A sturdy, readable contribution to the library of Indigenous origins and global migrations.

ORIGIN

A GENETIC HISTORY OF THE AMERICAS

A stroll through the history of the early peopling of the Americas, blending ethnography, paleontology, and genetics.

Raff, a geneticist and professor of anthropology, opens with the discovery of ancient human bones in a cave in the Pacific Northwest, a discovery that, not long ago, would have occasioned the descent of a swarm of archaeologists to excavate—never mind the wishes of the Indigenous people nearby. Now those Native people—in this case, Tlingit and Haida—are involved, deliberating how to approach the study of the bones. In this instance, the remains supported their beliefs “that their ancestors were a seafaring people who have lived in this region since the dawn of history.” At least one wave, perhaps the earliest, of humans in the Americas was made up of people from northeastern Asia who traveled on open water well before most current chronologies begin. Such facts are adduced by archaeological fieldwork but also by ethnographers beginning to pay closer attention to Indigenous origin stories and by scientists working in labs to sequence DNA, extracting it from long-buried bone. Raff writes clearly and well, but sometimes we encounter knotty technical problems, as with her formulation, “X2a is of a comparable age to other indigenous American haplogroups (A, B, C, D), which would not be true if it were derived from a separate migration from Europe.” Along the way, the author raises as many questions as she answers. So-called Kennewick Man, hailed by White supremacists a quarter-century ago as proof that Europeans got to the Americas first, is certainly ancestral to Native people, for one: “There is no conceivable scenario under which Kennewick Man could have inherited just his mitochondrial genome from Solutreans but the rest of his genome from Beringians.” So where did he come from? Readers with a bent for human origin studies will enjoy puzzling out such things with Raff.

A sturdy, readable contribution to the library of Indigenous origins and global migrations.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4971-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Twelve

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

THE CONTAGION NEXT TIME

The Covid-19 pandemic is not a one-off catastrophe. An epidemiologist presents a cogent argument for a fundamental refocusing of resources on “the foundational forces that shape health.”

In this passionate and instructive book, Galea, dean of the Boston University School of Public Health, writes that Covid emerged because we have long neglected basic preventative measures. “We invest vast amounts of money in healthcare,” he writes, “but comparatively little in health.” Readers looking to learn how governments (mainly the U.S.) mishandled the pandemic have a flood of books to choose from, but Galea has bigger issues to raise. Better medical care will not stop the next epidemic, he warns. We must structure a world “that is resilient to contagions.” He begins by describing the current state of world health, where progress has been spectacular. Global life expectancy has more than doubled since 1900. Malnutrition, poverty, and child mortality have dropped. However, as the author stresses repeatedly, medical progress contributed far less to the current situation than better food, clean water, hygiene, education, and prosperity. That’s the good news. More problematic is that money is a powerful determinant of health; those who have it live longer. Galea begins the bad news by pointing out the misleading statistic that Covid-19 kills less than 1% of those infected; that applies to young people in good health. For those over 60, it kills 6%, for diabetics, over 7%, and those with heart disease, over 10%. It also kills more Blacks than Whites, more poor than middle-class people, and more people without health insurance. The author is clearly not just interested in Covid. He attacks racism, sexism, and poverty in equal measure, making a plea for compassion toward stigmatized conditions such as obesity and addiction. He consistently urges the U.S. government, which has spared no expense and effort to defeat the pandemic, to do the same for social injustice.

An oft-ignored but fully convincing argument that “we cannot prevent the next pandemic without creating a healthy world.”

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-19-757642-7

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

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THIS IS YOUR MIND ON PLANTS

Building on his lysergically drenched book How to Change Your Mind (2018), Pollan looks at three plant-based drugs and the mental effects they can produce.

The disastrous war on drugs began under Nixon to control two classes of perceived enemies: anti-war protestors and Black citizens. That cynical effort, writes the author, drives home the point that “societies condone the mind-changing drugs that help uphold society’s rule and ban the ones that are seen to undermine it.” One such drug is opium, for which Pollan daringly offers a recipe for home gardeners to make a tea laced with the stuff, producing “a radical and by no means unpleasant sense of passivity.” You can’t overthrow a government when so chilled out, and the real crisis is the manufacture of synthetic opioids, which the author roundly condemns. Pollan delivers a compelling backstory: This section dates to 1997, but he had to leave portions out of the original publication to keep the Drug Enforcement Administration from his door. Caffeine is legal, but it has stronger effects than opium, as the author learned when he tried to quit: “I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep.” Still, back in the day, the introduction of caffeine to the marketplace tempered the massive amounts of alcohol people were drinking even though a cup of coffee at noon will keep banging on your brain at midnight. As for the cactus species that “is busy transforming sunlight into mescaline right in my front yard”? Anyone can grow it, it seems, but not everyone will enjoy effects that, in one Pollan experiment, “felt like a kind of madness.” To his credit, the author also wrestles with issues of cultural appropriation, since in some places it’s now easier for a suburbanite to grow San Pedro cacti than for a Native American to use it ceremonially.

A lucid (in the sky with diamonds) look at the hows, whys, and occasional demerits of altering one’s mind.

Pub Date: July 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-29690-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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