Book Review of Michael Hart’s “Understanding Human History”

I enjoy books on history, and books on both history and science are doubly good. This book (or get the PDF here) is a real treat, covering the breadth of human history, starting at the “beginning” of evolution with the earliest human ancestors. I particularly like the structure of the book, as it is arranged into a multitude of very short chapters, often only 3 or 4 pages long each. This makes it easy to follow without getting bogged down on a single topic and losing the author’s main point. Despite being an astronomer (and a computer scientist, and a lawyer, and a mathematician, and a physicist) and tremendous lay scholar of history, Dr. Hart’s writing isn’t bombastic; it is clear and easy to understand. The book is exceptionally well researched. Each chapter is appended with footnotes, and text as a whole sports a bibliography of impressive breadth and depth.

The Basic Argument of the Book

The basic gist of the book is as follows: Cognitive ability has been a serious determinant of who conquered whom in history, and who invented what. Human races differ significantly in cognitive ability, mainly due to genetic differences. The causes of these genetic differences in cognitive ability are that high intelligence was naturally selected for in far northern-dwelling peoples during the Ice Age due to the greater difficulty of survival in the harsh climate. People who lived far south of the deep freeze had little evolutionary incentive to develop higher intelligence, and as such today have significantly lower IQs than north-dwellers. It is a repeated observation in history of people from the icy north conquering and subjugating people living in warm, temperate climates. It is also a repeated observation, that the most societal and technological progress has been observed in societies built by north-dwelling peoples.

Racial Differences

The book begins with a basic crash course in high school biology and the theory of evolution. It covers the basic ideas of Darwin’s theory, such as genes, alleles, natural selection, mutations, and common disagreements of the theory of evolution. While the most common objectors are religious fundamentalists, the denial of evolution is far and wide-reaching these days when it comes to matters of race. In fact, one might say that virtually all disagreement with the theory of evolution is religious in nature – either from older religions such as fundamentalist Christianity and Islam, or from today’s high priests of political correctness.

Despite their objections though, the truth persists: not only are there visible differences between the human races, there are also important differences beneath the surface. Hart discusses these differences concisely, from differences in physical structure, differences in blood group distributions, differences in athletic performance, and even differences in body odor. However, these differences are unimportant in the practical world, with a major exception: the uneven distribution of cognitive ability across ethnic groups. The evidence of distinct races is undeniable, and yet, none are so blind as those who will not see.

As an aside, I can only react to the academic buffoons in that picture with puzzlement. Much like John Derbyshire, I don’t really engage much with race denialists – it is like discussing geography with the Flat Earth Society, or electromagnetic theory with the Church of Scientology. Race denialism is another reason I do not take any field seriously in which there are no written, falsifiable, mathematical equations with which to make testable predictions of hypotheses, or significant statistical data with which to extrapolate.

You can always smoke out bullshitters and con artists because they never seem to know enough advanced mathematics to back up their claims. Their hypotheses are never expressed as mathematical formulas, and their theories can always contort to fit the data.

Race Differences in Intellect

Anyways, back to Hart’s book. The evidence of racial differences in intellect is undeniable. In fact, as Hart documents in the book, the argument in learned circles is not whether or not the gap exists, but the extent to which genetics composes it. Hart makes a convincing case that intelligence is about 80% genetic and 20% environmental – and I would imagine a good deal of that 20% can be translated into “getting proper nutrition.” The breakdown in the scientific literature of race and IQ is:

  • Jews 115
  • Mongoloids 105
  • Caucasoids 100
  • Blacks 70-80

Such a trend has been observed not just in America, but worldwide, thus making accusations of racism or pinning the gap on slavery as untenable.

“A Walk Through History”

The first half of the book prepares the reader with the knowledge of evolutionary biology and cognitive science necessary to understand the remaining half of the book. The second half is a “walk through history” of each of the major civilizations of antiquity and up to the Modern Age (1500 AD onward). Repeatedly, we see the same pattern: Ice People conquering and subjugating Sun People. Ice People inventing things – Sun People not.

Hart also gives a good rebuttal to Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs, and Steel” hypothesis, by comparing the civilizations of sub-Saharan Africa and Mesoamerica. Despite being more privileged in terms of geography, good crops, and domesticated animals, the sub-Saharan Africans are outclassed by the Mesoamericans across the board. While Dr. Diamond is selling hard, Hart isn’t buying: the simplest explanation is the greater IQ of the Mesoamericans.

We can see even more stark examples today in the comparison between Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea with Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite sitting on massive resources, much of Sub-Saharan Africa languishes in despotic chaos. Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea have few natural resources, and a mere fraction of the land mass. And yet those countries are economic powerhouses, while much of Sub-Saharan Africa is dependent on foreign aid. An examination of the mean IQ for those countries provides all the explanation I need.

One thing that surprised me was how backward the sub-Saharan Africans were historically. They never invented writing or the wheel. They never built any cities of significant size. Cattle were raised, but they weren’t employed as beasts of burden. African languages weren’t reduced to writing until the Europeans made 19th-century expeditions to the African interior. Mathematics, astronomy, and exploration were out of the question. It is unknown if they knew the earth was round. In fact, the first Europeans explorers expressed more disappointment with the Africans than giddily writhing their hands at the prospect of enslaving them.

Complaints and Predictions for the Future

My main complaint is that Hart bases much of his historical IQ comparisons on a computer simulation he did. While his results follow reasonable trends, they are completely untestable, since it is not possible to resurrect someone from 8000 BC give him an IQ test. However, Hart does make sound, testable predictions at the end of the book which will likely pan out to be true, such as that African blacks are unlikely to invent any important inventions or make important discoveries in the 21st century, and that such discoveries will be overwhelmingly be made by Caucasoid and Mongoloid peoples. The pattern will be repeatedly observed in the 21st century in other contests of intellect, such as professional chess or bridge playing. Government policy changes and endless tail-chasing over nonexistent racism will do nothing to change these outcomes.

Furthermore, Hart did not mention the impact that various serious epidemics had in history, such as the Plague of Justinian (I think he mentioned the Black Death in passing once or twice).

Overall Verdict: 4 out of 5. For those interested in human differences, biology, or history, this probably right up your alley.


4 thoughts on “Book Review of Michael Hart’s “Understanding Human History”

  1. Pingback: On Books, Reading, and Thinking | unpropaganda

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