Drawing on startling new evidence from the mapping of the genome, an explosive new account of the genetic basis of race
and its role in the human story.
Fewer ideas have been more toxic or harmful than the idea of the biological reality of race, and with it the idea that
humans of different races are biologically different from one another. For this understandable reason, the idea has been
banished from polite academic conversation. Arguing that race is more than just a social construct can get a scholar run
out of town, or at least off campus, on a rail. Human evolution, the consensus view insists, ended in prehistory.
Inconveniently, as Nicholas Wade argues in A Troublesome Inheritance, the consensus view cannot be right. And in fact,
we know that populations have changed in the past few thousand years - to be lactose tolerant, for example, and to
survive at high altitudes. Race is not a bright-line distinction; by definition it means that the more human populations
are kept apart, the more they evolve their own distinct traits under the selective pressure known as Darwinian
evolution. For many thousands of years, most human populations stayed where they were and grew distinct, not just in
outward appearance but in deeper senses as well.
Wade, the longtime journalist covering genetic advances for The New York Times, draws widely on the work of scientists
who have made crucial breakthroughs in establishing the reality of recent human evolution. The most provocative claims
in this book involve the genetic basis of human social habits. What we might call middle-class social traits - thrift,
docility, nonviolence - have been slowly but surely inculcated genetically within agrarian societies, Wade argues. These
"values" obviously had a strong cultural component, but Wade points to evidence that agrarian societies evolved away
from hunter-gatherer societies in some crucial respects. Also controversial are his findings regarding t...