In this book Nicholas Wade advances two simple premises: firstly, that we should stop looking only toward culture as a determinant of differences between populations and individuals, and secondly, that those who claim that any biological basis for race is fiction are ignoring increasingly important findings from modern genetics and science. The guiding thread throughout the book is that “human evolution is recent, copious and regional” and that this has led to the genesis of distinct differences and classifications between human groups. What we do with this evidence should always be up for social debate, but the evidence itself cannot be ignored.
That is basically the gist of the book. It’s worth noting at the outset that at no point does Wade downplay the effects of culture and environment in dictating social, cognitive or behavioral differences – in fact he mentions culture as an important factor at least ten times by my count – but all he is saying is that, based on a variety of scientific studies enabled by the explosive recent growth of genomics and sequencing, we need to now recognize a strong genetic component to these differences.
The book can be roughly divided into three parts. The first part details the many horrific and unseemly uses that the concept of race has been put to by loathsome racists and elitists ranging from Social Darwinists to National Socialists. Wade reminds us that while these perpetrators had a fundamentally misguided, crackpot definition of race, that does not mean race does not exist in a modern incarnation. This part also clearly serves to delineate the difference between a scientific fact and what we as human beings decide to do with it, and it tells us that an idea should not be taboo just because murderous tyrants might have warped its definition and used it to enslave and decimate their fellow humans.