33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Past is a Foregin Country
The Past Is A Foreign Country, February 7, 2009
By William Holmes "semloh2287" (Portland, OR USA) - See all my reviews
Despite the complexity of the subject, "The 10,000 Year Explosion" is clearly written and compellingly argued. The book is devoted to refuting the idea that human evolution stopped 10,000 or 50,000 years ago, as some have argued. Rather,...
Published on 7 Feb 2009 by William Holmes
27 of 52 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Dangerous half truths
This is apparently what you get when a physicist and a social scientist decide to write a book about human genetics (though I wonder what sort of social science Harpending studied). I have to give them a second star, because there are some interesting ideas and pieces of information here, but the overall effect is so tendentious that I would prefer to give it no stars at...
Published on 1 Nov 2010 by Pipistrel
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33 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Past is a Foregin Country,
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Hardcover)The Past Is A Foreign Country, February 7, 2009
By William Holmes "semloh2287" (Portland, OR USA) - See all my reviews
Despite the complexity of the subject, "The 10,000 Year Explosion" is clearly written and compellingly argued. The book is devoted to refuting the idea that human evolution stopped 10,000 or 50,000 years ago, as some have argued. Rather, humans are constantly adapting to diseases, cultural innovations, and myriad other changes in the environment. As Cochran and Harpending point out in the Overview to their book, "humans have changed significantly in body and mind over recorded history. Sargon and Imhotep were different from you genetically as well as culturally."
At some level, the idea is plainly correct. Sickle cell anemia, for example, results from an adaptation to malaria. Those who had the gene were more likely to live long enough to have offspring, so the genes that code for malaria resistance are much more frequent in populations originating from areas where malaria has been historically common.
The same principle explains why the New World's inhabitants were almost completely wiped out by diseases imported from the Old World--by some estimates, mortality approached 90% of the pre-1492 population of North America and South America. The denizens of the Old World had been pastoralists and farmers much longer than their New World counterparts, and so had been exposed to a host of nasty diseases that originate from domesticated animals (e.g., smallpox). The farmers who were lucky enough to have a genetic adaptation that could resist the diseases passed the adaptation along to their offspring, and over hundreds or thousands of years the genetic defense swept through the whole population. By the time Columbus reached the New World, he and has compatriots had evolved to resist the Old World's diseases. In the New World, the Native American population had turned to agriculture relatively recently and didn't have the same suite of domesticated animals as the inhabitants of the Old World. Native Americans had evolved no genetic defenses against the diseases brought by the Europeans, and millions died in the space of a few decades. (The tables were turned on the Europeans who ventured into Africa, who were genetically ill-equipped to deal with tropical diseases like malaria.)
Cochran and Harpending's discussion of the Ashkenazim is bound to be more controverial and disturbing. The authors argue that, during the Middle Ages, the Ashkenazi Jews were, for various cultural reasons, a genetically isolated population that could make a living only in certain demanding careers, such as money lending and asset management. All of these occupations rewarded great intellectual ability, so over a period of hundreds of years, the Ashkenazi Jews became smarter on average than other Europeans. (According to the authors, the average IQ of the Ashkenazi Jews is 112, about three quarters of a standard deviation above the European mean.) This pushed the normal distribution of IQ scores among the Ashkenazi to the right, so the Ashkenazi were rewarded with a disproportionate number of geniuses relative to the size of their population. As further support for their hypothesis, the authors point out that the genetic diseases like Tay-Sachs that are associated with the Ashkenazi population seem to be errant expressions of genes that enhance the performance of the brain and central nervous system.
Of course, many of us become very uncomfortable when genetics seems to suggest that one human population might, on average, be more intelligent than another. Arguments about the alleged superiority of one group over another have been used to horrible effect in human history. But the authors are optimists, not racists. Pointing out that there is a unique genetic adaptation among the inhabitants of the village of Limone sul Garda that greatly reduces the risk of coronary disease, the authors argue that "some of the results of history's experiments may even aid us in more ambitious efforts aimed at increasing human life spans and cognitive abilities." Fine up to a point, but we must always be wary of the enthusiasms of those who would twist such hopeful conclusions into an argument for a new form of eugenics.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another step forwards in the social science revolution,
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Hardcover)The thesis of this book is that the changing environments encountered by human populations since the original excursion out of Africa ~50,000 years ago - and more recently through the introduction of agriculture, have led to substantial and differential genetic changes in various human populations. Therefore, to understand the deep history of humanity, we need a combined cultural-genetic analysis in which each component couples to the other.
Key ideas include:
* The evolved disease-resistance of Europeans + their diseases effectively destroyed the Amerindian populations of North and South America, which led to a relatively easy colonisation by quite small forces. Compare the European inability to colonise Africa, rich in its own diseases to which the indigenous Africans were far better adapted: *they* didn't die off.
