ALPHABETICAL BRAIN™ VOCABULARY
OF SECULAR BRAIN SCIENCE STARS
November 29, 2020
How Biology and Geography
Shape Human Diversity
by Alexander H. Harcourt.
Pegasus Books, 2015 (324 pages)
note = Numbers in parentheses refer to pages
note = The following three quotations are from the Prologue of this book by Alexander H. Harcourt: (1-8)
Quote = "In humanity's distribution around the world, and in the biological explanations for that distribution, humans show many of the same patterns as other animals." (2)
Quote = "Because no 'character can be named which is distinctive of a race and is constant,' the concept of 'race' applied to humans is largely a social or political term... In other words, in no biological sense is there such an entity as 'the African race.' 'Race' as normally used is a meaningless term in the context of this book. It hides diversity. In a book that celebrates diversity by trying to understand it, the concept of 'race' has no place." (3)
Quote = "A crucial aspect of the environment affecting what we are where we are is the presence of other species, especially the microbes that cause diseases. Our bodies have adapted by natural selection to fight the diseases in our environment, which means that as disease organisms differ from region to region, so also does our immune system." (6)
1) PROLOGUE — Where are we going: and why? (1-8)
2) WE ARE ALL AFRICAN — The birthplace of humankind (9-42)
3) FROM HERE TO THERE AND BACK AGAIN — A mostly coastly route out of Africa: across the world? (43-71)
4) HOW DO WE KNOW WHAT WE THINK WE KNOW? — The science behind the "facts" (72-89)
5) VARIETY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE— Where we are affects what we are (90-125)
6) GENE MAPS AND ROADS LESS TRAVELED — Barriers to movement maintain diversity (126-147)
7) IS MAN MERELY A MONKEY? — Human cultural diversity varies across the globe in the way and for the same reasons as biological diversity (148-172)
8) ISLANDS ARE SPECIAL — Size and metabolism in a small environment (173-194)
9) WE ARE WHAT WE EAT — Our diet affects our genes, and different regions eat different foods (195-212)
10) WHAT DOESN'T KILL US HALTS US OR MOVES US — Other species influence where we can live (213-229)
11) MAD, BAD, AND DANGEROUS TO KNOW — We are bad for many species, even if we help a few (230-260)
12) CONQUEST AND COOPERATION — Humans are bad for each other, even if we occasionally help one another (261-277)
13) EPILOGUE — Are we going to last the distance? (278-280)
SOME SUGGESTED READING (317-320)
AUTHOR NOTES, SUMMARY,
AND BOOK DESCRIPTION
AUTHOR NOTES = Alexander H. Harcourt is Professor Emeritus in the Anthropology Department at the University of California, Davis. He is the coauthor of Gorilla Society and Human Biogeography and co-editor of Coalitions and Alliances in Humans and Other Animals. He lives in Davis, California.
SUMMARY = Where did the human species originate? Why are tropical peoples much more diverse than those at polar latitudes? Why can only Japanese peoples digest seaweed? How are darker skin, sunlight, and fertility related? Did Neanderthals and Homo sapiens ever interbreed?
BOOK DESCRIPTION = In Humankind, U. C. Davis professor Alexander Harcourt answers these questions and more, as he explains how the expansion of the human species around the globe and our interaction with our environment explains much about why humans differ from one region of the world to another, not only biologically, but culturally.
What effects have other species had on the distribution of humans around the world, and we, in turn, on their distribution? And how have human populations affected each other's geography, even existence? For the first time in a single book, Alexander Harcourt brings these topics together to help us understand why we are, what we are, where we are.
It turns out that when one looks at humanity's expansion around the world, and in the biological explanations for our geographic diversity, we humans are often just another primate, just another species. Humanity's distribution around the world and the type of organism we are today has been shaped by the same biogeographical forces that shape other species.
EDITORIAL BOOK REVIEWS
LIBRARY JOURNAL REVIEW = Human evolution continues to fascinate scientists and laypeople alike. It takes only one significant fossil find with a direct lineage of human origin to reconfigure the evolutionary time line. One factor that remains static, however, is the evidence that the human race has its roots in Africa. Ergo, Harcourt's (emeritus, anthropology, Univ. of California, Davis; Gorilla Society; Human Biogeography) aptly titled second chapter, "We Are All Africans," offers a thorough explanation of our African origins.
