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Nicholas Wade's articles are a major reason why the science section has become the most popular, nationwide, in the New York Times. In his groundbreaking Before the Dawn, Wade reveals humanity's origins as never before--a journey made possible only recently by genetic science, whose incredible findings have answered such questions as: What was the first human language like Nicholas Wade's articles are a major reason why the science section has become the most popular, nationwide, in the New York Times. In his groundbreaking Before the Dawn, Wade reveals humanity's origins as never before--a journey made possible only recently by genetic science, whose incredible findings have answered such questions as: What was the first human language like? How large were the first societies, and how warlike were they? When did our ancestors first leave Africa, and by what route did they leave? By eloquently solving these and numerous other mysteries, Wade offers nothing less than a uniquely complete retelling of a story that began 500 centuries ago.


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Nicholas Wade's articles are a major reason why the science section has become the most popular, nationwide, in the New York Times. In his groundbreaking Before the Dawn, Wade reveals humanity's origins as never before--a journey made possible only recently by genetic science, whose incredible findings have answered such questions as: What was the first human language like Nicholas Wade's articles are a major reason why the science section has become the most popular, nationwide, in the New York Times. In his groundbreaking Before the Dawn, Wade reveals humanity's origins as never before--a journey made possible only recently by genetic science, whose incredible findings have answered such questions as: What was the first human language like? How large were the first societies, and how warlike were they? When did our ancestors first leave Africa, and by what route did they leave? By eloquently solving these and numerous other mysteries, Wade offers nothing less than a uniquely complete retelling of a story that began 500 centuries ago.

30 review for Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors

  1. 5 out of 5

    Alison

    Next time someone tells me that the Internet is still not as reliable for research as a proper 'book', I will pull out this book as evidence for why they are so deeply, deeply wrong. I should have known better, really, than to think reading a five-year-old book on genetics was a good idea. Genetic research is moving so quickly, that there were always going to be things that have been superseded. And their were. My first moments of real doubt occurred around the author's insistence that there was Next time someone tells me that the Internet is still not as reliable for research as a proper 'book', I will pull out this book as evidence for why they are so deeply, deeply wrong. I should have known better, really, than to think reading a five-year-old book on genetics was a good idea. Genetic research is moving so quickly, that there were always going to be things that have been superseded. And their were. My first moments of real doubt occurred around the author's insistence that there was no interbreeding with Neanderthal peoples, never mind other 'human' species. This, I was pretty sure, wasn't true. It isn't - current majority opinion is that around 4% of current human's DNA is Neanderthal, and more comes from Homo Erectus. This wouldn't have been such a problem if Wade didn't state every opinion as if it were demonstrable fact, proven beyond a doubt by geneticists. It wouldn't have been a one-star review, however, if the only issue was that some of the information was out of date. As I read on, my unease grew. Speaking about Indigenous Australian communities, for example, an area I know something about, Wade described issues under significant debate as if again, there was consensus. He cherry-picked information, creating an impression that wasn't really correct, particularly conflating practices in PNG to practices in Australia, in a way no cultural anthropologist or historian, no matter what views they held, would be comfortable with. He casually described Aboriginal people as "never having developed agriculture", without referencing any of the contemporary debate around Aboriginal land management. By this point, halfway through the book, I was beginning to wonder if I could trust any of the information Wade presented at all. Then we got to the second half. Those reviews which describe the second half of the book as "drawing a long bow" are being far too kind. The first half drew some pretty long bows. The second half mostly parts ways with genetic research at all, and instead simply presents a bunch of circular logic dressed up as scientific method. For example, Wade asserts that there could be no religion without language - obviously (no evidence given) - but religion is clearly very old because we have no records of societies without it and it is "instinctive" (no evidence given), so therefore language and religion must have evolved together. He then refers to this as a scientific conclusion. This process is continued, with him continuously embedding assumptions into pseudo-scientific reasoning. Then, while purporting to present a journalistic book based on new scientific advances, he proceeds to intersperse fringe opinions with mainstream ones, without explaining clearly that the book has now moved into pretty much "how Nicholas Wade thinks the world evolved". At one point, he dismisses the whole of social science as biased and incorrect (talking about race). Wade also keeps bringing up scholarship which has been at best challenged, and at worst, discredited. For example, much of the second half of the book relies on the Wade's assertion of roughly 10% non-paternity rates. This is an inflated figure, which scholarship since the 1990s has mostly rejected, in favour of 1-3%. Infuriatingly, even the genetic theorists Wade quotes in specific examples use these much lower rates as a benchmark, making in unlikely he was unaware of the debate. The thing that is infuriating about this book, as it is in general with all those who passionately support so-called Evolutionary Psychology, is the blindness to existing assumptions. I've never considered myself a huge fan of cultural anthropology, but one of its biggest gifts to the scientific method, is an understanding that we all view the world through a lens made up of our own assumptions, and that these are relative to our culture. Nicholas Wade's view of our evolutionary history - that war and competition are male attempts to impregnate women; that hierarchy and inequality are more stable ways to organise sedentary societies than co-operation and egalitarianism; that post-agricultural societies are superior to hunter-gatherer ones; that religion emerged as a way to stop deceit - are all based on pre-existing assumptions. I'm not guessing this - he states it in his reasoning. It does not seem that Nicolas Wade even realises that things that seem obvious to him, may in fact, be cultural assumptions that bear examination. Aside from his barely concealed, but badly argued, belief that some racial groupings are more intelligent than others (hint: it isn't Africans or Pacific Islanders at the top of the intelligence tree) that drove me most nuts though. It was the simple assumption that, again barely even bothering to argue, evolution has been driven by men with women irrelevant to the process - male sexual selection, male drives to procreate broadly. I picked this up because I wanted a primer to better understand the New Scientist and Nature articles coming out about human prehistory. I am going to tentatively try a different book, published this year, to test it out. But there has been a lesson - for all the value of reading synthesised accounts of research, in fast moving areas, there is a strong danger of picking up distortions, and also far out of date information. There may be a lot of crap on the Internet, but it's also easy to find dissenting opinions, and quickly understand what there is consensus around and what there isn't. It is much harder, in an open forum, to make the complex and fuzzy appear simple and clear.