* The spread of the original Indo-European speakers from their Pontic-Caspian Steppe homeland was, the authors argue, driven by a lactose-tolerating mutation which allowed those nomadic invaders to consume milk. This is a far more efficient energy source than slaughtering cattle, supporting five times as many warriors per square kilometre.
* And then the explanation of the superior intelligence (~0.7 std. dev.) of the Ashkenazi Jews due to strong selective pressure in their taxation, money lending and management niche over the last thousand years in northern Europe ... and the price in genetic diseases of the nervous system they pay for their IQ-boosting mutations.
I suspect the enemies of applying evolutionary theory to human development will have to die-off before the paradigm gets decisively shifted, but to an honest evolutionist, the approach of this book cannot be faulted.
We are at the earliest stages of differential genetic analysis, and I expect that the bubbling ideas and historical scenarios outlined in such a clear and entertaining way in this book will be substantially developed and refined in the coming years.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Evolution, history and intelligence,
A Kid's Review
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Paperback)the authors point out that the human genome has changed rapidly - in fact over the past 10.000 years much more rapidly than possible before.
Possibly European history was aided by the Neanderthal genome - but this is still quite speculative and more evidence should be drawn out by recent sequencing of Neanderthal genome. However, more interesting is the change in lcatose tollerance which has aided the Indo Germanic dominance from Europe to India. They were settlers how could digest the milk - this explains why local population was much slower at adaptation.
Interestingly they make the point that European jews may habe been bread for intelligence and thus aquired some genetic deseases like Tay Sachs. This sounded very convincing.
some futher analysis is missing. No treatment of the Flynn effect. Not quite sure whether humans would have actually acquired higher intelligence from North to South - the authors dont give definite answers, but this could not be done given the evidence there is. So they very much manage to stay away from rasism and just look at facts.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars radical but true,
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Paperback)10,000 Year Explosion is one of those phenomenal science books, actually a somewhat dangerous book, that will stick in your mind weeks after you put it down.
Before the new genome paradigm, the experts used to say that the Homo Sapien species was fixed and hasn't changed for about 20 thousand years.
The authors, Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending, argue that this isn't so; and that the people who fought in the Trojan war and the people who built the Great Pyramid were a different form of human being that you and I. This is unearthing but the science fits this radicalism and the implications can be upsetting for many people.
The authors argue that the genetic evidence fits the idea of an evolving or devolving human and that a racial theory is no longer cod science. There is more to this book than can fit inside a review. It's a phenomenal piece of science. Highly Recommend!
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Instead of being over, evolution has actually been at its fastest over the past 10,000 years,
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Paperback)In this fascinating book the authors explain how human evolution has continued since the invention of agriculture, and how it has affected the course of history.
This is a very compelling account of how and why human evolution could not have stopped and indeed has accelerated over the past tens of millenia, and especially since the onset of agriculture. Radically changed environments (first Europe/Asia/etc. instead of Africa, then agricultural environment and gradually strenghening law enforcement instead of hunting-gathering and tribal or even lower level anarchy) and a swelling population (supplying an ever increasing number of useful mutations) meant a huge acceleration of evolution.
The book doesn't shy away from questions of race. They convincingly argue what others (most notably Vincent Sarich and Frank Miele in Race: The Reality of Human Differences) have already shown, that race is much deeper than skin-deep.
It's not very long (a bit more than 200 short pages, including a number of pictures) and is well-written and easy to read, I finished it on a Sunday afternoon, so if you take it with you for a long vacation take some other books as well...
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very informative book,
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Paperback)Some experts believe that evolutionary change in humans no longer occurs and that human minds and bodies are the same everywhere. The authors believe that evolution in humans is continuing. We are not the same as our ancestors of thousands of years ago. According to the authors the change that occurred about 40 thousand years ago was due to transferance of genes from the Neanderthal to H. sapiens. Some believe that modern humans and Neanderthals could not have been interfertile. But chimpanzees and bonobos that branched 800,000 years ago are. The branching between humans and Neanderthals occurred only about 500,000 years ago. If humans had acquired an allele from the Neanderthals that was helpful, its frequency would tend to increase. Some of the genes acquired from the Neanderthals might have aided in adjustment to the climate in the north and other genes might have helped in solving problems that did not occur in Africa. We may have even acquired the gene that plays a role in speech from the Neanderthal.
With the advent of agriculture, population increased and along with it favorable mutations. The diet of farmers changed from that of hunter-gathers to less protein and more carbohydrates. More infectious diseases appear. Those with genetic variants that overcame the effects of the new diet survived and the variants spread. Mutations causing light color skin seem to have appeared after the birth of agriculture.
Even the scientific "revolution" may be due to changes in gene frequences affecting important psychological traits. These might include increases in abstractt reasoning or numerical abilities.
The authors also discuss the flow of genes from one population to another. It may be hindered by natural barriers. But it may be aided by conquests and trade.
