A Troublesome Inheritance

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History
Author Nicholas Wade
Country United States
Language English
Subject Human evolution
Published 2014
Publisher Penguin Books
Media type Print
ISBN 978-1594204463

A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History is a 2014 book by Nicholas Wade, a retired science reporter for The New York Times.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Wade argues that "human evolution has been recent, copious and regional"[7] and that this has important implications for the social sciences.[8] The book has been widely denounced by scientists.[9][10]


Wade writes about racial differences in economic success between whites, blacks, Asians, and others and offers the argument that racial differences come from genetic differences amplified by culture. In the first part of the book, Wade provides an account of human genetics research. In the second part of his book, Wade proposes that regional differences in evolution of social behavior explain many differences among human societies.[11]


The book is criticized by reviewers, who state that Wade goes beyond scientific consensus.[9][12][13][14][15][16][17] Evolutionary biologist H. Allen Orr wrote in his review in the New York Review of Books that "Wade’s survey of human population genomics is lively and generally serviceable. It is not, however, without error. He exaggerates, for example, the percentage of the human genome that shows evidence of recent natural selection."[11][18] Orr comments that in its second part, "the book resembles a heavily biological version of Francis Fukuyama’s claims about the effect of social institutions on the fates of states in his The Origins of Political Order (2011)."[11]

Orr further comments that "Wade also thinks that 'evolutionary differences between societies on the various continents may underlie major and otherwise imperfectly explained turning points in history such as the rise of the West and the decline of the Islamic world and China.' Here, and especially in his treatment of why the industrial revolution flourished in England, his book leans heavily on Gregory Clark's A Farewell to Alms (2007)."[11] Orr criticizes Wade for failing to provide sufficient evidence for his claims, though according to Orr, Wade concedes that evidence for his thesis is "nearly nonexistent."[11]

The book has not been well received by much of the scientific community, including many of the scientists upon whose work the book was based. On 8 August 2014, The New York Times Book Review published an open letter signed by 144 faculty members in population genetics and evolutionary biology. The letter read:

As discussed by Dobbs and many others, Wade juxtaposes an incomplete and inaccurate account of our research on human genetic differences with speculation that recent natural selection has led to worldwide differences in I.Q. test results, political institutions and economic development. We reject Wade’s implication that our findings substantiate his guesswork. They do not.

We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures.[1][2]

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference nytimesDobbs was invoked but never defined (see the help page).
  2. ^ Cite error: The named reference GeneticistsLetter was invoked but never defined (see the help page).

Professor Mark Jobling, one of the signatories to the letter, subsequently wrote an opinion piece in the peer-reviewed journal Investigative Genetics explaining why the book had "aroused the ire of this dusty community of academics".[19]

The book was further criticised in a series of five reviews by Agustín Fuentes, Jonathan M. Marks, Jennifer Raff, Charles C Roseman and Laura R Stein which were published together in the scientific journal Human Biology.[20] The publishers made all the reviews accessible on open access in order to facilitate discussions on the subject.[21]

Libertarian political scientist Charles Murray, coauthor of The Bell Curve, wrote a more favorable review in The Wall Street Journal.[22] Murray wrote:

"The discoveries Mr. Wade reports, that genetic variation clusters along racial and ethnic lines and that extensive evolution has continued ever since the exodus from Africa, are based on the genotype, and no one has any scientific reason to doubt their validity. And yet, as of 2014, true believers in the orthodoxy still dominate the social science departments of the nation's universities. I expect that their resistance to "A Troublesome Inheritance" will be fanatical, because accepting its account will be seen, correctly, as a cataclysmic surrender on some core premises of political correctness."


In reply to the letter, Wade wrote, "This letter is driven by politics, not science. I am confident that most of the signatories have not read my book [...]". Wade added that he had asked the letter's authors for a list of errors so that he could correct future editions of the book.[23] On 19 August 2014, Stanford University Professor Marcus Feldman, one of the signatories to the letter, critiqued Wade's book, detailing its failures of scholarship and linking the book's controversial intellectual heritage to the racial and genetic claims of Arthur Jensen, Richard Herrnstein, and Charles Murray.[24]