  2. 5 out of 5

    AC

    I found the beginning of this book - in fact, the first 8 chapters - utterly fascinating. A clear, intelligent, well-written account of all the essentials of modern thinking on biological and cultural evolution from the emergence of man 1.7 million years ago, thorugh the migration out of Africa (c. 50,000 BC), and up (in fact) to the Neolithic period. The emphasis is on genetics, but not overwhelmingly so -- and in any case, according to author at least (I know nothing about science, to put it m I found the beginning of this book - in fact, the first 8 chapters - utterly fascinating. A clear, intelligent, well-written account of all the essentials of modern thinking on biological and cultural evolution from the emergence of man 1.7 million years ago, thorugh the migration out of Africa (c. 50,000 BC), and up (in fact) to the Neolithic period. The emphasis is on genetics, but not overwhelmingly so -- and in any case, according to author at least (I know nothing about science, to put it mildly), the study of this entire topic has now been revolutionized by the decoding of the genome. The last few chapters were much less interesting (as other reviewers have also noted) - though the topics are not unimportant: race, language, genetic history of Jews and Thomas Jefferson, etc. Yet they are too technical and too speculative (simultaneously). An attempt (rather meager, imo) to do the genetics of altruism simply did not convince or, ultimately, hold my interest. Hence, the loss of the fifth star in my rating. Still, for those who want a sound and reliable primer to this topic of the paleolithic, which is exactly what I was looking for - with interesting sidelights on primatology -- this is a great book to start with.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Review: This review will be in 2 parts; an overview of how I felt about it & a bunch of notes on interesting things I want to remember about it. This book puts together, in layman's terms, the results of anthropologists, biologists, & gene mapping into a comprehensive history of the human race. Since DNA testing is now possible & the human genome project is done, they can sample areas (generally people don't move far from where they're born) & see when & where they came from. Gene changes aren't Review: This review will be in 2 parts; an overview of how I felt about it & a bunch of notes on interesting things I want to remember about it. This book puts together, in layman's terms, the results of anthropologists, biologists, & gene mapping into a comprehensive history of the human race. Since DNA testing is now possible & the human genome project is done, they can sample areas (generally people don't move far from where they're born) & see when & where they came from. Gene changes aren't exactly timed, but are statistically inferred & often based on other evidence, so most dates can vary by thousands of years. Much are hypotheses, but they indicate or prove out human & evolution in general in far more detail than we've ever known before . This was recommended to me by the owner of the company I work for. He's reading it on his Kindle. I got it from the library as an audio book. If I really wanted to read & understand this book well, I would HAVE to get it as a paper book that I could mark up so I could refer back to specific places quickly, faster & more comprehensively than an ebook allows. As an audio book, my ignorance on the subject is a heavy anchor. It is well read, though. While it is very interesting, it hops about in time a LOT as different methods trace our history & different aspects are discussed. The author follows some lines & some corroborating evidence through different time lines & then comes back to them chapters later with another method or aspect. This means there's a lot of confusing overlap & since times can be broad, the whole is rather tattered without any ability to refer back to earlier pieces. There's a lot to take away even with my imperfect understanding. - Each chapter is started by a quote from Darwin's writings. The man was a genius & how much he got right with the tools he had is absolutely amazing. - Science has revealed many unpleasant truths which has stifled it at times. Unsurprisingly, that's very true of genetics as it reveals "nonparental" children, apparently a nice term for momma carrying another man's child. Even more, what it says about the 'races' of man. (See below for more.) - The spread of & change by humanity around the globe versus the amazing local homogeneity of populations. - That humans are still evolving at both a greater & more recent rate than previously thought. - All the different bits listed in the notes below. Read them if you want. Overall, it was a great read. There were parts that didn't hold my interest as much, but generally wonderful & full of information. It's great to see various branches of science put together to weave a better tapestry of our history. I'm giving it 4 stars because it wandered a bit too much, but it's highly recommended! Notes: I missed a lot, should have started these notes sooner. Nothing below should be taken as complete nor completely accurate. Many are shorthand to myself as it's complicated & times are long. The basics The human genome was fully decrypted in 2003, but that's just the book. Most of the 2.8 billion codes are junk & the rest need to be put into perspective. That's comparing individuals to others, breaking them into groups & doing more comparisons. There's still a LOT of work to be done, but already a huge amount of information has been mined. The Y chromosome is passed without change from father to son & has had only minimal, statistical changes, so we can trace it back in groups to the original Adam before the diaspora from Ethiopia (probably) throughout the world 50K years ago. That was apparently a very crowded time, about when we developed language, religion, & broke free from our birth continent fighting the older versions of man. Update: While Wade says we didn't interbreed with archaic man, this article is now saying we did with Neanderthal http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-... The mother passes all her mitochondrial DNA pretty much unchanged to all offspring, so it can also be used to trace historical movement, but goes back even further (Adam 50K, Eve 65K). So the line of travel can be traced back until the gene change disappears from the population. Mitochondrial DNA mutates faster than the Y chromosome, so aligning the two is tough at times which leads to some error. Evolution uses 3 methods for change; mutation diversifies, natural selection & genetic drift (toward fixed, faster in small populations) trim the changes down. (Founding genes are part of genetic drift, generally found when a population is almost wiped out & then rebuilds from the survivors.) Mediterraneans & Africans both have a genetic resistance to malaria, but developed it separately - convergent evolution - same need, different solution. The African version was a quick, sloppy evolutionary fix about 5K years ago. If one parent gives it to a child, they get resistance to malaria, but both can confer sickle cell anemia. Animals & bugs are also used to pin down times & inventions. Body lice evolved to clothes lice (different claws) about the time paleoanthropologists thought we lost body hair & started wearing clothes. It's a cross check, building evidence. We also developed dark skin at this time. It seems as if physical modern man was very chimp-like about 100K years ago (Update to this. In 2017, 300K year old Homo Sapien fossils were discovered. Probably doesn't change this much, though.) & it wasn't until 50K years ago that we actually became behaviorally modern. This change gave us language & probably religion at the same time to deal with each other cooperatively in a new way, allowing trade & family rather than tribal units. Anthropologists now believe we settled in one spot BEFORE domesticating animals, not the reverse, due to better cooperation. 150 (50-500) is about the prime number of an egalitarian hunter-gatherer tribe since they had no leader with any power save for personal force. If folks didn't like it, they wandered off. Too small a group was killed off by others, though. Also around 50K years ago, modern man broke out of Africa. Likely this was due to cooperation allowing them to defeat older versions of man. They probably used a southern route around the Red Sea. 50 to 500 people (150 likely) made it out & populated the entire world while the rest of the original gene pool stayed in Africa. The general movement was probably along the sea shores which were much different since the ice age had the water locked up & the oceans were about 200' lower. Only 60 miles separated the lost continents that once contained India & SE Asia (Sundaland) from the one that had Australia, NZ, & Tasmania (Sahul), so that's how the Aussie aborigines are so close to the original genotype (isolated plus genetic drift). (Beringia was the land bridge of the Bearing Straits, also much larger then.) War was far more prevalent in ancient times than most anthropologists have been leading us to believe. Some of this is due to gov't funding, an example was given about failure to fund for studying a 'defensive wall'. When the wording was changed to 'enclosure', it was funded. War is actually an evolutionary tool, with most (90%) primitive men engaging in it annually. (30%? of each generation lost to it?) Huge number anyway & helps explain why the Zulus kicked the British butts - they were far more practiced at the art. We'd have killed off 2 billion in the 20th century if we kept the historical trend, but the percentage of war deaths have been decreasing in recent times, from .05 down to .032 percent. (Chimps fight very similarly to primitive, modern man.) Many of our drives, desires, & attitudes are probably far more genetically driven than we've assumed. - Quite possibly we are genetically driven to religion since so many still embrace it even when other systems have filled its place. - 8% of the population in Genghis Khan's area of influence show descent from him. His drive to spread his seed is shared by many world leaders. Could that be one basis for their drive to achieve? Cannibalism has been prevalent throughout history. (Chimps, too.) Apparently Mad Cow deaths in Britain were low due to it. They saw something similar in a New Guinea tribe in the early 1900's - funeral rites with women eating their deceased's brains. Race is addressed - not typically how we think of them, rather based on continents (5) & even those only make sense in the larger terms of 50K years ago. Skin color isn't as straight forward as it seems. Melanin gene fully on (black) to protect against sun, partially off in degrees to allow better vitamin D production with less sun, hence Scandinavian white. (Folic acid had something to do with it too, but I forget how.) Recent human evolution, at about 12K & 6K years ago, of our brains has taken place. (These seem to be spread through out most, if not all, but how? Did it?) Ditto with lactose tolerance in adults which they say came about 5K years ago. Other changes have occurred since then, but some aren't well documented due to political issues - people trying to prove their race is better or ticked off at the results. - There are differences that we need to pay attention to (e.g., a medicine that didn't show all that well in a trial turned out to be a real boon to Africans due to the way a salt retaining gene handles some enzyme or something like that.) All races have peculiar strengths & weaknesses that should be addressed by medicine. In mixed races, like North American Mexicans, these can show up at odd times. - A guy studied Olympic winners for sprint & middle distance. He found that a huge percentage of sprinters were from area in Africa (west?) while middle distance was from east(?) Africa. I forget what conditions made the sprinters, but the middle distance runners came from the best cattle thieves getting more women. - Jews apparently have one branch that underwent a very recent 1000 years of cultural restrictions might be a degree smarter than the average. Both IQ tests & Nobel prizes bear this out - both iffy, but pretty convincing when taken together. (A slight rise in the average is most obvious in the extremes - e.g. this group was 4 times as likely to have IQ's of 140 or above than the average, even though the group average was 115.) Unfortunately, further analysis hasn't been done - dangerous territory. - Jews provide another example in the line of some hereditary leaders. One (Cohen?) was very clean tracing its Y chromosome back very clearly. Another, Levy, wasn't & didn't. The latter evidence was pretty much rejected & it was pointed out that Rabbinical law doesn't recognize scientific genetics. This is a very typical reaction & is not limited to Jews. They just happen to be a fairly well documented, insular community, so good test subjects. Iceland is another good test region for similar reasons. Sexual preference fits into evolution. - Women pick men for protection & provision. Kids often look like neither or more like the mother as protection against being killed off as not being the husband's child. Fraternal twins can be from different fathers. Interesting comparisons with chimps. - Men look for 7 to 10 ratio between waist & hips? - Hair: Our long head hair is an oddity. Lack of body hair. Both possibly influenced by sexual selection. - There were other examples, but I forgot them or can't write them in short form. At the 3/4 mark, a lot more on languages & tying them into the mapping of historical movements. I did not find this particularly interesting since there is too much disagreement about it among the experts. I'm not one & don't want to be. I just want the Cliff Notes outtake, but there doesn't seem to be one at this time since there is little consensus, just a lot of conjecture at odds. Language is a two-edged tool. It can bind disparate peoples together (trade), but also separates them by pointing out who is a stranger. With a few words, we can separate out dialects & accents. (An example is given about placing the English within 35 miles at one time.) So, language can be both a way of broadening the group, but can also provide security from invaders. There are 6000 living languages & a huge amount of them (half?) are spoken in New Guinea, one area where the people never got together into larger groups (geography?) nor progressed beyond hunter-gatherer (no need due to climate?). Tough Questions that we will face: - Now that we know the genome & are developing the methods, will or should we take a hand in our own evolution? For instance, could/should we fix a gene that gives a person sickle cell? - What if we give another gills for exploring the seas? - How will we deal with new isolated colonies, such as those that will spring up on other planets? - He posed quite a few others that I won't write down. Many are interesting for the future, more are today's - like the question of intelligence. I'm a real fan of SF. Many of these questions have been asked by SF authors & the answers can be pretty scary. The future is here, though.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nate

    In my experience, it has been hard to find good, popular books about human evolution and prehistory. The most interesting books I’ve found on the subject are Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” and “Guns, Germs and Steel.” Nicholas Wade’s book “Before the Dawn” is an excellent addition to that short list, bringing us up to speed on what scientists are currently saying about human origins and prehistory. Reporting on a wide range of research, including paleo-anthropology, genetics, and histori In my experience, it has been hard to find good, popular books about human evolution and prehistory. The most interesting books I’ve found on the subject are Jared Diamond’s “The Third Chimpanzee” and “Guns, Germs and Steel.” Nicholas Wade’s book “Before the Dawn” is an excellent addition to that short list, bringing us up to speed on what scientists are currently saying about human origins and prehistory. Reporting on a wide range of research, including paleo-anthropology, genetics, and historical linguistics, Wade provides us with a comprehensive story of how our ancestors became anatomically, and then behaviorally, human. What seems to be different about Wade’s account of prehistory is his pervasive use of genetic research as the final arbiter when there is a conflict among scientific disciplines. The conclusions drawn by paleo-anthropologists and historical linguists are either confirmed by a genetic line of reasoning, or called into question. As a result, Wade flirts with controversy by suggesting that the emergence of art in the caves of France and Spain, some 32,000 years ago, was probably the result of genetic influences, implying that distinct human characteristics, such as art and cognitive capacities, have evolved in distinct population regions. This is the kind of reasoning that “Guns, Germs and Steel” was trying to remedy. However, Wade offers the qualification that, although distinctly human qualities may have developed in one population at an earlier date, these characteristics, which truly are universal, have evolved convergently. This is a common idea in evolution, one good example being the wing. Insects, birds, pterosaurs, and bats have all received the anatomy of the wing through four distinct lineages. In other words, evolution has hit upon the idea of wings four different, independent times. Humans, according to Wade’s line of reasoning, may have evolved the capacity for art and culture through selective pressures at the local level, when anatomically modern humans had already left Africa and occupied the Eurasian and Australian continents. Another point of divergence between Wade and Diamond is the issue of human settlement. Diamond’s book tells the very interesting story of the first domestication of grain in the Near East, which consequently lead to a settled way of life. Evidence now suggests that humans began sedentary village life as long as 18,000 years ago, much earlier than the first era of agriculture and stock rearing in the ninth and eighth millennia BC. Not surprisingly, Wade offers a genetic explanation for the origin of settlement. It is commonly held that behaviorally modern people have existed for about 45,000 years, meaning that they displayed the basics of human behavior, art, religion, and presumably language, and have not evolved significantly since. Wade, on the other hand, espouses the opinions of biologists who think humans have continued to evolve in the past 45,000 years, and human settlement may therefore have been the result of some particular evolutionary adaptation. Wade goes on to offer a genetic explanation for racial development, a tack that has been highly criticized since mid-20th century, for good reason. Scientists do not currently study race as a biological phenomenon, but Wade cites recent medical studies that point to a biological basis for understanding the races.

