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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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