However, this book reaches far beyond origin to offer a complex yet highly readable account of our evolution in relation to biology, geography, and culture. Harcourt has compiled extensive sources (citations and sources are listed) not to present a new theory but to bridge the divide between archaeology and biology as it affects human diversity. He presents a concise explanation of adaptations made by the human species allowing for survival on a global scale. Chapters address such topics as biological diversity, diet, and how it affects our genes; how conquest and cooperation impact a species's survival; and where the human races goes from here. VERDICT Recommended for readers interested in evolutionary biology, biogeography, anthropology, and human origin; also for those who have enjoyed works by Jared Diamond. -- Angela Forret, Clive Public Library, IA
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY REVIEW = Harcourt (Gorilla Society), a professor emeritus in the anthropology department at the University of California, Davis, catalogs an extensive array of historical and current hypotheses in human biogeography-the "biology behind the geography of species distributions"-and the data that support or undermine them. Though he is conservative in acknowledging that evidential history is in some sense always theory, he integrates a broad variety of current research and focuses on showing that humans are "shaped by the same biogeographical forces that shape other species." The genetic studies address the history of human diversity, using Y-chromosome and mitochondrial DNA evidence to support or dispute culturally driven theories of ancient migration.
Harcourt discards the biological concept of race as paradoxically hindering a deeper understanding of variance, but he engages with the physical differences between human bodies and the cultural and medical implications of them, addressing such topics as why skin tone varies from region to region or the biological basis of why certain populations have evolved to better digest milk, starches, or seaweed. Harcourt reminds readers that biological conceptions of race should not be confused with sociopolitical conceptions of it, and that there are good reasons to understand the how and why of our biological differences. -- Agent: Peter Riva, International Transactions.
BOOK LIST REVIEW = *Starred Review* Late in his popularization of his academic work, Human Biogeography (2012), Harcourt says that grand-scale historians, those who study the movements of whole peoples, of the effects of climate and environment on human development, are, in part, bio-geographers. Be that as it may, Humankind is a history as sweeping and engrossing as they come. It proceeds chronologically from the earliest hominins to the present, responding to a series of questions about origins and effects with each answer even more intriguing than its predecessor. The answer to the first question, where did we come from?, is best known: Africa.
But the second, how did we get everywhere else?, has all manner of surprises in its answer (e.g., the first settlers of Madagascar were not from Africa). After a chapter on the scientific methods used to ascertain what, as Harcourt puts it, we think we know about humanity's grand story, the questions probe why humans differ depending on such things as location, impediments to movement (mountains, oceans), cultural variation, diet, relations with other species, and relations among various groups of ourselves. Keeping the science of the subject front and center, Harcourt airs the major differences of scientific opinion about particular developments. If he writes without much showmanship, his keen focus on the material makes the book gripping and then some. -- Ray Olson.
CHOICE REVIEW = Anthropology has had periods of biological determinism (you are your genes) and geographical determinism (tropical climates produce dumb, torpid people), so anthropologists have tended to adopt positions of extreme cultural determinism. Harcourt (Univ. of California Davis) attempts to avoid all of these extremes by presenting an argument for what might be called "biogeographical likelihood." He presents a multitude of examples of biological and geographical influences on human culture and behavior, but he appears to go too far towards biogeographic determinism.
For example, while he states that "geography (climate and topography) can in certain times and places influence where humans are through influencing motivations for invasions and war" (p. 273), he goes on to state "our history is our biogeography." (p. 277) The text is occasionally incorrect, as when he argues, contrary to his reference, that Homo sapiens were better endurance runners than Homo neandertalensis (p. 258, referencing Lieberman et al., 2009). It is odd that Harcourt never references the portfolio of pictures in the book's centerfold. The audience for the book is unclear: it reads like somewhat formalized expanded lecture notes, so a popular audience? Summing Up: Optional. General readers. -- Lucille Lewis Johnson, emerita, Vassar College
 Harcourt engages with the physical differences between human bodies and the cultural and medical implications of them, addressing such topics as why skin tone varies from region to region or the biological basis of why certain populations have evolved to better digest milk, starches, or seaweed. Harcourt reminds readers that biological conceptions of race should not be confused with sociopolitical conceptions of it, and that there are good reasons to understand the how and why of our biological differences. -- Publishers Weekly
 A remarkable achievement. -- Science (Praise for Alexander Harcourt).
