Books, 2019

You might also be interested in my booklists from 20142016, 2017, and 2018.

A World At Arms


How the North Won

The Way Things Work

The Ants

Twilight of the Mammoths

The Prose Edda

The Spanish Civil War

The Fall of Paris

Popski’s Private Army

Neptune’s Inferno

Storm of Steel

War and Peace and War

Marauders of the Sea

The Voyage of the Beagle

Why We Age


The Sky People 

The Compleat Enchanter


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Local brain drain

Abdel Abdellaoui and colleagues recent put out a paper on genetics and social stratification in Great Britain. Among other things, they found that polygenic scores of educational attainment were lower in seriously economically depressed areas,  such as coal mining towns – and that this depression has increased with time.  The smarter people are going where the better paying jobs are.

Surely the same thing has been happening  in West Virginia.

This happens all the time, on small scales and large scales.  The effect is stronger at the edges of the distribution – the per-capita number number of National Merit finalists can vary a lot due to such factors.  Some places suffer a brain drain, others a concentration.  Note that this effect happens even among a single ethnic group. So you see a surprisingly large number of National Merit scholars at Los Alamos High School or Oak Ridge High School – or Cocoa Beach, back during the Apollo project. The effect shows up in university towns, in particular neighborhoods of cities where people with higher average smarts cluster, etc.

This is all obvious, and everybody has seen it.  But if you are a real anti-hereditarian, every example has to be explained by some environmental advantage ( none of which we can find).  Los Alamos and Oak Ridge must be secretly bathing the kids in N-rays, while the meals served to the kids in the Chicago Public School system must be enriched with lead.

To a true anti-hereditarian, every day is fresh & new & surprising, because hardly anything happens as they expect.



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I was some interested in the Congo wars, back in the 90s, but there was  very little coverage in the media. Eventually I ran across an article that had maps of the front lines, reasonable discussions of the players  and their prospects – in Science (AAAS), of all places.

Their perspective:  the threat the Congo War posed to the bonobos.

I’m wondering how many similar treatments exist. Is there a tome that discusses the sanguinary battles on the Eastern Front ( Barenkovo, Stalingrad, Third Battle of Kharkov), how they threatened and eventually led to the demise of Unknown/Unknown Worlds ?

( food for Ph.D. theses)


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History and Inbreeding

What are the earliest refs you know of that mention the disadvantages of inbreeding, in animals and/or humans?

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Gene Flow III

This is a table of the distribution of edar370a, the allele that plays a big role in making Northeast Asians look the way they do.  I’ve talked about it before.

Note that the allele frequency is generally zero in African populations, and is over 90% in the Han. It’s also pretty common in pure-blooded Amerindians, which means it’s  fairly old, since they came over from Asia 15-20 k years ago. It’s been favored by selection, in some unclear way, which can easily drive an allele from one copy to the high frequencies we see today in China, given maybe 30,000 years.

Most alleles don’t vary enormously in frequency between different human populations, because those populations have a common origin  – maybe 70,000 years ago for people outside of sub-Saharan Africa, maybe 150-250 k years ago for the various groups in sub-Saharan Africa.  But this one does, and there are others, like DARC ( near 100% in Africa, unknown in China).

You can find populations all the way into Europe ( east and north) and India that have low, non-zero levels of EDAR370a. So there was some gene flow between such groups over the past few tens of thousands of  years, but not a lot.  How much gene flow was there between more distant groups ( over the past thirty thousand years or so) , say between China and the Khoisan? Or between China and Spain, China and England, China and Italy?




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An American Dilemma

Today we’re seeing clear evidence of genetic differences between classes: causal differences.  People with higher socioeconomic status have ( on average) higher EA polygenic scores. Higher scores for cognitive ability, as well. This is of course what every IQ test has shown for many decades.

It’s driving regional migration in the UK:  people with higher scores in depressed areas (like mining towns) are leaving for London, leaving those towns even more depressed.

There is ongoing decline in those polygenic scores, as observed in other studies and as predicted by demographers and science-fiction writers many years ago.

So we have classes that are genetically different, with upper classes genetically smarter.  Could we have populations or ethnic groups that were genetically smarter?  Obviously: simply create one by dropping a bunch of high-SES  ( or high-scoring) people on a deserted island.  Do we already have such populations? ( although, if I’m not mistaken, that would be racist.)

Well, sometimes a group has high scores, high ability because it is a far-from-random sample, while not being particularly genetically distinct or separate. ( either today or in the past).  College professors are smarter than average, at least in fields like math and natural science, but they are drawn from many populations and do not marry entirely or primarily  within their group. In fact they hardly breed at all, nowadays.  Los Alamos High has the highest test scores in New Mexico: that’s an unrepresentative sample.

Nigerians in the UK seem to be a very non-random sample, highly selected: most of them have at least some college while maybe 5% of the general population in Nigeria does.  I was was somewhat surprised to see this: most of the migrations I’m more familiar with (mostly US major immigration streams) are not so unrepresentative. Of course if they stayed in the UK and almost entirely married among themselves, they’d be a new, smarter-than Nigerian ethnic group. But that, too, would be racist.

Let’s look at Ashkenazi Jews in the United States. They’re very successful, averaging upper-middle-class.   So you’d think that they must have high polygenic scores for EA  (and they do).

Were they a highly selected group?  No: most were from Eastern Europe. “Immigration of Eastern Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews, in 1880–1914, brought a large, poor, traditional element to New York City. They were Orthodox or Conservative in religion. They founded the Zionist movement in the United States, and were active supporters of the Socialist party and labor unions. Economically, they concentrated in the garment industry.”

And there were a lot of them: it’s harder for a sample to be very unrepresentative when it makes up a big fraction of the entire population.

But that can’t be: that would mean that Europeans Jews were just smarter than average.  And that would be racist.

Could it be result of some kind of favoritism?  Obviously not, because that would be anti-Semitic.


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The Paras

Sometimes in a long struggle, the players have a felt need to believe that it all means something: that the buddies they lost died for something important, that they made a difference…  Sometimes it’s even true.  But it ain’t necessarily so.  A lot of wars are over nothing of long-term value or importance, and of course sometimes your side loses, which decreases the chance that your sacrifices have some kind of cosmic payoff. Sometimes this means the goals of the war somehow become more important as the cost increases, because they need to  – sunk costs fallacy on steroids.

For example, if Meade had crushed the Army of Northern Virginia  when it was pinned against the Potomac after Gettysburg, we’d all be better off, but the Civil War would occupy considerably less territory inside people’s heads today.

Or consider Vietnam: I’ve known people that were sure we were ” wearing down” the Soviet Union in Vietnam, even though we outspent them there by at least 20-1 – not even considering casualties !

In the Algerian War, the French ended up doing a lot of stuff that no true Scotsman* would even consider: lots of torture, lots of  shooting civilians. As they got rougher, the imaginary future they were fighting for became ever more golden, ever more unrealistic – it was one in which the Algerians  were fully integrated French citizens, something that had never made sense and was completely impossible after guys like Massu had used “all means necessary” to win the Battle of Algiers.  The Paras at this point didn’t have much sympathy for the pieds noirs, who weren’t crazy enough to share that vision. But then those French officers had been through a lot – defeated by Germany, embarrassingly saved by the Anglo-Americans, losing in  Vietnam: pre-adapted for nuttiness.


  • except the Campbells, of course.


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