Book Reviews


We’re considering doing the occasional book review.  Thoughts? Suggestions?     Vociferous objections?


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77 Responses to Book Reviews

  1. reiner Tor says:

    I don’t have particular thoughts or suggestions, except that I like the idea and I suggest that you do that.

  2. Happy says:

    Very good news. Some books it would be nice to see your takes on:

    James Flynn: “Are We Getting Smarter?”
    Ray Kurzweil: “The Singularity Is Near”
    Jim Manzi: “Uncontrolled”
    Plomin and Asbury: “G is for Genes”
    Dufflo and Banerjee: “Poor Economics”
    Bryan Caplan: “Myth of the Rational Voter”
    Vaclav Smil: “Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years”
    Lynn and Vanhanen: “IQ and Global Inequality”

  3. Would prefer a follow-up to The 10,000 Year Explosion! But reading your book reviews would be the next-best thing. I hope it won’t be limited to newer books. Would love to see any reviews you offer, esp:

    The Rational Optimist – Matt Ridley
    Adam’s Tongue – Derek Bickerton
    Spent – Geoffrey Miller
    The Better Angels of Our Nature – Pinker
    The Horse, the Wheel, and Language – Anthony

  4. Anonymous says:

    Robert Trivers: “The Folly Of Fools” (deserves some heavyweight treatment)
    Avi Tuschman: “Our Political Nature” (believes in Sulloway’s birth order among ignoring a lot in order to see a universal left-right divide in all times and places, and is given much praise for no good reason)
    Geoffrey Miller: “Spent” (crypto-HBD, pro-market anti-consumerism. Interesting.)

  5. FredR says:

    The Civilizing Process – Norbert Elias

  6. anon says:

    really like the idea, please do.

  7. May I second the idea of starting by reviewing your own books critically, with a light to briefly updating them where you feel appropriate – 10000 year explosion, Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence, etc, anywhere that you feel a significant move in your thinking, in light of new data or ideas.

    May I also suggest not spending too much time on debunking bad works.

  8. As a long time reader, I’d be interested to hear what you think of one chapter in my recently released book, The Paleo Manifesto. “Moses the Microbiologist” (chapter 4) discusses early agricultural religions, particularly Judaism, as cultural adaptations to infectious disease (via hand washing, bathing, protecting the water supply, avoiding vermin, etc.). This hygiene advantage likely translated into a general life expectancy advantage (supported by some hard data from the 19th and early 20th centuries), and probably allowed early Jews to undergo the demographic transition to fewer but higher quality children before other groups. Plus, it would have also given Jews a competitive advantage surviving in networks (e.g., cities, urban professions, middle men, long distance traders) or dirty jobs (as you mention was the case for some Middle Eastern Jews). I also draw similarities between Judaism and Zoroastrianism (many rules in Judaism were probably borrowed from the Persians during the Babylonian Captivity, when the Torah was formalized), which may explain eventual similarities between Jews and Parsis (as you’ve written about as well).

    I also propose what I *believe* is a novel theory for the emergence of monotheism, specifically in regard to Judaism and Zoroastrianism. Here’s an abstract from a talk I gave on the topic:

    “Infectious disease is a network phenomenon and effective public health measures (e.g., sewers, vaccinations) require coordination among nearly the entire population. If a corpus of cultural adaptations against infectious disease were sufficiently scientifically-sound and most group members adhered to such rules, then that group would suffer a lower burden of infectious disease than neighboring groups (“favored by God”). If a group member were to “sin” by breaking scientifically-sound hygiene rules (say, by touching corpses), then that person (and those in contact with them) would be more likely to become infected and die. If praising other deities (“false gods”) entailed unhygienic practices (e.g., sacred prostitution, tattooing, cannibalism), then such “false gods” would be functionally incompatible with a “true God” who promulgated a scientifically-sound hygiene code. This hypothesis will also be discussed in relation to polytheistic Hinduism, which addressed infectious disease through a different cultural mechanism: Untouchables and the caste system.”

    Henry read an early version of the chapter, as have some other top scholars.

    Here’s a link to the book:

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      This truly sounds like a Jared Diamond sort of idea idea worth thinking about.

