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Genes, Peoples and Languages [Hardcover]

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza
3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

16 Oct 2000
Do the languages and genes of living people contain a historical record of the species? The pioneering work of Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza has answered this question with a decisive yes. "Genes, Peoples and Languages" serves as a summation of the author's work over several decades, the goal of which has been nothing less than tracking the past several hundred thousand years of human history. When and where did we evolve? How have human societies spread across the continents? How have cultural innovations affected the growth and spread of populations? What is the connection between genes and languages? Do racial classifications have any meaningful genetic basis? With their focus on written documents, professional historians can tell us nothing of the 99.9% of human history extending from our species' origins to the development of writing. Rich in incredible and fascinating detail, "Genes, Peoples and Languages" provides a panoramic tour of the missing hundreds of thousands of years, and provides a rare firsthand account of some of the most significant scientific work of our time.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (16 Oct 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071399486X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713994865
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.8 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,161,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

Jared Diamond says, "It would be a slight exaggeration to say that LL Cavalli-Sforza studies everything about everybody, because actually he is "only" interested in what genes, languages, archaeology, and culture can teach us about the history and migrations of everybody for the last several hundred thousand years". Cavalli-Sforza has been the leading architect of a revolution (even a paradigm shift) in human genetics since the 1960s. Because of his work, geneticists no longer think that the human species is divided into colour-coded races. Cavalli-Sforza's studies of the transmission of family names in Italy, of the relationship between human genes and languages, of migration and marriage, are the benchmarks of our biological self-understanding.

Genes, Peoples, and Languages is less personal than Cavalli-Sforza's preceding book, The Great Human Diasporas: The History of Diversity and Evolution. And it is far more compact that the magisterial The History and Geography of Human Genes. Instead, it is an excellent overview of Cavalli-Sforza's many-faceted approach to human history and our present condition. It is that rarest of achievements, holistic without any trace of mushy-mindedness. --Mary Ellen Curtin


"Effectively communicates complex ideas for a general audience without sacrificing the important technical details that underlie them; thus it should be of great interest to professional as well as lay readers."--Theodore G. Schurr, "American Scientist --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The history of the human species 1 Dec 2001
By A Customer
This is a very good popscience book. It explains in a simple way some of the methods that can be used to study and uncover the genetic as well as linguistic and cultural past of the human species. (Interestingly, it turns out that some of the methods for studying genetic change are similar to some of the methods for studying cultural and linguistic change, and that the history of genes can help us understand the history of languages and vice versa.) But the book does not just explain the methods, it also tells you what results these methods have yielded. That is, it tells you when (probably) modern humans came out of Africa, the way they colonised the whole planet, the way linguistic differentiation took place, etc. The book is well written and entertaining.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise and well written 7 Jan 2002
By A Customer
Having read the likes of Jared Diamond, Merrit Ruhlen, Sykes and Richard Dawkins in the past 6 months another name was always on the periphery, Luca Cavalli-Sforza. He has an abundance of experience on his subject and it shows in the book giving you enough detail to know how some of the current conclusions on Peoples, Genes and Languages have been derived. It is also very interesting to see how many of these apparent separate disciplines fit together to make a fairly coherent map of humanity, from where we originated and how we have diversifed.
The book isn't technical so it should appeal to most people and it certainly leaves you with a better appreciation of ourselves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Ideal Popular Primer On Population Genetics. 20 Jan 2008
By Ross
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Although a lot of interesting books have been written in the last few years about deep ancestry and the origins of humanity it is important to have a work that concisely and authoritatively brings together the current broadly accepted ideas as they stand today. 'Genes, Peoples and Languages' reconstructs prehistory by using the concepts that are explained in the title and gives an outline of the origins of all the major populations in the world and their relationship to each other.

Other works of recent years have proposed new theories that challenge or modify the orthodox ideas on human origins but to make sense of newer theories it is necessary to understand how the accepted views were arrived at.

Some of the dry technical aspects of the methodology can be a little tedious at times but they don't take too long to read, and aren't necessary to understand precisely in order to grasp the conclusions that Cavelli-Sforza derives from them.
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26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars It could have been so much better 5 Dec 2002
This was a bit disappointing. It's not a terrible book but it takes a great subject but doesn't manage to make it very exciting. I also found there was a lot of repetition as if each chapter had been written separately, perhaps as separately published articles. When you read the book straight through the repetition is tiresome. I noticed that the same critiscism was made of "Guns, Steel......" by Jared Diamond and I recently discovered that he had worked or studied with the Cavalli-Sforza.
If he wants to know how to write a popular book in this subject area he should read and learn from likes of Matt Ridley (Genome), Brian Sykes (The Seven Daughters of Eve) and Robert Winston (Human Instinct).
However, it is useful as a sort of reference book to see what his conclusions were, especially in the form of diagrams that chart the evolution of races, languages, agriculture, etc. I find myself going back to it occasionally.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting content but fragmented 22 April 2004
By drone
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An interesting book overall, analysing genetic, cultural and linguistic evidence of human origins. However the various strands within the text are dealt with in a rather disjointed and piecemeal fashion. The book would have benefitted from the inclusion of a section tying together the material presented in the work in a more holistic overview. Probably not for the casual reader, but written in plain enough language for the non-specialist to understand.
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