  5. 4 out of 5

    ☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣

    Some brilliant stuff - glottochronology, for one. Of course, it's unreliable, which the author illustrates well enough. Some questionable stuff. Such as the predominance of high IQ in some populations. I'm not entirely persuaded in IQ measurements applicability to anything, nor in the suggestion that IQ gets stronger in genetically closed populations that work in accounting and other relatively intellectual endeavors for 500 years. For one thing, it just might. For another, it could be a case of Some brilliant stuff - glottochronology, for one. Of course, it's unreliable, which the author illustrates well enough. Some questionable stuff. Such as the predominance of high IQ in some populations. I'm not entirely persuaded in IQ measurements applicability to anything, nor in the suggestion that IQ gets stronger in genetically closed populations that work in accounting and other relatively intellectual endeavors for 500 years. For one thing, it just might. For another, it could be a case of proactive nurture. For yet another, there could be some mutation, both helping this and hindering this. The bottom line is, I don't think we'll be able to know one way or another, since all our data is filtered down through the ages. Craniometry usability also sounds either severely limited or completely bogus to me. (Is it the bastard daughter of phrenology?) Trying to tie thinking processes of Asian and European people to the genome also seems to be an unprovable idea. There's a nasty bait-and-switch at this point, where a psychologically based Nisbett's idea that people of Asia and of Europe do think along different lines gets somehow tied to gene differences. Anyway, I did not appreciate this hocus-pocus, even for the sake of making a rhetorical exercise. There are so many factors in here that it would be impossible to take them all into account. There probably is a lot in genes. More than we can imagine. There also definitely is a lot more to humans (modern and otherwise) that gene lottery. Even though this research does not seem to be too reliable, it still suggests a lot of ideas to muse over.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    The first half of this book is a fascinating look at what light DNA and current studies of genetics shed on human evolution. I learned much more abour our ancestors, the origin of language, and genetics than I ever did in school. But the second half of the book goes into quesionable territory. He starts drawing conclusions from the still-developing understanding of the human genome that I just don't think are yet supported by the evidence. The science in this half of the book is somehow both too The first half of this book is a fascinating look at what light DNA and current studies of genetics shed on human evolution. I learned much more abour our ancestors, the origin of language, and genetics than I ever did in school. But the second half of the book goes into quesionable territory. He starts drawing conclusions from the still-developing understanding of the human genome that I just don't think are yet supported by the evidence. The science in this half of the book is somehow both too complicated for the lay reader, and over-simplified to support controversial conclusions. For example, he argues that race has a genetic basis and acknowledges, but minimizes concerns raised by social scientists about the implications of such an argument. Overall, this part of the book really made me question the validity of what I had read in the first half.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Interesting, but speculative I decided to read this book as a counterpoint to Jarrod Diamond’s famous Guns, Germs, and Steel, which focused on geography and domestication of plants/animals as an explanation for the rise of human civilization. Wade argues that this point of view doesn’t take into account recent scientific evidence that human genes have continued to evolve over the past few thousand years, sometimes as an apparent result of civilizing forces. This is an area of political controversy Interesting, but speculative I decided to read this book as a counterpoint to Jarrod Diamond’s famous Guns, Germs, and Steel, which focused on geography and domestication of plants/animals as an explanation for the rise of human civilization. Wade argues that this point of view doesn’t take into account recent scientific evidence that human genes have continued to evolve over the past few thousand years, sometimes as an apparent result of civilizing forces. This is an area of political controversy for obvious reasons, but Wade respectfully and even-handedly explores the known facts, tracing the divergence of modern humans from a small founding population in Africa to the branches and subgroups that exist today. If you’re interested in learning more about where the state of the art in human population genetics stands (or stood in 2006), and how this field, archeology, and linguistics corroborate each other’s findings, there’s lots of information in Before the Dawn. I particularly enjoyed learning about the quirks of mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA that make them useful tools in resolving questions of ancestry, and about techniques for tracing the roots of language back thousands of years. I also was interested in his thoughts on the origins of religion, which he argues emerged from behaviors needed to share resources. Wade, however, doesn’t make a very convincing case that Jarrod Diamond is wrong. In fact, he grudgingly acknowledges the “ingenuity” of Diamond’s thesis, then makes an unsupported argument that humans *might* have evolved a “settling down” gene before they learned to domesticate plants. I’m not saying that he’s necessarily incorrect, but I didn’t buy it. Diamond never claimed that ancient people instantly went from nomadic to settled, but that they probably lived a hybrid lifestyle for a while. Similarly, some of Wade’s other claims feel rather speculative. He attributes a decline in violent behavior to genes, but this may not be the primary explanation. Consider reading Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature for a more in-depth exploration of the topic. In the chapter that explores why Ashkenazi Jews have statistically higher IQs than people of other groups, the data *might* suggest that evolutionary pressures in medieval times were the cause, since Jews were forced into intellectual non-farming jobs and had a scholarly religious tradition that uplifted the brightest, but there could be other explanations for the phenomena. After all, people with high IQs crop up in every major group, so there must be many local factors that promote the relevant genes enough to keep them in circulation, or some set of universal ones. As I said in my review of Guns, Germs, and Steel, I think that societies and cultures are a lot malleable than genes are, and more likely to change in response to environmental pressures. Still, when there is cultural stability in one place over long periods of time, then genes might be selected to fit that culture. More research is undoubtedly needed before it can be determined what we really owe to variations in our hardware versus variations in our “software”. If you’re interested in such questions, though, this is a stimulating read. Of course, I also recommend Guns, Germs, and Steel. Another fine book is Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dan

    This first half of this book, on what genetics is adding to traditional sciences' understanding about the origin of modern humans, language, and settled living and agriculture is very good and interesting. The second half of the book, on the origin of modern human populations, is deeply flawed. Wade is sneaky. He doesn't come out and say white people dominate the world because they're genetically superior to people of color. He just hints at it, again and again. His only evidence, it seems, is t This first half of this book, on what genetics is adding to traditional sciences' understanding about the origin of modern humans, language, and settled living and agriculture is very good and interesting. The second half of the book, on the origin of modern human populations, is deeply flawed. Wade is sneaky. He doesn't come out and say white people dominate the world because they're genetically superior to people of color. He just hints at it, again and again. His only evidence, it seems, is that white people dominate the world -- not that there are any significant genetic differences between different geographic human populations. In the end, I found this book sloppy and racist.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    It's always a pleasure to read a book about science that's accessible yet still informative. Before the Dawn is a refreshing update to Darwinian evolution using the cutting-edge tool available to scientists and historians: genetics. Wade begins by giving a brief introduction into the application of genetics in the study of human history (and prehistory). Of particular interest is mitochondrial DNA (which is only inherited from the mother) and the Y chromosome (which a father passes onto his sons It's always a pleasure to read a book about science that's accessible yet still informative. Before the Dawn is a refreshing update to Darwinian evolution using the cutting-edge tool available to scientists and historians: genetics. Wade begins by giving a brief introduction into the application of genetics in the study of human history (and prehistory). Of particular interest is mitochondrial DNA (which is only inherited from the mother) and the Y chromosome (which a father passes onto his sons unchanged, since, unlike other chromosomes, it never swaps genetic information), through which geneticists can trace lineage, mutation, and genetic drift. Wade presents genetics as an additional tool to help clarify controversies stemming from other methods of dating human development, such as the unreliable method of carbon dating. He's upfront about the limits of genetics, however, which is also something I appreciate about this book. Wade strongly supports his argument but also mentions if other studies support contrary opinions. I appreciate Before the Dawn more for small, individual aspects rather than its overall flavour or zest. The aforementioned mitochondrial DNA/Y chromosome parts fall under this category, as does Wade's anecdotes about how the body louse helped us learn so much about our distant ancestors. It would never have occurred to me that lice, such pests as they are, would hold the key to our past. As Wade explains in Before the Dawn, however, we can look into the lice genome to see when body lice had to adapt to live in clothing instead of fur and use that to roughly pinpoint when humans began wearing clothes. Examples like that help demonstrate to people why genetics is such a useful new tool in the exploration of our past. The first six or so chapters chronicles humanity's expansion out of Africa, starting with a discussion on how we differentiated from our ape cousins and evolved into beings with the anatomical and cognitive abilities to expand all the way to Australia and northern Europe. This isn't the same old boring story, however, because Wade's telling it from a genetic point of view, indicating where key mutations in the Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA reveal when populations split off and to where they emigrated. Wade waffles somewhat when trying to explain what happened when behaviourally-modern humans encountered their predecessors outside of Africa--the Neanderthals in Europe and Homo erectus in Asia. Ultimately it seems that the evidence isn't clear, although he suspects that interbreeding wasn't the prevalent outcome. Beyond telling the story of our journey out of Africa, Before the Dawn clearly communicates a very important point about evolution: it's random. This gets lost, especially when opponents to evolutionary theory pick up the discussion, but it's an essential point that bears repeating. Evolution isn't working toward some end goal. Wade emphasizes time and again that the mechanisms of genetic drift and natural selection work both helpful and harmful effects upon species; we just usually notice the helpful effects because those who carry harmful attributes tend to die off rather than reproduce. Sometimes evolution's effects can be double-edged: did you know that the same mutation that causes sickle cell anaemia is responsible for boosting immunity to malaria? I didn't. But it just goes to show that if we ever take our genome into our own hands and begin guiding our evolution--something Wade mentions in the conclusion of the book--we need be very careful. The last six chapters of the book describe human development after we've spread across the globe. These chapters are not as fascinating as the previous six. They come across as somewhat padded, particularly the chapter on "History", wherein we learn about Thomas Jefferson's illegitimate children with a slave. Oh yay. On the other hand, there are a couple of highlights. The chapter on "Race", of course, is controversial. Wade manages to cleverly seize upon race as a genetic concept but is careful to point out this doesn't translate into a physical concept. Thus, by the guidelines of the scientists Wade endorses, a person's race is defined by his or her genes but has little to do with his or her appearance; someone who is genetically Caucasian may have very dark skin, compared to our classic idea of a Caucasian person as light skinned. Race ultimately tells us about where our ancestors came from, Wade opines, but is not inextricably linked to particular genetic attributes. Wade also takes on Jared Diamond's famous book Guns, Germs and Steel, attacking Diamond's thesis that the environment was the major factor in human development. I applaud Wade for criticizing parts of Diamond's argument I also found weak, particularly Diamond's peculiar insistence on the intellectual superiority of New Guineans. In any event, Before the Dawn is a good companion book to Guns, Germs, and Steel, so I recommend it to anyone who has read the latter. I have little to offer in way of criticism for Wade's arguments. As neither an historian nor a geneticist, I don't feel qualified to offer a technical criticism. As a reader, the book is more accessible than some scientific literature; it can get a bit dense from time to time, but you can just skim over those parts. The well-organized, almost episodic chapters make it easy to read over the course of a few days. If you're like me, you won't find the entire book equally interesting--some parts will be fascinating, while others will let your interest lapse as you wonder how much longer they'll last. Overall, Before the Dawn is a good addition to its field. However, if you aren't already interested in evolution and genetics, I doubt it will ignite a fire within you.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Charlene

