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Race and reality : what everyone should know about our biological diversity

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The concept of race has had a powerful impact on history and continues to shape the world today in profound ways. Most people derive their attitudes about race from their family, culture, and education. Very few, however, are aware that there are vast differences between the popular notions of race and the scientific view of human diversity. Yet even among scientists, who The concept of race has had a powerful impact on history and continues to shape the world today in profound ways. Most people derive their attitudes about race from their family, culture, and education. Very few, however, are aware that there are vast differences between the popular notions of race and the scientific view of human diversity. Yet even among scientists, who understand the current evidence, there is great controversy regarding the definition of the term race or even the usefulness of thinking in terms of race at all. Drawing on research from diverse sources and interviews with key scientists, award-winning journalist Guy P. Harrison surveys the current state of a volatile, important, and confusing subject. Harrison’s thorough approach explores all sides of the issue, including such questions as these: • If analysis of the human genome reveals that all human beings are 99.9% alike, how meaningful are racial differences? • Is the concept of race merely a cultural invention? • If race distinctions are at least partially based in biological reality, how do we decide the number of races? Are there just three or maybe 3 million? • What do studies of racial attitudes reveal? Are we all, in one way or another, racists? • How does race correlate with environmental and geographical differences? • Are race-based drugs a good idea? • How does race influence intelligence, athletic ability, and love interests? Harrison delves into these and many more intriguing, controversial, and important questions in this enlightening book. After reading Race and Reality, you will never think about race in the same way again.


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The concept of race has had a powerful impact on history and continues to shape the world today in profound ways. Most people derive their attitudes about race from their family, culture, and education. Very few, however, are aware that there are vast differences between the popular notions of race and the scientific view of human diversity. Yet even among scientists, who The concept of race has had a powerful impact on history and continues to shape the world today in profound ways. Most people derive their attitudes about race from their family, culture, and education. Very few, however, are aware that there are vast differences between the popular notions of race and the scientific view of human diversity. Yet even among scientists, who understand the current evidence, there is great controversy regarding the definition of the term race or even the usefulness of thinking in terms of race at all. Drawing on research from diverse sources and interviews with key scientists, award-winning journalist Guy P. Harrison surveys the current state of a volatile, important, and confusing subject. Harrison’s thorough approach explores all sides of the issue, including such questions as these: • If analysis of the human genome reveals that all human beings are 99.9% alike, how meaningful are racial differences? • Is the concept of race merely a cultural invention? • If race distinctions are at least partially based in biological reality, how do we decide the number of races? Are there just three or maybe 3 million? • What do studies of racial attitudes reveal? Are we all, in one way or another, racists? • How does race correlate with environmental and geographical differences? • Are race-based drugs a good idea? • How does race influence intelligence, athletic ability, and love interests? Harrison delves into these and many more intriguing, controversial, and important questions in this enlightening book. After reading Race and Reality, you will never think about race in the same way again.

30 review for Race and reality : what everyone should know about our biological diversity

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jason Keisling

    How many oceans are there on Earth? If you answered five, you gave the cultural answer. In geography, the answer is one. There is only one large body of water. It is not naturally divided into Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian, and Southern. These are all segmentations that were attributed by humans. Race is the same way. In a cultural sense race very much exists. People have divided groups, fought wars and discriminated based on these cultural divisions. But to a biologist there is only one huma How many oceans are there on Earth? If you answered five, you gave the cultural answer. In geography, the answer is one. There is only one large body of water. It is not naturally divided into Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indian, and Southern. These are all segmentations that were attributed by humans. Race is the same way. In a cultural sense race very much exists. People have divided groups, fought wars and discriminated based on these cultural divisions. But to a biologist there is only one human race. Race and racism are products of culture rather than nature. Guy P. Harrison makes these distinctions and more, while exposing just how arbitrary racial labels are and debunking myths such as white people being smarter and black people being more athletic. With race being in the news a lot lately, whether it's police brutality against blacks or a psychopath like Dylan Roof shooting up a black church, it's as important as ever to read this book and understand more about our diversity and also what we all have in common as humans.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Arjun Ravichandran