 As sweeping and engrossing as they come. Keeping the science of the subject front and center, Harcourt airs the major differences of scientific opinion about particular developments. Gripping and then some. -- Booklist (starred review)
 A dense but lucid summary of everything you would want to know about human diversity. Homogenization is inevitable, but we are an extraordinarily varied species today, and Harcourt delivers an opinionated but always science-based account of how we got that way. -- Kirkus Reviews
 Lucid, fascinating, compelling and comprehensive. The analysis of complex evolutionary forces that shape a society is superb.-- Wildlife Conservation Society
 Reaches far beyond origin to offer a complex yet highly readable account of our evolution in relation to biology, geography, and culture. Harcourt presents a concise explanation of adaptations made by the human species allowing for survival on a global scale. Recommended for readers interested in evolutionary biology, biogeography, anthropology, and human origin; also for those who have enjoyed works by Jared Diamond. -- Library Journal
 Harcourt bridges the gap between biology and anthropology. A valuable contribution. -- Quarterly Review of Biology.
AMAZON READER REVIEWS
 Atlas - Great Read and Great to Read Again and Again = Explains a lot more than typical books on biological anthropology. The author's conclusions makes a lot of sense to the reader as the author takes you to a journey that leads to common sense mode of thinking.
 Andrew T. Doren = A great read!
 Steve G. - Interesting but not as good as Sapiens = I liked this book. Author Alexander Harcourt applies the lessons of biogeography to the development of humankind. On the positive side, the information is fascinating and covers the latest developments. In addition, Harcourt gives all sides of a story before stating his opinion, and he is very clear about what is an opinion vs. a fact. On the downside, Harcourt frequently gives too many details or examples which bogged down my progress through the book. And while I generally like personal anecdotes in science books, in this case, Harcourt’s writing style made them less appealing. While I can recommend this book for people interested in this area, I found Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari to be a more enjoyable read.
 John R. Lindermuth - Lucid and Engaging = A fascinating examination of how we (humankind) became who/what we are. Harcourt, professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of California, Davis, traces the journey of the human species out of Africa and describes the biological and geographical forces which have shaped the beast into what it is today in all its glorious variety.
In the process he never shirks from noting differences of opinion or separating theory from established fact. His explanations of how environment, biology and even culture have shaped the differences between members of the same species across the world are lucid and backed by the latest scientific thought. Evolution is an ongoing process and more changes lie ahead. In an epilogue, while ending on an optimistic note, Harcourt warns we are not eternal. We are the surviving branch of a much larger tree of ancestors gone extinct. "Now in a world in which our technology allows exploitation on a massive scale," he writes, "that same greed makes us fat, and it makes us lethal--to ourselves as well as to the world.
 MLH - Humans should read Humankind = Humankind is a must read for anyone who is curious about his/her own human-ness. It is a scientific (i.e. well researched, based on the available facts) look at human beings and it is written for the non-scientist. Harcourt, himself, is a scientist (he has a PHD in Zoology) but in this book he is a detective of sorts. He explores what makes us ‘how we are’ (genetics and geography) and he does it as a storyteller. Through anecdotes about his own exploration of the material, he also introduces the reader to the way scientists approach subjects, to the way information is gathered, to the way it is shared. And so the lay reader puts the book down knowing about the subjects covered but also has had a peek into the window of the scientific community. Humankind is a book all of us humans should read. It puts the individual in perspective.
 john j rooney - Fascinating = A fascinating account of how the human journey from our ancestral home in Africa to every part of the globe shaped us into the kinds of people we are today. The author shows how our interaction with new physical and biological environments, including other species, influenced the characteristics of those who survived, increased and multiplied. The obvious differences we see, and some not so obvious, in people from different geographic areas attest to this. The book draws on a wide range of research, much of it recent, as well as the travels and personal experience of the author. It is not only informative and thought provoking, but it is written in a reader-friendly style. John J. Rooney, Ph.D. La Salle University.
 This a Great Book - Why? Because it has answered so many questions about being human, It was so informative. just loved it!
Click or Tap to Return to Humanist Galaxy
RETURN TO HUMANIST GALAXY
OF SECULAR SCIENCE STARS
Alphabetical Brain Vocabularly
Infinite Interactive Ideas™