    I cannot believe it took me 3/4 of the book to realize who this author was. I really could have saved myself a lot of time if I had only connected the name with his newer, even more racist, book. This book had an incredible amount of potential. It highlights all the best material I learned in my Anthropology of Evolution class. Wade uses a mix of solid science (some stellar science, actually) and a bunch of unsubstantiated old school evolutionary psychology bullshit to tell the epic story of huma I cannot believe it took me 3/4 of the book to realize who this author was. I really could have saved myself a lot of time if I had only connected the name with his newer, even more racist, book. This book had an incredible amount of potential. It highlights all the best material I learned in my Anthropology of Evolution class. Wade uses a mix of solid science (some stellar science, actually) and a bunch of unsubstantiated old school evolutionary psychology bullshit to tell the epic story of human ancestry from as early as the evidence will allow, to help the reader understand their human lineage. This book was like a roller coaster. One minute Wade would present a balanced and thrilling description of some evolution phenomenon, e.g. evolution of language, in which he would present hypotheses from contradictory sources, so that his reader could understand what the experts are saying. He is so good at delivering up the arguments for both sides, it is surprising that he, at times, becomes absolutely incapable of seeing more than one skewed (and unscientific) side to various arguments. Immediately after presenting excellent science, Wade would begin presenting pretty shoddy evidence to make an argument, e.g humans are naturally aggressive and that violence was high in prehistoric times and is lower now. To make the aggression argument, Wade used the old, tired "chimps are aggressive, and since chimps are our closes ancestors, we too must have been this aggressive," argument. Never mind that he didn't even mention the species bonobo, who we actually have more in common with than non-bonobo chimps. In addition to that, the aggressive chimps studies themselves have an observation bias effect. The aggression is much higher in chimps than bonobos, but it may not be as high as we once thought. Wade repeatedly used chimps as our model, without any actual evidence from genetics or from artifacts or fossils to back it up. And why? Because *no such evidence exists*. The implications became more clear as the book went on and Wade explained how our white ancestors were superior in intelligence to our black ancestors. He did this by using genetic "evidence" that has not been substantiated in any way. Main stream science is against him on this. I could not believe what I was reading. I had gotten over my annoyance with his bad aggression research and decided to ignore it, because so many things in this book were presented and supported with excellent science. When I read about how our Caucasian ancestors had superior brains, I felt shocked. I was about to email my anthropology of evolution professor and ask her, "Who was that guy who wrote that unbelieveable racists and scientifically inaccurate book?" Then I sat down at my computer and typed in "Nicholas Wade racist," and sure enough, this 2006 book was followed by his even more racist book in 2014. This is what the Dawkins, Pinker, Buss, Fisher, and other old school neo-Darwinist thinking leads to. I cannot wait until the "gene jocks" are fully replaced once epigenetics and thermodynamics make their way into the Modern Synthesis of Evolution. I have had enough science backed racism to last a lifetime.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    First Half on the Genetic Study of Human Prehistory Excellent, Second Half on Recent Human Evolution/Genetic Trends Weak A tale of two books in one. The first half is a truly fascinating and well-researched exploration of the prehistory of early human species (around six distinct species have been identified) that split off from earlier chimp/human ancestors, using genetics as a powerful new tool to illuminate areas of controversy (did early human species interbreed) or lack of clarity on the tim First Half on the Genetic Study of Human Prehistory Excellent, Second Half on Recent Human Evolution/Genetic Trends Weak A tale of two books in one. The first half is a truly fascinating and well-researched exploration of the prehistory of early human species (around six distinct species have been identified) that split off from earlier chimp/human ancestors, using genetics as a powerful new tool to illuminate areas of controversy (did early human species interbreed) or lack of clarity on the timing of when early homo sapiens spread from Africa (genetic evidence in fossils can be much more accurate than carbon-dating). Specifically Wade discusses how geneticists use mitochondrial DNA (only inherited from the mother) and the Y chromosome (which a father passes onto his sons unchanged, since it does not exchange genetic information) to trace lineage, mutation, and genetic drift. This part of the book really captured my imagination, and though one of his conclusions seems to be out-of-date, namely that Neanderthals did not interbreed with Homo Sapiens, as apparently recent genetic studies have revealed that our human genome contains trace elements of Neanderthal DNA and more of Homo Erectus as well, though I haven't read the material first-hand. Still, really mind-expanding content. I also found the links with historical linguistics very fascinating, especially as the book mentioned one of my father's linguist colleagues at University of Hawaii, Derek Bickerton. The latter chapters of the book are far less integrated or convincing. They focus on more recent evolution of mankind, such as the contention that closed communities such as Ashkenazi Jews in Medieval Europe were restricted to difficult intellectual work like accounting and thus developed a higher IQ over time, which has manifested itself in recent history in their very high ratio of Nobel Prize winners in scientific fields, Field Prize for mathematics, high ratio of students in Ivy League universities, and high representation in advanced field such as medicine, law, finance, engineering, etc. It's certainly an interesting area to discuss, though of course very controversial as it implies other ethnic groups are weaker in these fields, but I still think that stems more from culture, education and financial background than genetics. These later chapters were more like magazine articles and less cohesive with the larger theme. But still thought-provoking nonetheless.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Tina Cipolla

    If you are at all interested in knowing some of the things that have been learned from the human genome project this is a the book for you. It is also a book for you if you have like anything you have read of Jared Diamond's (particularly because it provides a counterpoint to The Third Chimpanzee and Guns, Germs, and Steel). However, let's put the warning right there up front, there are some unpleasant surprises in what has been learned from the human genome so far about just how much your genes If you are at all interested in knowing some of the things that have been learned from the human genome project this is a the book for you. It is also a book for you if you have like anything you have read of Jared Diamond's (particularly because it provides a counterpoint to The Third Chimpanzee and Guns, Germs, and Steel). However, let's put the warning right there up front, there are some unpleasant surprises in what has been learned from the human genome so far about just how much your genes determine your behavior and there are a lot of politically loaded findings that are not going to be appreciated by a lot of people (all detailed in the other reviews), but the science here is solid, the sources impeccable. I do not believe we should put blinders on when the scientific inquiry tells us something we weren't looking for and don't particularly want to deal with. You can't solve a problem until you can first identify it--and in fact, in this case you have to decide what is actually a problem and what isn't. That said, this is a truly fascinating look at the evolution of human being, that traces our exodus out of Africa and the eventual diaspora of homo-sapiens all over the planet using both genetics and the evolution of language as a mode of inquiry. In a nutshell, this book describes how as people wandered all over the place and settled down in widely varying environments and began evolving to live in those environments and this gives you people with a diversity of evolved behaviors, skills, skin colors, disease resistances and susceptibilities, eye shapes, and surprisingly people who evolved on different continents and in different environments actually have differing responses to modern day pharmaceuticals (which is a pretty important thing to know). All in all this is a well written, gutsy book that I'm sure is just he tip of the iceberg insofar as what we are going to learn from the human genome. I highly recommend it to all science nerds, anthropology and archeology geeks and the just plain curious. If you are particularly determined to believe in everyone having total autonomy and that nothing is genetically determined, you might want to take a pass on this one as it might seriously upset your worldview.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steve Van Slyke

    Having just read Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived by Chip Walter, and being somewhat unimpressed, I was a little leery of reading another book on more or less the same subject by another non-scientist author. However, Nicholas Wade almost immediately won me over with his smooth flowing narrative and excellent writing style. Plus his knowledge of the subject matter did not suffer by approaching it from the outside, at least not for this lay reader. Wade be Having just read Last Ape Standing: The Seven-Million-Year Story of How and Why We Survived by Chip Walter, and being somewhat unimpressed, I was a little leery of reading another book on more or less the same subject by another non-scientist author. However, Nicholas Wade almost immediately won me over with his smooth flowing narrative and excellent writing style. Plus his knowledge of the subject matter did not suffer by approaching it from the outside, at least not for this lay reader. Wade begins each chapter with an epigraph from Darwin's The Descent of Man and it never ceases to amaze me how prescient he was. I only wish Darwin could come back to life today to find out how close to the truth he was in so many things. Essentially the book is about the new field of archaeogenetics, which is the application of the techniques of molecular population genetics to the study of the human past. Wade relates how, sometimes to the delight and sometimes the dismay of authorities in such fields as archaeology, anthropology, paleoanthropology and linguistics, the biologists have been able to either confirm, supplant or destroy their theories using the latest techniques of genetics coupled with statistics. A new history book of the species Homo sapiens is currently being written and re-written. This book is a very readable summary of the most recent findings. There are so many wondeful insights that it would be frustrating to pick just a few. Highly recommend.