    I have to say ; I am slightly disappointed with this book. The title and the subject matter makes you think that the book has been written by an expert in the field. However, it's written by a journalist ; this isn't a deal-breaker, but it doesn't help matters that the writer has a certain agenda that he wants to push (anti-racism is noble, but it is still a worldview that someone is pushing) and that he is unable to contain his moral outrage. Additionally, the book is longer than it needs to be I have to say ; I am slightly disappointed with this book. The title and the subject matter makes you think that the book has been written by an expert in the field. However, it's written by a journalist ; this isn't a deal-breaker, but it doesn't help matters that the writer has a certain agenda that he wants to push (anti-racism is noble, but it is still a worldview that someone is pushing) and that he is unable to contain his moral outrage. Additionally, the book is longer than it needs to be, with the last chapter in particular being a textbook example of journalistic excess. And, as a small aside, the author's not-so-subtle boasting about his 'string of relationships with beautiful multiracial women' (in the chapter on interracial love) had me scratching my head. Regardless, the book does have its merits which prevent it from being a complete washout. I learnt the following : 1)The concept of 'race' is scientifically invalid. No self-respecting scientist would be caught dead insisting that 'race' is a valid biological category. The human family is one big heterogeneous blob that cannot be cut up conveniently into make-believe categories. 2)'Race' is more of a socio-cultural convention than it is a biological category. What is considered 'white' now (Italians, Irish) were not considered 'white' then ; and what is considered 'black' in one place (African-Americans) would not be considered 'black' in another (in Brazil, for instance) 3)We all come from Africa. The superficial physical differences between us stem from the fact that we split up and went to different parts of the globe after we migrated out of Africa ; different groups of people evolved different physical features in response to their environment. In addition, there are more dfferences WITHIN so-called 'races' than between them ; i.e. I probably have more in common with a Korean man than I have with members of my own 'race'. 4)The concept of 'race' was invented by exploiting classes who happened to be white, and needed the moral justification of racism in order to exonerate themselves from the responsibility of raping, enslaving and murdering millions of them. E.g. if someone is considered to be morally/intellectually/genetically 'inferior', than we relieve ourselves from the compulsion of treating them like fellow members of the human family. 5)IQ, and IQ testing, are pseudo-science ; because no one really knows what 'intelligence' is, and no one knows what IQ tests are supposed to be testing. It is environment and culture more than anything else that make up for the supposed differences between races in intelligence-tests. A black child born with lack of nutritional choices, plethora of stereotypes saying that, as a black child, he is condemned to be either a thug or a basketball player, a lack of education and role models ; will undoubtedly do worse in life than a white child who has all of these privileges in plenty. In conclusion, though I feel the book could have been written and edited, I did learn quite a bit from it ; and it definitely helped in clearing up any unconscious racism I may have possessed.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Steven