      Ie, those who were lucky enough to come up with a religion that was a disguised way to prevent infection prospered.

    • The fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      Did Zoroastrianism ban the consumption of pork?

      While this idea may not explain every aspect of these religions, I find it interesting that Judaism and Islam ban the consumption of pork (on religious grounds) but East Asians eat pork with abandon. Indeed the word for meat is synonymous with pork in some, if not all dialects of Chinese.

      • People fixate on pork (and shellfish) too much. They were only a few of many species deemed unclean. In terms of pathogen avoidance in kashrut, the most important injunctions are to avoid corpses (or anything that died of its own accord), most insects, and vermin — as well as species higher on he food chain that devour corpses, insects, and vermin (birds of prey, etc.). If you deal with corpses, insects, and vermin in a hygienic way, you’ve already won.

  9. Yudi says:

    I totally second the recommendation of Elias’ The Civilizing Process. That book is seriously underrated, and is the only product of sociology that’s worth a damn.

    In keeping with your typical subject matter, I’d like to see a review of Jean Manco’s Ancestral Journeys. Razib didn’t say very much about it.

  10. misdreavus says:

    I would actually pay money to read some good reviews — but only if you make sure to be extra scathing and vituperative. Now is not the time to mince words. Punch above *and* below the belt.

    • gcochran9 says:

      Well, a book has to be bad in a special way before slashing it to death make you feel as if your heart has been transformed into an exaltation of larks. it happens, but not every single day.

    • dave chamberlin says:

      I second the motion. Greg has that rare ability to get funnier the meaner he gets. You can start with Jared Diamond and Charles Mann.

      • IC says:

        Or Malcolm Gladwell.

      • Ffs, please no.

        Cochran is funny when he entertains himself with gonzo Neanderthal resurrection, but Malcolm and Jared have been punched to pulp a thousand times now, their dishonesty and lunacy is common knowledge. I enjoy Cochrans belligerent cruelty as much as the next man, but it’s funny because it’s laconic, usually combined with a ban-hammer, or in the format of a curt “nothing more than feelings” post, which explains itself. Cochran spending time on serious review of a full-on idiot would only lend stature to the idiot.

        The more I see of this thread, the more I think that Cochran should only review stuff that demands review, either for being very good, or for being almost very good, but dangerously flawed. Cochran refuting mediocrity would be a disappointment.

  11. Ian says:

    I agree with Hallie Scott Kline. I particularly like The Rational Optimist and The Better Angels of Our Nature, each one for different reasons. My political views used to be quite similar to the ones in T.R.O., but I’ve been forced to abandon hopes for the country I live in, Spain: not a bad mean IQ, but a too heterogeneous country, with an almost genetic taste for socialism and lots of social parasites.
    Regarding The Better Angels, I think it points to the facts, but misses the reasons. On the other hand, if you were to open a book on Biology starting with paeans about “how good it’s to be a Homo Sapiens!”, you’ll probably dismiss it immediately. And that’s the whole point of the book: “oh, how good is to have become a liberal Canadian; gee, this surely is the ruled and mandatory outcome of moral evolution”.

  12. dearieme says:

    The Origin of Species – a review of how it stands up now.

  13. georgesdelatour says:


    Deepak Lal – “Unintended Consequences”

    Timur Kuran – “Private Truths, Public Lies”

  14. Rich Wickham says:

    Please do!

  15. Rex May says:

    I’d love it. And most of the suggestions named so far sound like good ones, but I’d also like for you to review fiction where appropriate. That would be fiction with biological/anthropological significance, mainly, and of course most of that would be SF. But there’s other stuff, of course, such as Tom Wolfe.

  16. albatross says:

    I would love a review of Martin Nowack’s book _Evolutionary Dynamics_. I found it really interesting and fun to read (I’m a computer scientist), but I’d love to know what Greg thinks of it.

  17. Richard Sharpe says:

    A review of this report?

    Whatever is causing homosexuality it seems to have multiple consequences on development.

  18. not_my_subject says:

    How about some sci-fi novel reviews?