  14. 4 out of 5

    David

    While this isn't an easy book to read, I've learned a lot about our ancestors. I had never realized how warlike they were in the distant past. We took after chimpanzees in that regard. Also, our ancestors were often cannibals, afraid to say. The most interesting aspect of the book is the synthesis of a wide variety of evidence; archaeology, genetics, linguistics, anthropology/sociology, animal behavior and anatomy. While this isn't an easy book to read, I've learned a lot about our ancestors. I had never realized how warlike they were in the distant past. We took after chimpanzees in that regard. Also, our ancestors were often cannibals, afraid to say. The most interesting aspect of the book is the synthesis of a wide variety of evidence; archaeology, genetics, linguistics, anthropology/sociology, animal behavior and anatomy.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    This is an extraordinarily bad book, although it starts out well. As a sociology Ph.D. student (currently “dissertating” as of May 2016) focusing on science and technology as well as economic sociology, I have started to reprise the human origins literature looking for information about tool use (as deep background for my own work) as well as the adoption of boats. I was drawn to Wade’s book via the Amazon megamachine and purchased it because it was the product of a long-time science journalist. This is an extraordinarily bad book, although it starts out well. As a sociology Ph.D. student (currently “dissertating” as of May 2016) focusing on science and technology as well as economic sociology, I have started to reprise the human origins literature looking for information about tool use (as deep background for my own work) as well as the adoption of boats. I was drawn to Wade’s book via the Amazon megamachine and purchased it because it was the product of a long-time science journalist. I hoped that the book’s reference pages would serve as a useful springboard for my own literature search (which it has, for the first short section of the book). In retrospect, in one way I wished that I had done some further background research on Wade’s work, in particular his highly controversial 2014 book A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and History. On the other hand, a virtue of going into Wade’s 2006 Before the Dawn "cold" was that very quickly I began to pick up, on my own, many of the issues, problems, and complaints that his later book has drawn from a plethora of reviewers ranging from the sciences to elsewhere. It serves as a useful reminder to me that the complaints that sociologists of science and social scientists generally have made about “scientism” are far from dead; indeed, in Wade they are very much alive. I would therefore not recommend this book to someone who simply wants to know about human origins, there are likely other, and better books out there (however, I do not have candidates at this moment, I am focused elsewhere, namely, my dissertation, which is NOT on human origins.) Where to begin? Well, at first, Wade does fairly well, but not brilliantly, in outlining the development of material culture by early hominins and the slow evolution of different “packages” (Oldowan, Acheulean, and etc.) but without really getting into what those terms mean nor providing illustrations and so forth. From my perspective, the idea that boats might have provided the means by which early modern humans emigrated from Africa across the bottom of the Red Sea (the “Gates of Grief”) was highly interesting. Although we have only indirect evidence of boat use in the settlement of the Indonesian archipelago (see Brian Fagan 2012), it seems to me that nautical technology was likely much older. I have started to “get my feet wet” in the anthropological debate as to whether Paleolithic humans had boat technology. As a sailor and lover of boats, I would love for the answer to be “yes”. But even if claims for the middle or lower Paleolithic are overstated, even more cautious archaeologists think that by the “upper” (or late) Paleolithic, modern humans (as contrasted to the Neanderthals) had boat technology. But I digress. Because the evidence is so scanty, even now, when Wade is talking about “deep time”, he is on fairly secure ground, and makes a good, if general, case for the necessity of particular biological inflection points to the development of modern human society, such as more competent tool use and language. Wade makes a good, if indirect, case that the two really major inflection points in human social evolution are necessarily the development of speech language (some 50,000 or more years ago) and then the later development of written language (possibly expanded by the so-called Axial Age of Bellah and others where the genesis of modern philosophy and religion is said to be located. I am a cautious fan of the Axial Age concept). Wade, by the way, does not overtly say what I have just claimed, but he does open the door to such an interpretation. At this level, Wade’s analysis is fine. We know that our closest cousins, the chimpanzees, bonobos, and gorillas, cannot talk. There must have been a set of necessary physiological changes to enable speech. Those who could speak would undeniably have had a “competitive advantage” over those who could not. That much is within the bounds of reason. However, Wade soon makes it very clear that he has little to no truck with any of the arguments of my own tribe, the social scientists. Beginning about a 1/4th into the book, he makes it obvious at every turn that wherever he can, he would prefer to make a genetic, physically essential case for all manner of “social behavior”. A telling and key marker is his use of the term “culture”. Now, to a social scientist, saying “culture” can be like waving a red flag to a bull. A great deal of ongoing debate takes place across the social sciences about what the term even means. Wade makes no effort to discuss any of this, but even that is not the worst thing. No, to me, the way Wade uses culture clearly indicates his very old-school Darwinian individualism. That is to say, Wade indirectly follows the nostrum of the late Maggie Thatcher that “...there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families.” Wade, by the way, makes his allegiance to Darwin extremely clear by introducing each chapter with excessively long epitaphs drawn from what seems to be Wade’s patron saint. Hence, culture as used by Wade is an individual property, it is something individuals possess and is not generated by the broader society. Nothing could be calculated to distance his own view of the world further from that of myself and fellow social scientists. But this is not all. I said previously that Wade was very old-school, and he is. There is nary a mention anywhere of cooperative strategies in the dispersal of genes save that close relatives have an interest to support their brothers at their own individual “cost” because the genes are so close as to make it a viable strategy. This is the classic Dawkin’s “selfish gene” claim, which is again, entirely individualized. Many geneticists themselves don’t buy extreme versions of this claim, and for good reason. It is little noted that the social milieu of Charles Darwin, exactly contemporaneous (and in the same country, Victorian Great Britain) was awash in concepts of “competition” and hyper-individualism that gave rise to the first big wave of modern economics in people such as Walras, Edgeworth, and others. This idee fixe finds a modern throwback in Wade. As a sociologist of science and technology whose own broader discipline (sociology) is still grappling with the legacy of mid-twentieth century modernist thinking (Parsons, Merton), Wade displays an unreconstructed and even aggressive version of the modernist and scientistic worldview. These can be distilled to the following. It is individualistic/essentialist (all broader phenomena can be reduced to particular properties of individuals which emanate from their essential being and are not in any way mediated or generated from the social milieu. In Wade’s case this is biological essentialism: genes encode behavior and that behavior is the well-spring that “explains” all social behavior. It is also “functionalist”, no change is without a “function”, in this case the enhancing of individual survival. Any genetic mutation, in the face of the ur-Darwinian injunction of survival held by Wade, must therefore be functional. Wade is also “scientistic” in the sense that he holds that science is simply “true” and that any effort of social scientists to invoke any type of “social construction” is some kind of “politically correct” plot. I leave “PC” to one side, but it is interesting to note that the two groups most noted for being this hard line are not scientists themselves but two affilated groups who are not scientists but rely on science indirectly – science journalists (like Wade) and philosophers of science (some scientists are also highly scientistic, but the field as a whole is populated with both constructivists and non-constructivists). Sociologists and historians of science, however, are predominantly constructivists. Wade’s impoverished definition of “institution” (as the property of individuals) also contributes to the errors he makes. The problem with such essentialist, functionalist, and scientistic arguments is that any difference can be understood as functional even when it is not. Arthur Allan in his review of Wade’s 2014 A Troublesome Inheritance identifies this neatly. In both his 2006 book (Before the Dawn) and in Troublesome Inheritance, Wade makes the claim that East Asians have dry earwax because the same genes reduce body odor, making it easier for East Asians to live together in caves against Ice Age cold. As Allan puts it: “No explanation of why ancient Europeans, presumably cooped up just as much, didn’t also prefer this trait.” Wade is in the difficulty, as are all essentialists, in saying that by identifying that “because the building block of a house is the brick, we can understand all that is necessary about the house from studying the brick.” But as we should see, this is a huge fallacy. Not only can bricks be combined in many different ways to make all kinds of brick houses large and small, simple and intricate, but also not all houses are made of brick! Wade’s analysis, by constantly rejecting social explanations of all kinds, is necessarily impoverished. The question is NOT nature vs. nurture, but rather the INTERSECTION between the two. As geneticist H. Allen Orr points out in his review of Troublesome Inheritance in the New York Review of Books (June 5, 2014), one of Wade’s most frequent errors is to slip from “may explain” to “must explain” at nearly every step, a mistake that Wade makes often in Before the Dawn as well. Wade will begin by saying a given trait “may” explain a given social behavior to “does” explain a sentence or two later. This is both bad argumentation and bad writing, and reveals Wade’s intellectual fanaticism (see Race, below) Finally, we come to the most egregious of all Wade’s misrepresentations and spurious interpretations: that of race. Eric Michael Johnson, in his 2014 review of Troublesome Inheritance on his Scientific American Blog (“On the Origin of White Power”) claims that Wade “is not a racist” before cutting into Wade’s argument in his review. I mostly concur, but would like to point out that Wade’s intransience on the cultural meaning of race is part and parcel of the continuing struggle over race in the Western world. As numerous reviewers have pointed out, it is not bad for Wade to seek to bring a scientific viewpoint to the question of race, and Wade himself does make efforts to identify the terrible uses of science in racial abuses in the 19th and 20th centuries. The problem is that, unlike, say, Steven Pinker, Wade seems incapable of being at all respectful and careful about the term “race” itself. In other words, Wade’s comments serve only to inflame and not put down the debate, as witnessed by the approbation given Wade’s Troublesome Inheritance by Charles (“Bell Curve”) Murray and David Duke, more about whom I need not say. The problem is flagged by a blurb on the back of Before the Dawn by Washington Post reviewer Richard Cohen: “Wade... is a robust and refreshing critic of scientific political correctness.” The “fight” against political correctness is thus a subtext in Wade’s argument, but his argument is poorly conceived to even address the problem. In today’s charged, post-Ferguson environment, Wade’s effort only exacerbates the problem. Two key snags derail Wade’s argument. The first, and essential, issue is that he never really bothers to define what he means by race. Whether or not race is a “socially constructed term” or not (as a sociologist I think it is), the very word race is now overlaid and thickly defined by the history of race relations, the history of scientific attitudes to race (see Tuskegee syphilis study), and the political and economic consequences of race (precisely the social stuff that cannot be reduced to genes!). Hence, the use of the term race is necessarily a fraught and dangerous one. It really should have led Wade to eschew “race” and use another term all together. This leads to the second, and derivative point. Race in itself is just a name, a word. In his dogged effort to retain, and redefine the term race and yet not define it, Wade demonstrates yet another aspect of his anti-nominalism. In other words, he seems to think that there is no substitute for the word “race”. But this is not true. Had he said “ancestry group” or “regional ancestry group”, he would have avoided much (but not all) trouble entirely. After all, as stated by reviewer H. Allan Orr, if so noted an African-American scholar as Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is willing to advertise his genetic ancestry on national television, the idea of genetic ancestry is relatively uncontroversial. But of course Wade cannot do this, it would let in the problem of “social construction” and prevent him from indulging in his speculations that the “success of the West” and other claims of racial superiority in some attribute or other are basically genetically grounded. Hence, Wade cannot but be a fighter of “political correctness” even if it ultimately hurts his cause. There are so many additional problems in this book that this review could run on still longer than it has (my apologies). There is for instance his privileging of scholars who support his fixed ideas such as Napoleon Chagnon (a very controversial anthropologist) to the exclusion of other scholars, the strong whiff of socio-biology (it does not surprise me that the arch socio-biologist E.O. Wilson loved this book), the use of certain social psychologists and economists and the exclusion of any sociological/anthropological/historical point of view (even if Wade makes token efforts to show that his own genetic points are themselves far from contested). In short, the book is a mess in a way that would be far less likely had Wade been an academic rather than a journalist. It certainly is not true that all academic work passes muster either (lots of crap still makes its way through) and often times the process can veer to the excessively (small “c”) conservative. But, on the other hand, it is also more measured, balanced, and less of a firebomb that does more damage to one’s own side than to putative opponents.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    Nicholas Wade discusses how the growing science of genetics expands and deepens our understanding of human evolution, our relationship to our closest relatives, and how we became the species we are--and what we might become in the future. There's a lot of ground to cover, and this is a survey, not a textbook. It's very well-referenced, but in some cases he's relying on cutting edge research that, inevitably, will not all hold up. He also ventures into some touchy areas that not all readers will b Nicholas Wade discusses how the growing science of genetics expands and deepens our understanding of human evolution, our relationship to our closest relatives, and how we became the species we are--and what we might become in the future. There's a lot of ground to cover, and this is a survey, not a textbook. It's very well-referenced, but in some cases he's relying on cutting edge research that, inevitably, will not all hold up. He also ventures into some touchy areas that not all readers will be comfortable or happy with. Nevertheless, it's an excellent, informative, and thought-provoking book that is well worth reading. One of the topics covered here is the often-surprising path of human migration and expansion out of Africa. Just one major human lineage, L3, left Africa, and it's from that lineage that all the sub-lineages that populate the rest of the globe are descended. Human migration went eastward and along the coastlines, to India, southeast Asia, and Australia before going northward and westward. He repeatedly emphasizes that dates derived from genetic mutation rates are approximate and need to be evaluated in conjunction with archaeological evidence. That said, he gives us a fascinating picture of how archaeological, linguistic, and genetic evidence interact to give us a much fuller, richer, more complete picture of human evolution. Among the conventional assumptions overturned by the growing body of evidence is the notion of early human hunter-gatherer bands as peaceful people, living in harmony with other humans they encountered, with war as an invention of sedentary societies after the invention of agriculture. In fact the evidence points the other way: hunter-gatherer bands, even today, are very violent societies, frequently raiding their neighbors and as much as 30% of the population dying by violence. Our nearest relatives, the common chimpanzees, are even more violent, not only raiding other troops and killing any member of another troop found alone, but also handling most internal disputes including leadership disputes by violence. Permanent settlements, with higher population density and less ability to move away from neighboring individuals or groups you didn't get along with, required an increase in human sociability, and willingness and ability to cooperate even with unrelated individuals, in order to work. And the archaeological evidence shows that agriculture came after that point, a result rather than a cause. Humans have been domesticating each other, along with domesticating other species, and the typical experience of violence in settled, developed societies is much, much less and decreasing compared to "more natural" hunter-gatherer societies. The human ability to cooperate with unrelated strangers, routinely and on a large scale, is simply unknown in other species. Some readers will be disturbed by that argument. Others will be disturbed by the case that Wade makes that one of our evolved mechanisms for making this cooperation possible is religion. I'm not going to go on, touching on every issue Wade discusses. This is an excellent, highly readable book, laying out all we've learned about our past in recent years, due to the advance of genetics. Because he does rely on research that, in 2006, was very new and cutting-edge, some of what he says will prove to be wrong--but there's still a lot to learn here, and well worth your time. Highly recommended. I borrowed this book from a friend.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Read By..........: Alan Sklar Genre............: Nonfiction; Unabridged Front loaded interest, tum-te-dum middle, yawning by the end. Read By..........: Alan Sklar Genre............: Nonfiction; Unabridged Front loaded interest, tum-te-dum middle, yawning by the end.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

