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A Troublesome Inheritance Audiobook

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History

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Publisher's Summary

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 the genetic basis of traits we associate with intelligence, such as literacy and numeracy, in certain ethnic populations, including the Chinese and Ashkenazi Jews.

Wade believes deeply in the fundamental equality of all human peoples. He also believes that science is best served by pursuing the truth without fear, and if his mission to arrive at a coherent summa of what the new genetic science does and does not tell us about race and human history leads straight into a minefield, then so be it. This will not be the last word on the subject, but it will begin a powerful and overdue conversation.

©2014 Nicholas Wade (P)2014 Penguin Audio

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  •  
    Cassandra 12-10-14
    Cassandra 12-10-14
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    "Fascinating page-turner"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    Yes, I already have. Ok, so I didn't actually turn any pages, but I did listen to the last two-thirds of the book in one Saturday sitting. This is a subject matter that I'm passionately interested in, but lack any science background to appreciate previous books that I've read. I would recommend it as a good broad introduction to evolution and natural selection.


    What was the most compelling aspect of this narrative?

    The author's theories. He covers many questions that I have pondered on myself, offers some fascinating theories, and compels the reader to continue questioning. There are some interesting rebuttals to Jared Diamonds books. I also appreciated the citing of Fukuyama's books on political order. Wade suggests (I think) that our propensity for different forms of government may be inherited in our genes. This would explain why tribal cultures have difficulty in maintaining democracies.


    What about Alan Sklar’s performance did you like?

    I found the narrator's voice to be pleasant and commanding. I never want the narrator to be the star. If I'm rarely aware of the voice and delivery, then s/he has done a good job. That was the case here.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    I wouldn't say that I was "moved", but what I read is still with me a week after I listened to it, and it has piqued my interest enough to read more about the subject.
    Having read some of the book reviews on Amazon, I applaud Wade's courage to write such a controversial book.


    11 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Douglas 06-01-14
    Douglas 06-01-14 Member Since 2008
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    "This is NOT Racism!..."

    For decades, feminists railed against the very idea that there were any fundamental biological differences in males and females that would influence basic behavior and social roles (despite clear knowledge about the roles of testosterone and estrogen on behavior!), and along came brain science and showed that yes, there are differences in the male and female brains that lead to different behavioral and social tendencies. And now the same for race. Here is the simple fact, PC or not, like it or not: the closer you are to any group genetically, the more you are going to be like that group. Don't like it? Complain to God or the Big Bang or Darwin. Genetics are genetics. Now, does this excuse things like prejudice, social engineering, genecide? Of course not. Does this mean that there is NO role that envirornment plays in development? Of course not. Does this mean that every woman is the same as every other woman and that every black person is exactly the same as the next? Of course not. It does mean that biology plays a big role in behavior and that the closer you are to someone genetically, the more of their behavioral tendencies you will inherit. That's science. Live with it.

    38 of 52 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 02-26-15
    Michael Walnut Creek, CA, United States 02-26-15 Member Since 2017
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    "Troublesome Incoherence"

    Why was this book written?

    The author says it is an attempt to dispel the fear of racism that overhangs the discussion of human group differences and to begin to explore the far reaching implications the discovery that human evolution has been recent, copious, and regional.

    I read a lot on the topic of genetics and I have been impressed with the depth and breadth of the research into geographically linked genetic traits. I have seen no fear of racism in any mainstream research. It seems to have been very widely understood that human evolution has been recent, copious and regional. I have seen no dispute about this. So, why was this book written? The book seems to make the argument that it should be OK to discuss genetically influenced behaviors differences between races (as opposed to family, regions, or other well defined classifications.) This is troublesome as the term race has been, and continues to actively be, used to justify segregation, discrimination, injustice, and genocide.

    Wade says “The idea that human populations are different from one another has been actively ignored by academics and policy makers for fear inquiry might promote racism.” I have never heard ANYONE say human populations are not genetically different. Indeed there is substantial research on genetics of various populations and there is a well-developed science studying geographic genotypes.

    As far as I could tell the author never actually proposes a concrete definition of Race. Instead he points out some fuzzy statistical clustering of alleles and calls that race. The number of races he is discussing seems to vary from three to five (or more). The author admits his races, however defined, have fuzzy boarders, so you can never be sure which race to assign an individual.

    Wade repeatedly presents long discussions of other research that (it seems to me) strongly support theories that environment, culture or other non-genetic factors greatly impact societal differences. Yet, Wade then waves these conclusions away pointing out that, although the research seems to support non-genetic factors, surely it is obvious that genetics is really much more likely.

