cover image A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race, and Human History

Nicholas Wade. Penguin Press, $27.95 (276p) ISBN 978-1-59420-446-3

Science journalist Wade (Before the Dawn) ventures into territory eschewed by most writers: the evolutionary basis for racial differences across human populations. He argues persuasively that such differences exist and that they have been “ignored by academics and policy makers for fear that such inquiry might promote racism.” But, Wade argues, the essence of racism is an assertion of superiority of one race over the others, while the recognition that genetic differences lead to behavioral tendencies provides no such value judgment. His conclusion is both straightforward and provocative: “the most significant feature of human races [is] not that their members differ in physical appearance but that their society’s institutions differ because of slight differences in social behavior.” Ignoring genetic diversity has meant that culture has been viewed as the sole factor determining societal differences. Empirically, Wade asserts, this unilateral explanation has failed and that only by bringing evolutionary factors into the mix will we be able to understand the major social changes that have occurred since modern humans evolved. He makes the case that human evolution is ongoing and that genes can influence, but do not fully control, a variety of behaviors that underpin differing forms of social institutions. Wade’s work is certain to generate a great deal of attention. (May)