    If you’re a maverick researcher with a relentless belief that we can wring stories from data, regardless how tenuous, Nicholas Wade’s got your back.

  19. 5 out of 5

    keatssycamore

    You have to read this cautiously becaue it's 12 years out of date and, given the subject-matter (genes), there have been new developments. Even I (no expert, just a casual and very occasional reader of poular sci in anthropology) noticed several things that are now incorrect bc the field has progressed. That said, it isn't awful. It has some interesting information that is delivered in the kind of clear but assured prose I want in a pop sci book. The bad comes in in several places and often that' You have to read this cautiously becaue it's 12 years out of date and, given the subject-matter (genes), there have been new developments. Even I (no expert, just a casual and very occasional reader of poular sci in anthropology) noticed several things that are now incorrect bc the field has progressed. That said, it isn't awful. It has some interesting information that is delivered in the kind of clear but assured prose I want in a pop sci book. The bad comes in in several places and often that's a result of the author's ideological biases combined with his contrarianism. I found many spots where he and I just disagree on ideology but I do enjoy contrarianism (I am one). Even the kind that challenges my ideas from a different angle. And this book is ok for that but it highlighted for me something about the types of contrarians I enjoy reading. The first type is the expert in their field who has a novel idea/approach and takes on the existing beliefs. If they are doing the work and spending their lives on something that many are totally against, they'll have my ear and a good bit of my sympathy (likely just my love of the sports underdog expressing itself in my responses to culture/science/etc). the other type is the popularizer/journalist type of contrarians. I have less time for this group because unless they work really hard and go into a lot of detail to explain all sides of the dominant thing they are going after, I'm always going to be left suspicious that the conclusions they want me to draw are a result of their agenda being a thumb on the scale of truth. I hadn't managed to avoid that suspicion by the end of the book. Last brief thing because this has been a decades long pet-peeve of mine, Thomas Jefferson was a child rapist and I find it sickeningly reflective of our dishonest and disgusting national culture that people won't simply and clearly say so.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Book

    Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade Before the Dawn is a fascinating book that uncovers the origins of our humanity. Nicholas Wade through the use of genetics was able to answer some of the most interesting questions about our ancestors. This 320-page book is composed of the following chapters: 1. Genetics & Genesis, 2. Metamorphosis, 3. First Words, 4. Eden, 5. Exodus, 6. Stasis, 7. Settlement, 8. Sociality, 9. Race, 10.Language, 11.History, and 12.Evo Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade Before the Dawn is a fascinating book that uncovers the origins of our humanity. Nicholas Wade through the use of genetics was able to answer some of the most interesting questions about our ancestors. This 320-page book is composed of the following chapters: 1. Genetics & Genesis, 2. Metamorphosis, 3. First Words, 4. Eden, 5. Exodus, 6. Stasis, 7. Settlement, 8. Sociality, 9. Race, 10.Language, 11.History, and 12.Evolution. Positives: 1. Great science writing. Accessible yet profound. 2. Excellent, common-sense format. 3. Makes me want to return my degree in engineering and become a geneticist. 4. Human evolution at its best. 5. Fascinating facts abound. 6. Practical use of evolution. 7. The emergence of language explained. 8. The relevance of mitochondria. 9. The emergence of bipedalism. 10. Great scientific discoveries discussed. 11. Converging sciences and what they explain. 12. Evidence of how genes respond to cultural changes. 13. Bonobos! 14. Reciprocal altruism. 15. Sound theories on how religion emerged. 16. Interesting theories on the emergence of races. 17. Genghis Khan you stud... 18. Fascinating history of the Ashkenazi Jews. 19. Great links to notes. 20. Provocative, well-researched and interesting. Negatives: 1. No formal bibliography. Immersed in notes. 2. Some topics regarding race may be too sensitive for some. 3. There is some speculation in the book. In the case of race issues better supporting evidence is merited. I'm not concerned with the evidence; I'm more concerned with the lack of it. The strengths of our beliefs should be as strong as the evidence. In summary, I enjoyed this book immensely. It's provocative, it's fascinating and the author doesn't mind stating his case as he did while going after Jared Diamond, the author of "Guns, Germs, and Steel..." on some issues, which is always fun. A worthwhile read even if you disagree on some of his points. Further suggestions include the aforementioned "Guns, Germs, and Steel..." by Jared Diamond, and the "The 10,000 Year Explosion..." by Cochran and Harpending.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bob Nichols

    The author summarizes the state of the research on human origins, and weaves it together into a story. Most of this information has been reported and summarized by others. The strong part of this book is his compilation of information about our biological origins and its relevance to who we are today. The troubling part is that he repeats various research findings without much questioning or, perhaps, he is creating a picture of humans as he wants us to be (e.g., in cognitive control; non determi The author summarizes the state of the research on human origins, and weaves it together into a story. Most of this information has been reported and summarized by others. The strong part of this book is his compilation of information about our biological origins and its relevance to who we are today. The troubling part is that he repeats various research findings without much questioning or, perhaps, he is creating a picture of humans as he wants us to be (e.g., in cognitive control; non deterministic; less aggressive than we were; innately egalitarian a la Rousseau, biologically related to apes but distinctively not apes now, etc.). One of the book's central themes is that we became anatomically modern 200,000 years ago and behaviorally modern 50,000 years ago, thereby splitting our species into body and mind as if we are not an integrated whole. And, what is meant by behavior? While Wade is talking about some sort of increase in cognitive capacity, have the ends of behavior that cognition serves changed all that much from our anatomically modern ancestors or, for that matter, from our primate cousins? We want food, nurture, group membership, worth-value, security, mates and we don't want those things that threaten these ends. These needs and fears explain a good amount of who we are today and there's a reasonable chance that we exhibited the same behavioral ends way before, say, we could do cave art. Wade also states that hunter-gatherers were egalitarian. While that claim has been reported in the literature and then reiterated by others, there are questions. Are all hunter gatherers the same or do they vary in their organizational arrangements, as some reports on Indian tribes in North America suggest? Where did the hierarchical structures seen in settled communities come from if they were not present in some degree in the beginning? How does surplus and specialization create hierarchy if earlier humans had no propensity (i.e., were strictly egalitarian) for such? Wade repeats the kin-based explanation for altruistic behavior (we sacrifice ourselves to promote our kindred genes) but, as this does not explain our clearly evident other-giving behavior, Wade goes along with others and adds reciprocal altruism to the mix. How we get genetically from altruism for kin to non-kin is a significant leap in logic, and suggests that there are problems with kin selection theory, especially since it's obvious as Darwin noted that we are highly social (for non kin as well as kin) beings and that is likely because of the survival benefits group membership provides. Regarding our primate past, Wade states that chimps are "male dominated and aggressive, whereas bonobos are female dominated and highly conciliatory" and then he adds that, "Presumably the elements of both kinds of behavior must have existed in the joint human-chimp ancestor from which chimps and bonobos are descended." What is Wade saying here? Our joint ancestor was both male dominated and aggressive AND female dominated and conciliatory? How does this statement match up with his assertion that it's the particular environments that create the difference between chimps and bonobos, thereby negating the presence of these traits in a common joint ancestor. And, how is it stated that chimps are only aggressive and not conciliatory? Aren't chimp communities (and aren't there chimp cultures, suggesting variation rather than over generalization?) pervaded with various appeasement (conciliatory) rituals? In Wade's account, it is situation and culture that determines behavioral patterns and he uses trust to illustrate this point. Wade states that hunter-gatherers had less oxytocin sensitivities than city dwellers because the latter needed more trust to bind people together in cooperative associations. Given the relative anonymity of city life, it would seem to be the opposite. Trust works in small groups where detection of deception is direct and immediate, whereas distrust and suspicion works in larger groups, especially given the "freeloader" problem that Wade notes. On the freeloader issue, Wade says that religion originated for communal purposes, and particularly to deal with freeloaders through exclusion. That explanation for our religious origins I had not seen before. On the communal part, we might reasonably presume that our ancestors could sit down around the campfire and tell stories and sing songs, without anything religious going on. In the same way, groups can exclude freeloaders without having religion interject itself. Victim sacrifice might provide communal solidarity, but it also suggests that something far more fundamental is at work in our religious origins, such as fear. Wade says religion emerged with language and reciprocity about 50,000 years ago, with the emergence of the behaviorally modern human. There's evidence of religion among the Neanderthals prior to 50,000 years ago (burial of dead). Why reciprocity appears suddenly about 50,000 years ago seems questionable since grooming and other social bonding (reciprocity) practices long preceded (modern) humans. Wade says that it is language that creates deception, ignoring the fact that deception goes back to the origin of life itself (e.g., hiding, camouflage). Finally, Wade notes the effects of genetic variation between male and female and races, but says nothing about genetic variation among individuals (in-born character and personality types, based on genetic differences), which would significantly complicate assertions about just who we humans are. With these examples, it's hard not to lose confidence in Wade's storyline.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Timothy Riley