    Wade has quite a few unsubstantiated ideas he feels are obvious.
    Arabs, Afghans, and sub-Saharan Africans are genetically predisposed to tribalism, so we should not expect democracy to work with them; obviously.
    Jews are genetically predisposed to prefer money lending; obviously.
    Language grammar rules must be genetically based; obviously.
    Social institutions differ due to tiny genetic differences in social behavior; obviously.
    Religion must be genetically based; obviously.
    If a race did not have genetically based behavioral differences it would be quick and easy for the race to take on the successful social institutions of a more successful race; obviously.
    It is hard to conceive of any circumstance racism could be successfully resurrected; obviously?
    Resurrected? What planet does this guy live on?
    I suppose white Cambridge men are not exposed to the dark side of racism regularly (except for the British teeth thing).

    Wade says “It would be better to take account of evolutionary differences [in behavior] than to continue to ignore them.” Sure. If there was any evidence I am sure it would be carefully considered. Unfortunately there is only guesswork, not evidence.

    Wade never mentions some very important non-genetic effectors of behavior. Mothers that experience stress during or prior to pregnancy have offspring with altered behavior patterns, infants that see some parental behavior become imprinted and will repeat that behavior when the time comes, parents teach their children complex behaviors, and societies train young humans for decades before adulthood. Such non-genetic biological systems allow humans to alter behavior much more rapidly in dynamic environments than genetic evolution could support. Many of the behaviors Wade discusses (radius of trust, aggression, risk taking, etc.) are exactly the kind of behaviors requiring rapid changes in response to a dynamic environment, thus we would expect these to be overwhelmingly controlled by these non-genetic systems.

    Wade attacks several straw-men, like those people who say human evolution has stopped or has no effect of behavior. I have never heard anyone (other than creationists) say human evolution has stopped, or has no effect on human behavior, only that other factors appear to be overwhelmingly more important and there is little or no evidence of specific genetic influences.

    Wade says his theory is not racist because there is no assertion of superiority (except your race has the violent, slothful, tribal, stupid, unimaginative, dark skinned genes while his race has non-violent, hard working, cooperative, intelligent, innovative, light skinned genes; but these are not value judgments, these are simply facts; obviously.

    Wade criticized Diamond's Germs, Guns and Steel. I am no fan of Germs, Guns, and Steel and I criticized Diamond’s tendency to cherry pick data that agreed with his theory, but Germs, Guns and Steel was a gem compared to A Troublesome Inheritance.

    Most importantly Wade never proposes a single experiment to test any of his numerous guesswork hypotheses.
    This is not science.

    The narration was quite clear but very slow and a little monotonous. I almost never speed up the audio but on my first listen I sped it up to 1.25 then 1.5. On my second listen I did it at 3.0 and it was still quite intelligible (sound-wise).

    23 of 32 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CNV_bountyHunter 11-30-14 Member Since 2014
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    "Scientifically accurate. Historically false"
    Would you say that listening to this book was time well-spent? Why or why not?

    I am a genetic researcher and a collaborator in an international consortium on characterizing the diversity of the human genome across varying populations.The science in this book is up to date. He mentions the paper on EDAR variants in east Asians, which is true. Unfortunately he is outside the loop in academia and got somethings wrong.

    Race is not an issue in science, we acknowledge there are genetic differences in people and we correct for that in GWAS. We do not make claims, as Wade does, such as Africans tend to be more aggressive because of a single gene variant. Aggression is not determined by one gene, and not all Africans carry this trait. A fact Wade neglects in his racially charged book.

    THE LARGEST FLAW is his belief that there was "a genetic change that occurred in Europe after the 1300's that made them more innovative", and subsequently dominating world culture. There is not a shred of evidence backing this claim.

    He completely neglects the fact that China, India, and the Middle East were all innovative societies at one point. Instead he broadly paints a revisionist view of history and claims that China's authoritative government and the Islamic Empires' intolerance is based on genetics and is the explanation why these regions are less influential. China was very innovative at many points in its history and the Arab empire from 700s-1200's was extremely tolerant (relative to fundamentalists) and science flourished for 500 years.

    Europeans are one of the least diverse continental groups of people. How do you explain the innovative, liberal governments in the West to the autocratic governments that still exist in the East?

    IN SUMMARY: The science is up to date, and is valid. But Wade's interpretation of the science is flawed. He is not an expert but a science writer. His historical views are revisionist and racially charged.


    If this book were a movie would you go see it?

    No


    Any additional comments?

    Good on science, bad on interpretation, horrible and revisionist in history. Racially charged, even though he claims it's not.

