Book Reviews on Humanity and Evolution: Erdrich's Fiction and Reich's Non-fiction

So maybe it’s odd to review two books in one post, but I hope it will make for more interesting discussion. I’d love to know if anyone in the forum has read either of these. Someone in the forum suggested I read David Reich’s Who We Are and How We Got There so as I reserved it on my library’s website, I later noticed Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich featured, so I reserved that too. Each was published around three to four years ago.

I first became aware of Louise Erdrich in a college class because her book Love Medicine was required reading. That was almost a few decades ago for me. But of any modern novel I was assigned, I appreciated that one the most. She intricately weaves story, family and culture through profound themes in that novel and I think her writing leaves you thinking long after you’ve finished.

This novel is very much different yet the same. It’s a dystopia set in the not-too-distant future. Somehow evolution *reverses," which creates a world-wide crisis over concerns about the continuation of humanity. Early on I was skeptical of the plot; it was a little too unbelievable and moved slowly. But by the middle of the book, it became a page turner and the importance of the characters and the themes overcame those faults. Some modern science is explained throughout the book, but the novel is hazy on much of the scientific and political details of what’s going on. Basically organisms are evolving quickly into their more archaic forms and Christian nationalists take over. Yet creationism is dead (that made me chuckle a bit since I’m not sure this would kill creationism).

The protagonist is a woman of native American heritage, adopted by white liberals, and is a mystical Catholic (don’t know if that’s a real thing, but it’s the best I can do to describe her religion). She is pregnant at the beginning of this crisis when pregnant women are both valued and devalued and and the books details her struggle for self-identity and survival. Woven throughout are themes of parent and child relationships, the incarnation, suffering, fetal development, evolution, and the worst of human nature.

Since we have been going through a global crisis, it was hard for me not to critique the author and decide that things would have happened a different way, but knowing what a global crisis could be like also made the plot more fascinating. Perhaps it made me more sympathetic to the characters. Also since I am pregnant I identified with the protagonist’s sometimes misplaced optimism and hope for her child that every mother has.

Long after I read the book I was thinking about what “survival of the fittest” means when humans can control each other. It wasn’t a theme the book brought up directly but maybe was always there in the background.

This might not be Erdrich’s best novel but there were still sections of profound, really great writing. Worth reading for the themes, but not necessarily for the plot - though at times it’s film-worthy.

I think everyone in the forum would enjoy Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past For me, the scientist’s perspective in the book was just as interesting as the migrations Reich described. The most fascinating section was in Part 1 where he described the groundbreaking discovery that Neaderthals had mated with modern humans. I appreciated his candor on how they at first tried to “make the evidence go away.” (This is an actual heading title.)

Later on his descriptions throughout the book about navigating all the cultural and political issues that go along with analyzing populations was fascinating.

The chapters on migrations I found the most interesting were on India and Native Americans. Perhaps because they were easiest for me to follow. The various names for ancient people groups on Eurasia were not always easy to differentiate while reflecting on them, though the figures helped.

Overall, the migrations described what I had expected. We have mixed in the past more than what was once thought. I also appreciated the reminders of how new this science is. Really not much more than a decade old. And much has already been learned since the book was published.

I’d definitely recommend the book as a systematic look and reflection on the state of this field of science

This post is getting long so I’ll stop here but if anyone is interested in specific YEC reflections I had, let me know.


I am glad you enjoyed “Who We Are and How We Got Here” by David Reich. To me this book announces ancient DNA research and results. It is just the beginning of amazing finds. And the results just keep streaming in. Now they are finding and analyzing aDNA from soil samples. Really mind bobbling stuff.

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I had seen that news, but color me a little skeptical that it’s accurate. How isn’t that breaking down?

Isn’t that the essence of what David Reich’s lab has been able to do? Extract ancient DNA from old fossils and now soil? As far as aDNA breaking down, a 1.2 million year old mammoth molar was sequenced.,deep%20freeze%20slows%20chemical%20degradation.

DNA from soil samples is usually from organisms present in the soil, alive at the time the sample is taken. But perhaps Patrick is thinking of something else.

They’re talking about this new paper:

Unearthing Neanderthal population history using nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from cave sediments

He’s talking (presumably) about sequencing ancient DNA from sediment, e.g. Denisovan DNA in Late Pleistocene sediments from Baishiya Karst Cave on the Tibetan Plateau | Science and Unearthing Neanderthal population history using nuclear and mitochondrial DNA from cave sediments | Science

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Interesting. Like @thoughtful, I’m surprised at the preservation, considering all the nucleases floating around in the average lab, much less an inhabited cave.

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This one seems more definitive since they’ve linked it to specific extinct and extant bears. For the other ancient human dna in the dirt, I wonder about human contamination. But are the cells intact on some way? I truly don’t understand how it works.

I don’t think it has anything to do with cells being intact. I think they are taking bits of soil and amplifying what ever sequences are there. Then they sequence the results and compare it with databases of sequences. Perhaps others here can explain it better than me.

Source Paper has more methodological information:

Environmental genomics of Late Pleistocene black bears and giant short-faced bears

Read that. Still don’t get it.

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