  19. unladen swallow says:

    Any of the following authors, I’m sure you have read at least some of these books. Reviews of Jared Diamond’s books; The Third Chimpanzee, Guns, Germs, and Steel, and Collapse.
    Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind and Spent. Matt Ridley’s The Red Queen, The Origins of Virtue, and The Rational Optimist. Steven Pinker’s How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, and The Better Angels of Our Nature and finally Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, and The Ancestor’s Tale. A lot of these recommendations out of curiosity over what you thought of these books, I’ve read all or parts of all of them except Pinker’s last one.

  20. Asher says:

    Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins.

  21. Patrick Boyle says:

    This is a bad idea.

    I write Steve Sailor all the time to urge him to blog less and write a book. You and Harpending should do the same. Personally, I don’t understand genetics very well. I need help. But any bozo can write a review of Jared Diamond. He is, as you would say, low hanging fruit.

    I want something better from you than just another ‘pile on’ book review. I want new ideas. Feed me.

  22. That Guy says:

    Yes, I’d love to see book reviews!

    I don’t have time to read everything I’d like, and so would prefer to avoid the less “interesting” ones. I suspect there would be a wide overlap between what you guys find interesting and what I find interesting.

    Here’s what I have in my “To Read” list – from
    1. Reamde
    – Stephenson, Neal
    2. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
    – Skloot, Rebecca
    3. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman
    – Gleick, James
    4. The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdős and the Search for Mathematical Truth
    – Hoffman, Paul
    5. NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children
    – Bronson, Po
    6. Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind Theory Revisited
    – Kuijsten, Marcel
    7. The Potato: How the Humble Spud Rescued the Western World
    – Zuckerman, Larry
    8. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets
    – Taleb, Nassim Nicholas
    9. In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives
    – Levy, Steven
    10. Thinking, Fast and Slow
    – Kahneman, Daniel
    11. The Whole Hog: Exploring the Extraordinary Potential of Pigs
    – Watson, Lyall
    12. Steve Jobs
    – Isaacson, Walter
    13. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business
    – Duhigg, Charles
    14. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947
    – Clark, Christopher Munro
    15. The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy
    – Zhavoronkov, Alex
    16. Rathmines
    – Curtis, Maurice

  23. Asher says:

    I would like to see a comparison between Origin of Species and Descent of Man. I have long held that schools are teaching the wrong Darwin book, the latter being far superior.

  24. charleskiddell says:

    My Traitor’s Heart, book 3, by Rian Malan.

  25. The Anatomy Of Violence: The Biological Roots Of Crime by Adrian Raine.
    The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt.
    Rubicon: The Last Years Of The Roman Empire by Tom Holland

  26. LP says:

    The Sports Gene

  27. Karl Narveson says:

    Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

    In the population of which Darcy and Bingley are members, is male mate-seeking behavior as strongly selected-for as it doubtless was among hunter-gatherers?

  28. engleberg says:

    In Niven/Harrington’s excellent The Goliath Stone, a smart character speculates that blond hair and pink complexion indicate strong Neanderthal ancestry; that Neanderthals were nocturnal cannibals, and that the original Amerind settlers were pure Cro-Magnons fleeing, not just the nocturnal cannibals, but the hell-spawned half-breeds.

    I’d appreciate some rating of these ideas.

  29. reiner Tor says:

    I agree with Patrick Boyle and Karl Naverson that having another book might be a still better idea. But if you are mostly doing the blog in your spare time, for fun, or when for whatever reasons you cannot do any more ‘serious’ work, then I’d now propose some books. I try to avoid creating a reading list, and instead creating a list of books where I’d like to hear your opinions. I have read all of them.

    Nassim Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness has been mentioned, let me add The Black Swan and Antifragile to the list.

    Blindsight by Peter Watts, and also his Rifters trilogy (quadrilogy).

    The Killing Star by Charles Pellegrino and George Zebrowski.

    The Dune series by Frank Herbert.

    The Judaism trilogy by Kevin B. MacDonald.

    On War in Human Civilization as well as Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism by Azar Gat.

    Not by Genes Alone by Richerson and Boyd.

    The Uniqueness of Western Civilization by Ricardo Duchesne.

    On Genetic Interests by Frank Salter.

    Born To Run by Christopher McDougall.