    18 of 27 people found this review helpful
  •  
    AB 04-03-15
    AB 04-03-15 Member Since 2015
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    "Absolutely Worth $20"

    I can see why this book's introduction stresses that bravery is necessary in some scientists. The "SJW" culture that's rising in the modern world regularly responds to people as racists in a knee-jerk fashion. As a paragraph early on notes, the first half or so of the book is grounded in generally agreed upon theory, and then later goes into the author's conclusions, but I could hardly tell where this happened. The conclusions later on seem practically self-evident, once the logical connection earlier on are made.

    While listening to some sections in the middle, I felt that the book was meandering away from its main point, but that information was of course very helpful later on.

    No trouble with the narrator. He uses inflections very conservatively and appropriately, and otherwise has a clear and effective voice. Would listen to another by him.

    I don't know enough on the topic to determine whether Wade's findings are correct or not, but I'm glad that I heard a well-explained point of view on how human history has played out to the present day.

    2 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joel&Dani Reeves Kitsap County WA 09-22-17
    Joel&Dani Reeves Kitsap County WA 09-22-17 Member Since 2015
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    "great boom "

    While it's a bit "sciencey" it's puts things in plain terms that everyday people can understand. This book should be a required read for any senior in high school.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Benjamin 08-30-17
    Benjamin 08-30-17
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    "An absolute must read"

    In the current societal climate where science and research have seemingly fallen out of favor in relation to emotional sophistry, this book is an oasis of reason and evidence.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    katpink 07-30-17
    katpink 07-30-17 Member Since 2016
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    "My questions were answered"

    I'm not a scientist. I've always wondered about genetics, race, intelligence and evolution. I've done a lot of research over my 50 years on earth concerning these subjects. This book finally answered all these questions for me.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    MichaelS 06-18-17
    MichaelS 06-18-17 Member Since 2013
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    "Important, enjoyable, understandably tentative"

    60% of this book is the author laying out in painstaking detail his defense against the charge of racism. This is done though pretty adroitly and doesn't detract overly from the content of his argument. While I don't agree with every conclusion, this is an important book that I enjoyed a great deal and I'm​ more knowledgeable for having read it. What more can I ask?

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    c 05-28-17
    c 05-28-17 Member Since 2017
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    "Thought provoking, but not always in a way I liked"
    Any additional comments?

    I gave the book 4 stars because it was so thought provoking, but not always in a way I liked.

    I am a bit torn with this book because I liked some of the postulates, especially being critical of those who refuse to see differences between peoples based on shared history and genetics (a slippery slope to be sure). Many others, I disagreed to the point of vehemence, including the assertion that culture is a genetic creation.

    Nicholas Wade is critical of the science community for avoiding the obvious biological differences in the genes between different peoples based upon geography or other physical characteristics some refer to as “race”. I have believed for years that understanding genetic differences can improve quality of life through more directed treatment. One size does not fit all. So where it is helpful to quality of life, then the differences (albeit race) should be embraced and studied without fear of being called racist.

    Nicholas Wade gives a good and interesting discussion about the history of civilizations and genealogy of East Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and the Americas. He then does a nice job of debunking the 19th century belief of eugenics and shows how wrong folks got it back then. The author had me believing he held an objective view when he disparagingly quoted Charles Davenport, PhD (19th century eugenicist): “Can we build wall high enough around this country so as to keep out these cheaper races? Or, will it be a feeble dam leaving it to our descendants to abandon our country to the blacks, browns and yellows and seek an asylum in New Zealand?” This quote echoed many 2017 presidential campaign promises and made me cringe. Was Wade going to help identify how the macro differences in genes of large populations could be better used to improve the quality of life? I was so hopeful this book was going to be good…

    Many of the book’s statements challenged my current beliefs and, as usual, I considered them and did not dismiss them out of hand. One challenge that was implausible to me: Jared Diamond (author of Guns, Germs, and Steel) got it wrong, and that resources were not the reason for some societies being “behind”. Wade claims “clearly culture is genetic based, just like skin color.” This is definitely NOT clear to me and many others. He goes on pounding the concept that humans lose aggressive tendencies when living in large communities, unlike the more warlike hunter-gatherer populations. He explains this through numerous arguments, all the time pleading the reader to buy into the “implied”, or “plausible”, or “indicative” notions he is promoting when evidence is simply not available.

    Wade does go on to say that his assertions may never be proven because interaction between diverse genes is so complex and will not likely ever be understood. I agree with that statement. If you have faith in the author, maybe his words are compelling enough for you to accept, but not for me.

    I was disappointed the author did not mention epigenetics once. That may have improved the quality of some of his arguments.

    This was a very interesting and controversial read for me. I highly recommend it.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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