject matter that I'm passionately interested in, but lack any science background to appreciate previous books that I've read. I would recommend it as a good broad introduction to evolution and natural selection.
What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?
The author's theories. He covers many questions that I have pondered on myself, offers some fascinating theories, and compels the reader to continue questioning. There are some interesting rebuttals to Jared Diamonds books. I also appreciated the citing of Fukuyama's books on political order. Wade suggests (I think) that our propensity for different forms of government may be inherited in our genes. This would explain why tribal cultures have difficulty in maintaining democracies.
What about Alan Sklar’s performance did you like?
I found the narrator's voice to be pleasant and commanding. I never want the narrator to be the star. If I'm rarely aware of the voice and delivery, then s/he has done a good job. That was the case here.
Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?
I wouldn't say that I was "moved", but what I read is still with me a week after I listened to it, and it has piqued my interest enough to read more about the subject.
Having read some of the book reviews on Amazon, I applaud Wade's courage to write such a controversial book.
12 of 13 people found this review helpful
By Douglas on 06-01-14
This is NOT Racism!...
For decades, feminists railed against the very idea that there were any fundamental biological differences in males and females that would influence basic behavior and social roles (despite clear knowledge about the roles of testosterone and estrogen on behavior!), and along came brain science and showed that yes, there are differences in the male and female brains that lead to different behavioral and social tendencies. And now the same for race. Here is the simple fact, PC or not, like it or not: the closer you are to any group genetically, the more you are going to be like that group. Don't like it? Complain to God or the Big Bang or Darwin. Genetics are genetics. Now, does this excuse things like prejudice, social engineering, genecide? Of course not. Does this mean that there is NO role that envirornment plays in development? Of course not. Does this mean that every woman is the same as every other woman and that every black person is exactly the same as the next? Of course not. It does mean that biology plays a big role in behavior and that the closer you are to someone genetically, the more of their behavioral tendencies you will inherit. That's science. Live with it.
39 of 53 people found this review helpful