    Manthropology by Peter McAllister.

    Without Conscience and Snakes in Suit by Robert D. Hare.

    On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins.

    Rare Earth by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee.

    Where Is Everybody by Stephen Webb.

    The Blitzkrieg Legend by Bundeswehr colonel Karl-Heinz Frieser.

    Animal Spirits by Akerlof and Shiller.

    Questioning Collapse by McAnamy and Yoffee.

    Natural Experiments of History by Jared Diamond and James A. Robinson.

    The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould.

    Before Stalingrad: Barbarossa, Hitler’s Invasion of Russia by David M. Glantz. (The author wrote me in an email that it’s identical to his original Barbarossa, Hitler’s Invasion of Russia, but the publisher, probably wanting to sell it again to the same people, without asking him republished it under this different and highly questionable title – the book is about events in 1941, and writes nothing about Stalingrad.)

    Stalin’s Folly by Constantine Pleshakov.

    Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade.

    Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. (This one I haven’t read, only started to read, I’m already on the third page.)

  30. 420blazeitfgt says:

    How Jews Became Smart: Anti-“Natural History of Ashkenazi Intelligence” by R. Brian Ferguson

    Click to access How%20Jews%20Became%20Smart%20%282008%29.pdf

  31. PB says:

    Love to see a review of Peter Green’s From Alexander To Actium.

  32. j3morecharacters says:

    The Dosadi Experiment (1977), a science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert.

  33. Andrew says:

    I would like to see a review of any current Physical/Biological Anthropology textbook at the Intro level. Expose the nonsense.

  34. K says:

    Suvorov’s “Icebreaker: Who Started the Second World War?”.

  35. Dear Greg, I have read all the above entries. Drop this idea immediately. It’s crap. By any theory of competitive advantage, reviewing books is a waste of your talent. You are a bad tempered physicist who has stumbled into biology, and illuminated it. That is what you do best. Most of this silly, breathless reading list is a bunch of sissies wanting to know what teacher thinks of their favourite novels. You should keep posting on the interesting current research, and give an acerbic and provocative take on it. Leave book reviewing for when you run out of ideas and intellect. Postpone dementia by keeping blogging.
    I may have been a little less than my courteous self, but I wanted to attract your attention.
    Crap. Avoid it.

    • rightsaidfred says:

      Well, I like book reviews; probably because I am of limited time and intellect, thus I often use them as a proxy for reading the things.

    • Julian says:

      ***You should keep posting on the interesting current research, and give an acerbic and provocative take on it.***

      How about keep doing that, and throw in the occasional book review when it suits? Razib Khan does the occasional one. It’s nice to see influential books reviewed from a slightly different perspective.

  36. Neil Craig says:

    We seem to have set you a hell of a lot of homework. I would say read whatever you like and if you want to review something you would read anyway, or have read, go ahead.

    On the other hand I loved
    The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps by Marshall T. Savage

  37. EatsCake says:


    Here’s a navy guy claiming to have seen a 60-foot shark:

    Thought you’d find it interesting.

    (This comment really belongs to your low-hanging fruit post from last year, but I’m not sure if you’d notice comments on an old post.)

  38. Anonymous says:

    There’s some unusual HBD stuff in the polygamist thriller, The Righteous, plus it makes Mormons and Christians really mad.

  39. ghazi-less says:

    Well, maybe it would be a waste of GC’s time, but I still would very much like to know what books he thinks worth reading. And for that matter, it would also be nice to know his take on books such as Frank Salter’s “On Genetic Interests”–it seems to be a tremendously important book, but ignored in mainstream social science.

  40. Magus Janus says:

    awesome. the blog Isegoria does it for some political stuff and it’s fascinating. I’d love to see you do book reviews, not only of books you are currently reading but more importantly of books you have read that you consider interesting (or awful) and feel the need to share.

    also… post more!

  41. Bruce Banner says:

    How about some movie reviews? The Fiddler on the Roof and Yentl seem right up your alley!

  42. panjoomby says:

    whatever you can stomach reading.
    Patrick O’Brian’s 20 volume Aubrey–Maturin novels.
    & movie reviews. kidding.
    it’s time for an update: the 10,005 year explosion!