    A early migration out of Africa took a coastal route through to Australia and Oceania. Genetics and linquistics support the idea that some coastal peoples are related along the route today but most of the living sites would be underwater today. Ocean levels were much lower because of water trapped in glaciers. Some evidence suggests that they were forced to take the coastal route because of aggressive Neanderthal populations. One branch broke off and went northwest through Iran, Turkey and began A early migration out of Africa took a coastal route through to Australia and Oceania. Genetics and linquistics support the idea that some coastal peoples are related along the route today but most of the living sites would be underwater today. Ocean levels were much lower because of water trapped in glaciers. Some evidence suggests that they were forced to take the coastal route because of aggressive Neanderthal populations. One branch broke off and went northwest through Iran, Turkey and began encroaching on Neanderthal lands. 46,000 years ago all of the large land mammals in Australia went extinct to give the general timing. Some populations also still retain very dark skin like Andaman islanders and some parts of India and native Philipinos. One of the most interesting parts of the book has to do with the Last Glacial Maximum that happened 20,000 years ago. This cause all of northern Europe to be again covered in ice pushing populations south. Once that period ended peoples again pushed back north, some central parts of Ireland have very similar genetics as the Basques in modern spain indicating an offshoot of that population pushed north and left a large group behind. During this time peoples in Siberia stayed put and managed to domestic the dog and move over into North America. They know this happened here first because there is much more genetic diversity among dogs in this area today. The further you go from the original location-from people too-the less diversity there is. Three waves of migrations happened-first indicated by the Monte Verde people in Chile, second by the Na Dene speakers (most central and north american indians) and the Aleut Eskimos came last. Another cool point was about the enzyme Lactase which all babies produce and which turns off after childhood. However, where dairy products were used as a huge food source, mainly in northern Europe and large parts of sub-saharan Africa-the production of Lactase continues to be able to digest those products. This point was neat because it is an example of a recent genetic adaptation, only about 5,000 years ago. More cool facts presented: Bonobos and chimps are almost identical and you can't even tell the difference between them physically. I think it was chimps live north of the Zaire river and Bonobos to the south of Africa. They changed once they separated. For one, there is little to no infanticide like with Chimps and their societies are much more equitable and less aggressive in general. They believe that because the females show no outward signs of fertility and mate throughout the month, all males that mated with her believe they could be the father. Therefore males are less aggressive towards members of the community and also with other communities of Bonobos while Chimps frequently raid other groups and kill as many as possible. It is much more of a patriarchal way of living. A point that I'm not sure I agree with fully is that language and religion were developed together because "language can be used to deceive, and religion is a safeguard against deception. Religion began as a mechanism for a community to exclude those who could not be trusted." The basis is that communities needed to work together but avoid caring for freeloaders. The formation of religion was to keep people from deceiving the community and taking more than they were giving. Shortly after a social structure would have put in place by the elites who used religion "as a mechanism of control and as a means of justifying their privileged position." The chapter on race was neat. It makes the point that race as we know it is a total fabrication. Forms that ask us to check "white" for race are wrong as it is not a race, nor is "hispanic". Caucasians include Europeans, Middle Easterners, North Africans and Indians/Pakistanis. I wonder whether the mischaracterization on those forms is intentional or just ignorant. The chapter on the Indo-Europeans is the best one in the book. It is a language family and includes Slavic, Germanic, Baltic, Romance and Celtic languages, as well as an extinct language from western China and Hittite from Turkey. They believe that all modern members of these groups are derived from one group called the Kurgans who lived north of the Black and Caspian Seas. They domesticated the horse around 6,000 years ago and expanded quickly. They had reached Britain 4,000 years ago. Over time they all split off and the languages developed separately. The coolest part was that the Celts had a Y chromosome that was shared with peopled in the Basque region of Spain and are shared in modern, central parts of Ireland the most frequently because few invaders ever made it that far and settled. Both groups predate the Indo-Europeans entrance to Europe and are probably the first hunter gatherers 10,000 years ago. Modern Icelanders are a much more diverse group than originally thought. They are not solely Scandanavian in origin but also British, Irish and Scotish, particularly the Orkney and Shetland islands because the men who settled Iceland brought wives over from these places. Men from Norway, women from Britain. And finally, YES Thomas Jefferson did rape his 14 year old slave girl(s?) and produced 3-4 children from Sally Hemings. The DNA proves it and the dates of when he was in town also corroborate it, while he sent for her while in France.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Jeanette Lukens

    Loved this history of our ancient ancestors. Good comprehensive look at human evolution.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Before the Dawn is an interesting, well-written summary of how genetics has shed light on human development. Because the Y chromosome in males doesn't change during reproduction (it can't mix with female genes the way other parts of chromosomes mix), it stays unchanged (except for minor mutations) over time. Similarly, the mitochondrion DNA from women doesn't change (the sperm's mitochondria are destroyed). Because of this, all humans can be traced back to a single man and woman. The book convin Before the Dawn is an interesting, well-written summary of how genetics has shed light on human development. Because the Y chromosome in males doesn't change during reproduction (it can't mix with female genes the way other parts of chromosomes mix), it stays unchanged (except for minor mutations) over time. Similarly, the mitochondrion DNA from women doesn't change (the sperm's mitochondria are destroyed). Because of this, all humans can be traced back to a single man and woman. The book convincingly argues that modern humans were pretty much fully developed around 50,000 years ago. The book then tracks the mutations in the Y chromosomes and mitochondrion DNA to show how humans moved out of sub-saharan Africa, developed language, started wearing clothes (they actually looked at lice DNA to find that out), split into different races, etc. Some fun stuff I didn't know: * I thought humans descended from Neanderthals. Turns out Neanderthals and humans are different species on the hominid chain (which chain broke from an ancestor we shared with chimpanzees about 5-7M years ago). Neanderthals were around until 30,000 years ago. It's believed that humans killed them. * Humans probably had a pretty violent past that included cannibalism. Most humans have a gene that makes them immune to brain prions, which cause mad-cow disease and a similar "mad-human disease." Because we ate enough brains in the past, a lot of humans (including most Brits) won't get mad-cow disease. So, uh, thanks, cannibals. * Some human evolution occurred pretty recently: the gene that makes us lactose-tolerant is probably only 5,000 years old.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alan Kaufmann

    One of the best books on the evolution of humans in a long time. Not since "Guns, Germs and Steel" has a book put forth such novel ideas about why we are the way we are. This book covers a lot of ground, summarizing the reasearch, conclusions and speculations of many of the world's leading geneticists on topics ranging from why (and when) hominids began walking upright to when we started wearing tailored clothes to how evolution is continuing in human populations right on up to the present. While One of the best books on the evolution of humans in a long time. Not since "Guns, Germs and Steel" has a book put forth such novel ideas about why we are the way we are. This book covers a lot of ground, summarizing the reasearch, conclusions and speculations of many of the world's leading geneticists on topics ranging from why (and when) hominids began walking upright to when we started wearing tailored clothes to how evolution is continuing in human populations right on up to the present. While there IS a lot of speculation based on thin lines of evidence, the author is pretty good at letting the reader know just how speculative a conclusion is, and when there is significant controversy among researchers, giving the alternative viewpoints. He also tackles some potentially touchy topics, such as genetic bases and differences between races, among others, coming to some conclusions that might make some folks concerned with political correctness a bit squeamish. All in all, a fascinating, well-written book, highly recommended.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Before the dawn opened my eyes to a lot of what we've learned about evolution and human pre-history in the past decade and a half. A lot of his points are interesting, but I have two minor issues with the book. 1. For a book about science and fact, Wade leaned too heavily on conjecture and speculation. A large part of science is hypothesis, and I appreciated him filling in the gaps with leading theories, but unfortunately he presented them as near facts. 2. To Nicholas Wade, DNA is the single bi Before the dawn opened my eyes to a lot of what we've learned about evolution and human pre-history in the past decade and a half. A lot of his points are interesting, but I have two minor issues with the book. 1. For a book about science and fact, Wade leaned too heavily on conjecture and speculation. A large part of science is hypothesis, and I appreciated him filling in the gaps with leading theories, but unfortunately he presented them as near facts. 2. To Nicholas Wade, DNA is the single biggest determinant of everything and anything that has to do with life- sex, war, culture, civilization, and behavior. All, in Nicholas's point of view, ultimately come down to the process of DNA evolution. He's dismissive of other theories of regarding human behavior, and I would have expected a more comprehensive synthesis of the different schools of thought as opposed to this approach. Nonetheless, if you want to learn about DNA and how humanity has evolved (and is evolving), then this is a good book to start with.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Littrell