    A perfect analogy was given early in this book about the problem of trying to categorize people along perceived biological race lines: It’s like trying to cut soup, there are no distinct places to cut it, and it will always end up mixed again anyway. There has always been a moral basis to disregard the notion of separate human races, and progress has been made toward that, but still so few people ever talk about the scientific basis to disregard it. When I was young I heard some people say that A perfect analogy was given early in this book about the problem of trying to categorize people along perceived biological race lines: It’s like trying to cut soup, there are no distinct places to cut it, and it will always end up mixed again anyway. There has always been a moral basis to disregard the notion of separate human races, and progress has been made toward that, but still so few people ever talk about the scientific basis to disregard it. When I was young I heard some people say that they don’t see race, as if they honestly couldn’t see any differences between people from different global ancestries. They said it allowed them to treat everyone with equal dignity. I always scoffed at that, thinking, “How about just starting with equal dignity, and leave out the weird race-blindness setup?” I wouldn’t have thought I’d ever come back around to accepting race-blindness. It’s not that I’m unable to perceive differences among people, but I am unable to perceive any dividing lines among the global array of people. There is a lot of great content throughout the book but it’s not always organized in a way that flows well. I read this on my e-reader, and several times I would anticipate the ending of a chapter which then kept on going for a while. The information is not structured in a way that necessarily builds off of earlier information, or leads the reader to anticipate additional information except in small segments. The most well organized chapter was essentially just a lengthy summary of Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel. The most interesting and colorful segments are from Guy P. Harrison’s own experiences from growing up, or first hand reporting on different situations centered around ideas of race. One of the most surprising and best things I got out of this book was how different people around the world perceive race in different ways. One of the most illuminating examples was how the genocide in Rwanda was race-based. Yet it wasn’t really reported as race-based in the US, because most people in the US wouldn’t understand how people who broadly look the same from an American perspective, and who lived around the same area in Africa could ever be perceived as being different races. And that is exactly the problem with the idea of races - In the way that people in the US are unable to perceive any racial divides in Rwanda, other people around the world are unable to perceive any racial divides in the US. Furthermore, one person's established racial identity in one country would oftentimes not be recognized in another country. Those kinds of examples throughout this book vividly illustrated how race is a fluid cultural construct. For the most part I got what I hoped for out of this book. This past year I feel like I encountered more outward racist rhetoric than I’d ever heard in my life. And much of it came from people who I thought were otherwise decent, smart people. Guy P. Harrison ends on a note that racism has almost always arisen among otherwise decent people. It wasn’t until as late as the mid 1990’s that Anthropological societies really declared that races don’t exist. And yet it still hasn’t quite taken hold throughout American culture as much as it should have. I think it will though.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    I don't even think I made it past the first chapter of this one. From the title and description, I was expecting something a lot more rigorous and logical. The author's point is that race is a scientifically invalid concept. It is not borne out by biology/genetics. Great, explain that science to me please. No? You'd rather just ramble for pages about how racism is bad? I mean, don't get me wrong, I tend to agree. Racism is bad. But that doesn't mean I'm interested in reading pages of your smug supe I don't even think I made it past the first chapter of this one. From the title and description, I was expecting something a lot more rigorous and logical. The author's point is that race is a scientifically invalid concept. It is not borne out by biology/genetics. Great, explain that science to me please. No? You'd rather just ramble for pages about how racism is bad? I mean, don't get me wrong, I tend to agree. Racism is bad. But that doesn't mean I'm interested in reading pages of your smug superiority about how not racist you are. He then goes on to reassure us that just because race isn't biological doesn't mean it doesn't exist. It firmly exists as a social concept that has real world effects. So...what is the point of this book again? You are going to rail against all the bigoted sheeple who firmly believe race exists, because they don't have a nuanced understanding of WHY it exists? Huh? There was one passage in the first chapter that I found absolutely fascinating...but it was a quote from another book. Under the heading "The Tiny Truth Within a Gigantic Claim," the author quotes "race-believer" (the author's term) George Gill at length. Dr. Gill's claim is that biological race is a complex subject. Elements of human blood factor analysis exist along a gradient across the human population, with no clear divisions. However, bone structure differences tend to follow geographical patterns pretty closely, suggesting they may have been shaped by natural climatic forces. Therefore a serologist (one who studies bodily fluid, had to look that one up myself) will see races as nonsense whereas a skeletal biologist can argue quite convincingly for their existance. What a fascinating and nuanced explanation that is quoted and then immediately forgotten by the author, because racism is Bad. Maybe I'll go see if Dr. Gill has written a book about race, and read that instead.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Richard Lawrence

    “We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.” — Stephen Jay Gould In this book Guy Harrison takes over where Ashley Montagu left off in Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Where Harrison has the edge is the science of DNA sequencing has confirmed that there is no biological bas “We pass through this world but once. Few tragedies can be more extensive than the stunting of life, few injustices deeper than the denial of an opportunity to strive or even to hope, by a limit imposed from without, but falsely identified as lying within.” — Stephen Jay Gould In this book Guy Harrison takes over where Ashley Montagu left off in Man's Most Dangerous Myth: The Fallacy of Race. Where Harrison has the edge is the science of DNA sequencing has confirmed that there is no biological basis for the idea of race. Homo sapiens is not made up of different "races"; we are one unified species. This isn't to say that there are cultural differences between various groups but these are as arbitrary as hairstyles and skirt lengths. Again, there is no biological basis for them. Harrison also makes a point of taking anthropologists and biologists to task for not being more vocal about the lack of any empirical evidence for race. He recounts his astonishment of not hearing this until he was in his late teens even though this fact was well known long before that. He makes a strong argument why this fact should be inculcated throughout the entire educational system starting at the earliest grades. This would do much to offset the racial canards that children are exposed to and prevent them from gaining much traction. Concerning the canards and myths about race he systematically takes them apart, chapter by chapter. This book will make you uncomfortable as any good book should but it will give you the empirical evidence and arguments you need to counter the bigotry and racism that runs through society all of which are based on the lie of race. "For the trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. In this sense, truth, even if it does not prevail in public, possesses an ineradicable primacy over all falsehoods." Hannah Arendt