  43. Rifleman says:

    I also recommend – Robert Trivers: “The Folly Of Fools”

    A book about the evolutionary benefits of being deceptive – to oneself and others.

  44. BubbaJoe says:

    forget everyone else- what do you think about Clan of the Cave Bear?

  45. Pincher Martin says:

    Rather than provide the two of you with a list of dated books, here are a few categories from which I hope you can review fresh material.

    Diseases/Medicine: There’s been a recent explosion of popular and critically-acclaimed books in this genre. It seems like a new publication comes out every year: The Emperor of All Maladies, Smallpox: The Death of a Disease, The Origin of AIDS, What Doctors Think, etc. Given your interests, Greg, I think it would be instructive to hear what you have to say – good or bad – about some of the new books coming out in this genre.

    Anthropology: Even when the topic at this blog isn’t about anthropology, I frequently read fascinating anthropological asides here. Perhaps Henry can provide a few pointers to the best of the new material he’s reading in this area.

    Classics: Not Horace and Sappho, but rather an esoteric category. What books have you found essential reading (in whatever category) that you feel are too often neglected or unappreciated by most other informed readers? Reintroduce them to us in the same breezy manner you reintroduced Fisher and Haldane.

    Military HIstory: You seem interested in the topic, Greg, so I assume you still like to keep up on it when you hear rumors of a good new book on the Roman legions or World War Two.

    I’d also like to hear you comment more on East Asian history, and perhaps the best place to do that would be in a review on a recent book you’ve read about China or Japan. But I realize this might not be one of your primary interests. I’ll throw it out here just in case I’m mistaken.

  46. Aaron says:

    The Collapse of Complex Societies by Joseph Tainter

  47. George says:

    There are three books I cherish above all others: Richard Wrangham’s “Catching Fire,”
    your “The 10,000 Year Explosion,” and Gregory Clark’s “A Farewell to Alms.” They have helped me to understand how we became human, then civilized men, and then modern men, respectively. I would love to hear your opinion on either Wrangham’s or Clark’s book.

  48. panjoomby says:

    how about blog reviews?

  49. JayMan says:

    I say great idea!

    I have some ideas, but nothing that jumps out at me and says yes, I need to see you guys take it apart. I will post here if that changes, though… >:)

  50. JayMan says:

    Not a book, but I would like to see you and/or Dr. Harpending weigh in on this “Selfish Gene” discussion, spawned by this article:

    Why it’s time to lay the selfish gene to rest – David Dobbs – Aeon

  51. charleskiddell says:

    Asking a sledgehammer to crack an egg?

    The genes and regulatory sequences that successfully transmogrify the grasshopper into a locust at the right time will increase or maintain their frequency while any that hinder cause the creature to starve or get eaten. I am not a biologist but aren’t the regulatory sequences also called genes? Anyway they perpetuate like them and aren’t they acting “selfishly?”

    • JayMan says:


      However, you no idea how fun it is to see nonsense splashed explosively to pieces at times… 😉

      Interestingly, along these lines, it appears some MZ twins (and hence, some individual singletons) appear more susceptible to developmental noise than others. I wonder anyone has looked for systematic patterns in MZ twins that are more similar to each other vs. those who are less similar.

  52. I would second some of these suggestions (The Better Angels of Our Nature – Pinker; Vaclav Smil: “Global Catastrophes and Trends: The Next 50 Years”; On Genetic Interests by Frank Salter) and add:
    Alan Weisman- Collapse
    David Goodhart- The British Dream
    Thomas F. Homer-Dixon – Environment, Scarcity, and Violence; The Ingenuity Gap

  53. Oh and the already mentioned A Farewell to Alms by Gregory Clark

  54. reiner Tor says:

    Nicholas Wade’s new book. I have already pre-ordered it a few weeks ago, but I usually read book reviews on books I’ve already read, because the reviewer might notice things I didn’t, or might bring up interesting objections to some of the book’s points which I hadn’t thought of, etc.

  55. dlr says:

    Judith Rich Harris “The Nurture Assumption” and “No Two Alike”
    D. S. Wilson and Elliott Sober “Unto Others”

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