The Great Human Diasporas:
The History of Diversity and Evolution

Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza + Francesco Cavalli-Sforza

translated from the Italian by Sarah Thorne
Addison-Wesley 1995
A book review by Danny Yee © 1995
The Great Human Diasporas is a very broad-scale history of Homo sapiens. It begins with a portrait of the pygmies and the hunter-gatherer way of life, then traces the early history of mankind, moving from the molecular dating of the human-chimp split and the earliest fossil evidence to the Neandertals and African "Eve". Cavalli-Sforza (the elder Cavalli-Sforza is the principal author) then explains the basics of genetics — Mendelian genetics, selection, mutation, drift — and the extent of human genetic diversity — evolutionary trees, blood groups, migrations and the geography of genetic variation.

This is then, in what is perhaps the central chapter of the book, applied to the origins of agriculture and the reconstruction of population movements over the last ten thousand years (especially in Europe). A long chapter is devoted to linguistic evolution. Here Cavalli-Sforza comes out strongly in support of Greenberg and the classification of human languages into superfamilies, but he is careful to make it clear that this is a not a position with much support amongst linguists. A chapter on the relationship between cultural and genetic evolution explains some of the differences and the difficulties involved in separating them (especially when it comes to such things as "intelligence"). This leads naturally to a chapter on the problems with the term "race" and on the pathology of racism.

Autobiographical perspectives appear occasionally throughout the book, but in the final chapter Cavalli-Sforza presents his thoughts about the future and about ethical issues such as abortion and the implications of modern biotechnology. Perhaps the best part of The Great Human Diasporas is the postscript, which is devoted to explaining just how weak The Bell Curve is as a work of science. (This is also more thoroughly referenced than the bulk of the volume.)

The Great Human Diasporas is an outstanding work of popular science and is, along with Lewontin's Human Diversity, one of the first books I would recommend to the layperson interested in human genetics. It covers material which I believe should be basic knowledge for everyone, and it does a great job of making it accessible, so I hope it will be widely read: it should definitely be in every school library and it is far more deserving of a place on the best-seller lists than The Bell Curve.

August 1995

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%T The Great Human Diasporas
%S The History of Diversity and Evolution
%A Cavalli-Sforza, Luigi Luca
%A Cavalli-Sforza, Francesco
%M Italian
%F Thorne, Sarah
%I Addison-Wesley
%D 1995
%O hardcover, bibliography, index
%G ISBN 0201407558
%P xiii,300pp