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kent

    I really enjoyed this book and the way it was written. The author puts in a lot of his own experiences in here and how he had never heard of most of these race subjects until he had taken some anthropology classes. I feel this is a book that should be taught in grade school or at least have these ideas taught to kids, because once you have your ideas about the world as an adult it is hard to change them. If you are someone or know someone who believes people with different color of skin are diff I really enjoyed this book and the way it was written. The author puts in a lot of his own experiences in here and how he had never heard of most of these race subjects until he had taken some anthropology classes. I feel this is a book that should be taught in grade school or at least have these ideas taught to kids, because once you have your ideas about the world as an adult it is hard to change them. If you are someone or know someone who believes people with different color of skin are different groups and sub-groups of human, then this is a must-read book. I learned a bit of these ideas in my own anthropology classes, but this book offered a deeper view and many new ideas on the subject. It's a really good book and I would highly recommend it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    "It doesn't matter if we can't resist categorizing ourselves one way or another. What matters is that we avoid inflating the importance of our groups with false beliefs about the abilities and limitations of members, so that we can come together, maximize our abilities, and find solutions." "It doesn't matter if we can't resist categorizing ourselves one way or another. What matters is that we avoid inflating the importance of our groups with false beliefs about the abilities and limitations of members, so that we can come together, maximize our abilities, and find solutions."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Victor

    Love the message, just didn't care for the writing style. Love the message, just didn't care for the writing style.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Science For The People

    Featured on Skeptically Speaking show #83 on October 29, 20101, during an interview with author Guy Harrison. http://skepticallyspeaking.ca/episode... Featured on Skeptically Speaking show #83 on October 29, 20101, during an interview with author Guy Harrison. http://skepticallyspeaking.ca/episode...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Mathew Englander

    I would have liked this more if it were not so verbose and repetitive.

  11. 4 out of 5

    John Michael Strubhart

    Let's first get the issue of the formatting of the Kindle edition of this book. The edition that I'm reading was published by Prometheus Books - a publisher that specializes on books featuring progressive secular thinking. I have been a fan of their publications for years. However, the did a horrible job with the formatting. I advise you to get the paper edition. Racism is an ugly thing. So are jealously, envy, greed, lust, hate and sadism. However, whereas the latter have some biological basis, Let's first get the issue of the formatting of the Kindle edition of this book. The edition that I'm reading was published by Prometheus Books - a publisher that specializes on books featuring progressive secular thinking. I have been a fan of their publications for years. However, the did a horrible job with the formatting. I advise you to get the paper edition. Racism is an ugly thing. So are jealously, envy, greed, lust, hate and sadism. However, whereas the latter have some biological basis, the idea of race does not. If we humans can manage to put a lid on our harmful emotions, we should be able to do so for an attitude that has its basis entirely in our culture. Guy P. Harrison (one of my favorite authors) makes a strong case for the scientific claim that race has no basis in biology. He then pleads his case that we should dump the idea and work racism out of our cultural "norms." There is no shortage of evidence presented as well as reliable sources cited. This is a hallmark of Prometheus Books publications. In addition, a far more than adequate number of first person accounts of victims and perpetrators of racism are presented. Mr. Harrison is a seasoned journalist with more courage than most in putting himself in considerable danger to get at the information he needed to make his case. So, if you just can't abide by people who reflect photons differently than you do, at least give him the respect he deserves for his hazardous efforts. Then think about how stupid you are for judging people on how they reflect photons. In my humble opinion, this book should be required reading for all high school and college students. It's important and should be in every reader's top shelf.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul

  13. 4 out of 5

    Gmd

  14. 4 out of 5

    Addam Andrews

  15. 5 out of 5

    Loz

  16. 4 out of 5

    Robin

  17. 5 out of 5

    Greg

  18. 4 out of 5

    Konrad Promitzer

  19. 4 out of 5

    Wayde Compton

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kate Mason

  21. 4 out of 5

    Rienzel Eli

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Walker

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  24. 4 out of 5

    Stella

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

  26. 4 out of 5

    Zrinka

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jen

  28. 5 out of 5

    Wiggly

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kiley

  30. 4 out of 5

    Arya

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