    How DNA analysis is illuminating the prehistory, October 17, 2009 I thought the first part of the book which was actually about the prehistory as newly discovered through DNA analysis was very interesting. I was less thrilled with the chapters on Race, Language and History. The wrap up chapter on Evolution was good, if a bit repetitious. Wade writes extremely well and does a good job of summarizing the latest (circa 2005) research, much of which has come from analyses of the descent of the Y chrom How DNA analysis is illuminating the prehistory, October 17, 2009 I thought the first part of the book which was actually about the prehistory as newly discovered through DNA analysis was very interesting. I was less thrilled with the chapters on Race, Language and History. The wrap up chapter on Evolution was good, if a bit repetitious. Wade writes extremely well and does a good job of summarizing the latest (circa 2005) research, much of which has come from analyses of the descent of the Y chromosome (from men) and mitochondrial DNA handed down through the female line. The question of our relationship with the Neanderthal--long a thorny question--is more or less resolved with DNA extracted from Neanderthal fossil bones that has been compared to the sequences of human DNA. The conclusion is that H. neanderthalensis came from H. ergaster through H. heidelbergensis as H. sapiens did, and then broke off on its own. Furthermore there is no genetic evidence that human and Neanderthal produced viable offspring. The earlier idea than the Neanderthal was a modification of the very successful H. erectus has been discredited. As to the question of our origins, northeast sub-Saharan Africa is further confirmed as the site. Wade has humans becoming behavioral human around 50,000 years ago after becoming anatomically human as early as perhaps 200,000 years ago. The great leap forward occurring 50,000 years ago is attributed to the acquisition of symbolic, syntactic language. This was also the time when humans made the exodus out of Africa and began to colonize the world. They went east across the Red Sea at the Gate of Grief during a glacial period when the sea level was two hundred feet lower than it is today. They followed the coast line of the present Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea to India and eventually to Australia. I had previously though humans had gone north along the Red Sea to the Mediterranean and then east and then north to Europe. However, the evidence indicates that it was only later that humans migrated to Europe from India westward to replace the Neanderthal. I had also always thought that agriculture came before settled communities, but it now appears that sedentism occurred first and was part of a behavioral and psychological change in humans that led to agriculture and eventually to cities and nation states. Just prior to or at about the same time as the first settlements appeared some 15,000 years ago occurred the domestication of the dog. Wade avers that living in settlements near a plentiful food source (wild grains, a bountiful river, etc.) was partially made possible by people using dogs as sentries against the ancient practice of dawn raids by neighboring tribes. Clearly the transition from the hunter-gatherer way of life to the settled way of life was a momentous one. Perhaps the reason I wasn't so thrilled with the latter part of the book is that I read some of the studies Wade considers elsewhere. The experience of Brian Sykes in tracing the ancestry of people named "Sykes" and of Thomas Jefferson's second family with the slave Sally Hemings are examples of DNA derived stories that I had read before. Wade's account of the saga of the Ashkenazi Jews of Europe, although also a familiar story, is most interesting. He cites studies showing that Ashkenazi Jews have an average IQ of 115 while Sephardic and Oriental Jews have the usual average of 100. A couple of arguments are presented to account for this difference. The more plausible one is that because the Jews of Europe were forced by the Christian majority into becoming money lenders from about AD 1100 until around 1700. (Christianity at the time forbade usury.) That sort of intellectually demanding way of life, along with having to make a living amid persecution, selected for intelligence. By way of contrast, Sephardic and Oriental Jews during the same period "lived mostly under Muslim rulers who often forced them into menial jobs, not the intellect-demanding ones imposed on Ashkenazim." (p. 256) More than any other book I have read, "Before the Dawn" insists on cultural change leading rapidly to genetic change. With the experience of the Ashkenazi Jews as a case in point, Wade argues more generally that "for social species the most important feature of the environment [which directs evolutionary change] is their own society." He concludes that "to the extent that people have shaped their own society, they have determined the conditions of their own evolution." (p. 267. This might be termed "evolution by your own boot straps." I wonder however if it isn't a sort of fallacy. Biological evolution shapes human behavior which in turn leads to cultural change which leads to further biological evolution. I think it is better to speak of cultural evolution as a subset of biological evolution and not imply that somehow we have begun to direct the process. But this may be just a quibbling over semantics. Clearly the environment has changed us and we have changed the environment. In the final chapter Wade speculates on where we are going. I always like such speculations but only really appreciate those that have us becoming post-human in some way. Wade posits one possibility that I have not thought about in years, that of humans splitting into two or more species. He notes: "Our previous reaction to kindred species was to exterminate them, but we have mellowed a lot in the last 50,000 years." (p. 279) By the way, this idea that we "have mellowed a lot," and become less aggressive since we have domesticated ourselves is one that appears elsewhere in the book and is an idea that, for better or for worse, appears surprisingly to be true. The actually percentage of humans killed during warfare appears to have been much greater during the prehistory than it is today. The wars today are much bigger but the wars in the pre-history, according to the research presented here, were nearly constant. --Dennis Littrell, author of “The World Is Not as We Think It Is”

  28. 5 out of 5

    Rex Fuller

    Traveling back in time, at 5,000 years ago our written records disappear. At 15,000 years ago, human settlements disappear. About 50,000 years ago all language disappears, and our ancestral humans are nowhere to be found outside of northeast Africa. What did the first language sound like? When did we make fitted clothes? When did we start living with dogs, or was it vice versa? Did we go to India on the way to Siberia and the Americas? Where did we first domesticate grain? This book gives fascin Traveling back in time, at 5,000 years ago our written records disappear. At 15,000 years ago, human settlements disappear. About 50,000 years ago all language disappears, and our ancestral humans are nowhere to be found outside of northeast Africa. What did the first language sound like? When did we make fitted clothes? When did we start living with dogs, or was it vice versa? Did we go to India on the way to Siberia and the Americas? Where did we first domesticate grain? This book gives fascinating insights into these and many other questions based on new technologies, especially genome tracing, about what happened in the 90% of the modern human story that is unwritten, the 45,000 years from 50,000 to 5,000 years ago.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Colby

    What an extraordinarily out-of-the-box read: magnificently [and convincingly] politically incorrect; sweeping in scope; sufficient in explanation, totally au courant; and an utter intellectual delight! He covers so much, in such fascinating detail that reader-fatigue is simply not an issue. To wit, a propos of the role of sex in shaping human-evolution: "I don't know a single head of state who hasn't yielded to some kind of carnal temptation, small or large. That in itself is a reason to govern." What an extraordinarily out-of-the-box read: magnificently [and convincingly] politically incorrect; sweeping in scope; sufficient in explanation, totally au courant; and an utter intellectual delight! He covers so much, in such fascinating detail that reader-fatigue is simply not an issue. To wit, a propos of the role of sex in shaping human-evolution: "I don't know a single head of state who hasn't yielded to some kind of carnal temptation, small or large. That in itself is a reason to govern." - Francois Mitterand I note with no surprise but a bit of delight that the reviewers listed on the book's back-cover are, although pre-eminent in their respective fields, flagrantly non-PC.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cindy Dyson Eitelman

    I wanted to start off this review with a jibe at the 'Paleo diet' fad, but I quickly realized that would be an insult to this scholarly review of human history and the study thereof. This is an awesome work! He includes the most recent findings, theories, and ongoing studies of genetics, archeology, paleoanthropology, historical linguistics, primatology, social anthropology, evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology and evolutionary anthropology; and there may be a little geography throw I wanted to start off this review with a jibe at the 'Paleo diet' fad, but I quickly realized that would be an insult to this scholarly review of human history and the study thereof. This is an awesome work! He includes the most recent findings, theories, and ongoing studies of genetics, archeology, paleoanthropology, historical linguistics, primatology, social anthropology, evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology and evolutionary anthropology; and there may be a little geography thrown in as well. The result is a fascinating summary of known--and yet to be known--human history. And he tops this off with a lovely little speculation on our possible futures. Which isn't all that scary, especially since I heard just last week that scientists have succeeded in doing a gene repair in human embryos. If I were the sort who wrote letters to authors, I would ask about this one statement I caught early on, " ...an organ or faculty cannot be created out of nothing; it can only be shaped, by gradual stages, out of some existing structure, and each of those intermediate stages must confer advantage in its own right. The phrase "must confer advantage" has to be a typo, doesn't it? Many other places he mentions genetic drift and other cases where harmless mutations are accumulated for no other reason than chance alone, so why can't an organ or faculty be created out of an accumulation of harmless mutations? Unlikely, yes, but not at all impossible. He was speaking of language which seems to defy the stated rule, so my guess is that this was not meant to be a fact but a lead-in to the research into "the language paradox" -- why don't any animals seem capable of anything similar to human syntax? One proposal he quotes is that, " ...the human capacity for syntax might have evolved out of an animal brain module designed for some other purpose, such as navigation. " They describe ways in which syntax is similar to navigation, i.e., "the ability to embed one phrase inside another in an indefinitely long chain." I'll describe a couple--of many--of other topics he explores-- Dogs, the first domesticated animal, were important allies to the early humans. The record shows that they were first domesticated at the same time that the first human settlements appeared, and it is very likely that people adapted to live with dogs as much as dogs adapted to live with people. And just as people learned how to watch dog behaviors as a clue to something they might need to know, dogs learned to watch humans. Experimenters using dogs, wolves and chimpanzees have demonstrated that dogs, and even puppies, picked up human hints much faster than the other species. Ray Coppinger, a dog behavior expert at Hapshire College, believes that people can take little credit for the process; it was wolves who domesticated themselves. It is also likely that the actual domestication event occurred only once, in a single location, from a group of related animals with special features in their behavior that made them easier to train. After "dogs were discovered," they were so darned useful they spread like wildfire. Me, I think it likely that the Big Bang of Dog event occurred when one very clever she-wolf wanted an easier life for her precious puppies. They're smarter than us, you know. The book includes a fascinating description of cannibalism and why it may not be so rare in history as we like to believe. When mad cow disease broke out in England, the effect wasn't nearly as bad as expected--it appears a good number of Britons had a genetic protection against it. And that same sequence of genes also protects against a particular disease spread by eating human brains, as they learned when the Fore population of Australia started a practice of having women and children eat the brains of the dead. When there were almost no women left, geneticists identified the gene the survivors had in common, and it was also found in survivors of mad cow in Britain. Cause or effect? The jury is still out but the evidence is fascinating. He also explores the theory that our genes predilect us toward a belief in religion. Religion makes it easier for people to live in society--it promotes cooperation and altruism, but it also feeds to our natural desire to punish freeloaders. It's scary to think there might be a genetic component to religion, but it might explain to persistence of such magical thinking against all odds. Lucklily, we're not always a prisoner of our genes. And also luckily, evolution is not done with us yet. Even evolutionary changes need not be permanent. The aggressiveness of the Yahomamo could have a lot to do with the marginal nature of the environment in which some of them live. Under conditions in which aggressive men have more children, genes that favor aggression would become more common. If the Yahomamo should suddenly become peaceful traders for many generations, then a new set of genes might be favored. The fierce Vikings of the tenth century became the peaceful Scandinavians of today. All those dummies who believe human evolution got stuck in the paleolithic era and conclude we should be eating grubs and tubers, take that! But wait--wait--I'm a Caucasian of Northern European ancestry. Maybe I'm better adapted to eating apple strudel, Brussels sprouts, and sauerkraut with Weiner Schnitzel! I can't have my olive oil and pita bread with hummus anymore? But seriously, it's a serious book. Funny at times and very easy to read in spite of the complexity of the subject, and worth seeking out a copy. Trust me.

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