Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mapping Human History

Mapping Human History by Steve Olson

I finished Steve Olson's Mapping Human History a couple of weeks ago and have spent that time figuring out my reaction to the book. I am very interested in the whole field of archaeogenetics: using DNA to reconstruct macro aspects of human history: when did we emerge from Africa, what was the pathway to populating the continents, who got where when, etc. I commented on this in my review of Nicholas Wade's Before the Dawn.

I guess it is best just said that I would recommend Before the Dawn over Mapping Human History.

Mapping Human History is fine in terms of interesting information. The more I read though, the more irritated I became with the author. The root of the issue is that Olson is mortally afraid that someone will read his book and come away with a strong sense that there are material genetic differences between the races and ethnicities across the globe. His belief, and which I share, is that differences in material prosperity between ethnic groups are much a function of individual variance and cultural values and that there is no basis to believe that the genetic differences between groups accounts for any perceived differences in history or prosperity.

Despite agreeing with him, I found it irritating to constantly being protected from coming to the wrong conclusion. Olson works so hard to hide differences that he undermines his own position and disrespects his reader at the same time. Overall, an informative book on an interesting topic but with a flaw in the writing style that subverts its overall narrative.

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