Disease may play an important roll in conquest of various areas. Amerindians had not developed resistance to the diseases of Europeans and as a result were almost wiped out by diseases such as smallpox and tunerculosis. A very few Europeans were thus able to carry out the conquest of the Americas. It was exactly opposite in the case of Africa. Diseases of the natives made the conquest of Africa very difficult for Europeans.
The occurance of a lactase persistence mutation allowed the expansion of Indo-Europeans. They were pastoralists and the ability to drink milk as adults lead to better nutrition. They were mobile and conquered large areas. As a result of this mutation half of mankind speak an Indo-European language.
The Ashkenazi Jews are an example of how a mutation along with a certain way of living can affect intelligence. They have an average IQ of 112 while the average of other people is 100. They also have diseases such as the Tay Sachs disease. The higher intelligence and the presence of these diseases may be related. An individual with a single copy of a certain gene is likely to be intelligent but develops one of the diseases if he is a homozygote.
As the authors say, the conclusion to be made is that "some of the results of history's experiments may even aid us in more ambitious efforts aimed at increasing human life spans and cognitive abilities". Unfortunately, the authors leave us at this point with no suggestion as to how this might be done.
5.0 out of 5 stars A New Chapter in the Story of Evolution,
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Paperback)Did evolution simply stop 10,000 years ago? Of course not. Evolution is a continuous process. Sometimes it moves more quickly than other times. When a species' environment changes, the species is likely to evolve to meet the new circumstances. About 10,000 years ago, humans began shifting from hunting and gathering to farming. That changed nearly everything about our environment. We ate different foods, including grains and milk. We also started living in the same place, rather than roaming. Perhaps most importantly, we began to live in larger groups, which means we had to learn to get along differently and we became subject to different kinds of diseases. All of these changes in circumstances changed us. Different environments favor different genes, and we began the process of adjusting to a new life, a process that goes on to this day. This book tells that story in a lively and informative way. Highly recommended.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting ideas - but sometimes a step too far for me,
This review is from: The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Kindle Edition)The premise of this book, that evolution of the human species has continued (perhaps even accelerated) over the last 10,000 is a very interesting one. I am not a professional in the genetics space, but I found the book useful, readable and entertaining. Thinking about issues such as genetic differences in particular populations over a few hundred years, and applying some basic and undeniable statistical techniques gives rise to some very interesting ideas about how humans developed so quickly in a variety of different ways - in relation for example to lactose tolerance and its ability to have a direct impact on survival rates quite quickly.
My one thought is that sometimes (and again I'm not an expert) there is a need to link the advantage confered by a particular genetic pattern to something that makes you more likely to reproduce. If one is going to see rapid changes in the genetic pattern of a population, in the space of only a few generations, then the advantages conferred by the mutation need to be important to reproduction rate in some way in order to be effective. For example if the genetic mutation makes the male produce more sperm or allows more children to mature to reproductive age, then I get it immediately. A simple example is lactose tolerance, where one can imagine that being able to feed (and feed one's children) on a highly nutritional source from another animal would confer almost immediate benefits in terms of survival and reproduction. However, to take another example, the author uses the particular resistance of residents in an Italian village to arterial disease caused by cholesterol as a further example. This sort of example seems less compelling to me because most of the people who die of arterial diseases seem to me to have passed their childbearing age. In other words, I can still reproduce successfully, pass on my genes and die by the age of 60 from a heart attack! Of course, one can see that the secondary advantages of having long lived parents may confer a benefit on children - but I think that there needs to be a pause for thought about what the nature of the advantage is - and whether it is one of those advantages that has a direct bearing on survivability of the next generation or not. Otherwise, history can literally be seen in a very deterministic way, without acknolwedging that there continues to be a very great amount of disadvantageous diversity which nonetheless continues to be present and propagate in our population.
Overall, I found the book revised and informed my ideas a great deal in this field. But perhaps in trying to make the point (and it's an important one) that evolution continues and accelerates in situations where there is a large population going through an extremely turbulent phase in terms of its environment, it needs also to be said that weaknesses and disadvantages that killed us or rendered us unable to reproduce only a generation ago, are now no longer barriers to our reproduction, and passing on those "disadvantageous" genes.
I suppose the fact that I am thinking about these issues a week after finishing the book means that it's well worth a read.!!
4.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting topic - well treated,
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Paperback)A very interesting topic, and a well written book. The authors do however, in my view, have a slight tendency to overstate the significance of some of the studies/results/hypothesis/theories they bring forth - this seems especially clear to me when they mention diet and nutrition (my area of profession).
Definitely worth a read (and buy) - just be a little critical
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear and concise,
This review is from: 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution (Hardcover)This book is a good read. It is concise and of the right length for a amateur reader like me.
Although some parts are obviously debatable, it is an easy and interesing read.
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10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution by Henry Harpending (Paperback - 6 Jan 2011)
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