  1. Allen, Arthur. "Charging Into the Minefield of Genes and Racial Difference: Nicholas Wade's 'A Troublesome Inheritance'". The New York Times. Retrieved 2014-05-15.
  2. Murray, Charles (2 May 2014). "Book Review: A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 May 2014.
  3. Wente, Margaret. "What if race is more than a social construct?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2014-05-10.
  4. Gelman, Andrew. "The Paradox of Racism". Slate. Retrieved 2014-05-10.
  5. Marks, Jonathan. "The Genes Made Us Do It". In These Times. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  6. Coyne, Jerry. "New book on race by Nicholas Wade: Professor Ceiling Cat says paws down". Why Evolution is True. Retrieved 2014-05-14. It is an irresponsible book that makes insupportable claims.
  7. Reed, Chris. "New York Times Science Reporter Pens Book Linking Genetics, Race". The Daily Caller. Retrieved 2014-05-10.
  8. Jogalekar, Ashutosh. "Genes and Race: The Distant Footfalls of Evidence". Scientific American. Retrieved 2014-05-14.
  9. 1 2 Dobbs, David (10 July 2014). "Sunday Book Review: The Fault in Our DNA: 'A Troublesome Inheritance' and 'Inheritance'". The New York Times. p. BR11. Retrieved 25 September 2014. He constantly gathers up long shots, speculations and spurious claims, then declares they add up to substantiate his case. The result is a deeply flawed, deceptive and dangerous book.
  10. Coop, Graham; Eisen, Michael; Nielsen, Rasmus; Przeworski, Molly; Rosenberg, Noah (8 August 2014). "Letter to the Editor of the New York Times Book Review (Letter from Population Geneticists)". Retrieved 25 September 2014. We are in full agreement that there is no support from the field of population genetics for Wade’s conjectures.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Orr, H. Allen (5 June 2014). "Stretch Genes". New York Review of Books. New York Review of Books. Retrieved 17 May 2014.
  12. Feldman, M. (2014). Echoes of the Past: Hereditarianism and A Troublesome Inheritance. PLoS Genetics, 10(12), e1004817.
  13. Orr, H. Allen (5 June 2014). "Stretch Genes". New York Review of Books. New York Review of Books. Retrieved 17 May 2014. A Troublesome Inheritance goes beyond reporting scientific facts or accepted theories and finds Wade championing bold ideas that fall outside any scientific consensus. ... Hard evidence for Wade’s thesis is nearly nonexistent. Odder still, Wade concedes as much at the start of A Troublesome Inheritance: 'Readers should be fully aware that in chapters 6 through 10 they are leaving the world of hard science and entering into a much more speculative arena at the interface of history, economics and human evolution.'
  14. Marks, Jonathan (14 May 2014). "Review of A Troublesome Inheritance". American Anthropological Association blog. Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 May 2014. Wade's ambition, then, is not to popularize the science, but to invalidate the science.
  15. Gelman, Andrew (8 May 2014). "The Paradox of Racism: Why the new book by the New York Times' Nicholas Wade is both plausible and preposterous". Slate The State of the Universe science blog. Slate. Retrieved 15 May 2014. As a statistician and political scientist, I see naivete in Wade’s quickness to assume a genetic association for any change in social behavior.
  16. Bambury, Brent (8 May 2014). "Nicholas Wade's 'A Troublesome Inheritance': race, genes and success". CBC Radio: Day 6. CBC Radio.
  17. Laden, Greg (2014). "A Troubling Tome". American Scientist. 102 (4): 309. doi:10.1511/2014.109.309. ISSN 0003-0996. Ultimately, Wade claims that modern anthropology ignores key scientific information for political reasons, yet his own arguments are only thinly supported by data, and much of the data he does reference isn’t rigorous. To his credit, he refutes certain racist notions associated with the idea of genetic determinism, and he speaks against social Darwinism and similar concepts. But if that verbiage were excised, his book would fit comfortably in the early to mid-20th century literature on race and human variation. A Troublesome Inheritance is itself troubling, not for its politics but for its science. Its arguments are only mildly amended versions of arguments discarded decades ago by those who methodically and systematically study human behavioral variation across cultures.
  18. Wade, Nicholas (6 May 2014). A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. Penguin Group US. p. 2. ISBN 978-1-59420-446-3. Lay summary New York Review of Books (9 September 2014).
  19. Jobling M (September 2014). Trouble at the Races. Investigative Genetics 2014; 5:14. doi:10.1186/2041-2223-5-14.
  20. Human Biology 2014; 86 (3).
  21. Human Biology reviews "A Troublesome Inheritance". Wayne State University Press News, 27 April 2015.
  22. Murray, Charles (2 May 2014). "Book Review: A Troublesome Inheritance by Nicholas Wade". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 3 May 2014. Its proper reception would mean enduring fame as the book that marked a turning point in social scientists' willingness to explore the way the world really works. But there is a depressing alternative: that social scientists will continue to predict planetary movements using Ptolemaic equations, as it were, and that their refusal to come to grips with "A Troublesome Inheritance" will be seen a century from now as proof of this era's intellectual corruption.
  23. nature.com
  24. Feldman, Marcus (19 August 2014). "Echoes of the Past: Hereditarianism and A Troublesome Inheritance". Stanford CEHG.
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