Cyber Monday 50% discount, and three things I never quit
Substack savings, three years of top posts and stacks of reading recs
The best things in life aren’t things. And most of them are free or at the public library. But below follow a handful of what I always consider worthy investments, very few of them truly “things”.
Best for the early bird: Annual subscriptions to this newsletter are discounted 50% starting now. That discount lessens by 1% per hour until 11:59 pm EST Monday, Nov. 27. Two notes: 1. Cyber Monday is the one day each year I give a steep discount. And 2. I set this as a forever discount, so if you’d like to lock the rate in long-term, today’s the day.
Book lists for my 10 must-read book subjects here.
A year ago, I shared 10 favorite Substack reads (many with Cyber Monday discounts). All are still going strong. All still worth a follow.
I also detailed why to me genotyping and whole genome sequencing are always worth the investment.
In a world of churn, three things I have never quit
In the fall of 1999, I got a flip phone and a contract with Sprint. Maybe ten phones later, I still had that contract when Sprint ceased to exist, absorbed into T-Mobile post-merger. Which I wouldn’t have assumed to be notable, except that I have now lost numerous hours of my life to wrangling with bewildered T-Mobile customer service people, as I try to claw back all the niceties of my grandfathered as can-be 24-year-old sweetheart of a contract. No one there recognizes most of the features and clauses I require they continue to honor or has any familiarity with my long-standing cobbled-together plan. One guy who staffs a T-Mobile store told me in the decade he’s been there, he’s never met anyone else with a contract more than eight years old. Another time, the person trying to help me untangle everything wondered how many other 20th-century contracts still exist in their network.
But all of this already feels like deja vu to me. In the autumn of 1995, my dad marched me into the first bank he saw near my college campus, a First Interstate, and set me up with an account. A few months later, that bank became a Wells Fargo and absorbed my account. That account will be 30 soon and I am forever having to explain to tellers why the account number is in a format they’ve never seen before, and that no I don’t pay for this and I don’t pay for that.
I tend to stick with things. So if you’d asked me when I started writing this Substack in the fall of 2020 if I thought I’d still be at it three years later, I would have said, well yeah, why not? I’ve been writing on the Internet in an organized fashion since 2002 on my weblog (which has endured its own innumerable lurching transitions from platform to platform and publisher to publisher and finally back to my own bare-bones domain), and in ad hoc bursts in forums like Usenet since 1994 (I know I even still have readers who have followed me since the late 1990’s when I spent a year contributing chapters in a long alternate history to soc.history.what-if with the Byzantines winning the Battle of Manzikert instead of losing it as the point of departure. NERDZ).
What would have surprised me isn’t really me. It’s you. It’s that thousands of people now pay me to tell them the best true stories I know, at the intersection between the deep human history I’ve been inhaling since childhood and the cutting edge of genomics I’ve followed closely and then worked in for the past two decades. I began covering these stories on my blog, when genomics was truly in its infancy, very few human sequences were yet available, and human population genetics was scarcely recognizable with such scarcity of samples and data. Like, I was writing about human population genomics before I had even heard of David Reich. And I did it for love, not money. It was just the best show on earth and if I could get my hands on the academic papers as they came out, as far as I could see, I had the best seat in the house. What a trip to today call this thing I’d do just for the joy of it a real job.
Now that I’ve been writing here for three years though, I get a lot of emails and comments requesting I cover things I’ve actually already delved into. When you subscribe, of course, you get access to my full archives, but here is a roundup of my top pieces according to Substack, half a dozen from each of the past three+ years of publishing.
6 - Fury out of the North: from pagan slavers to Christian kings The last in a three-part series on Scandinavian history and genetics that focuses on the transition from paganism to Christianity, and the North’s integration into Europe.
5 - Shaka Zulu: The Last of the God-Kings On the edge of history and a window into prehistory, this African warlord’s life and times give us a glimpse onto what “war before civilization” might have looked like.
4 - Genetic history with Chinese characteristics The Chinese like to say they have 5,000 years of history, but this post digs deep into their 50,000 years of prehistory. Because of China’s size and ecological robustness, modern humans in China seem to have been less impacted by population turnover than West Eurasians.
3 - We are all Zoroastrians: how Persian empires of the mind touched all humanity This is one of my posts (in a series on Persia in this case) that departs more from my core focus on genetics and history, to consider culture, because Iran and Persians have contributed a great deal that goes acknowledged on this score. With so few Zoroastrians left today, the religion’s influence on Christianity, Judaism and Islam doesn’t get its full due.
2 - Our explosive past: on cataclysms and demographics The incredibly rapid expansion of modern humans outside of Africa is something whose outlines we knew from 20th-century archaeology and genetics, but ancient DNA and modern computational genomics have really added depth and texture. The broad framework is in place, but details still need to be worked out.
1 - Facing Facts, even fraught ones: the quest for proto-Indo-Europeans in 2023 My attempt to explain where we are on the thorny, evolving “Indo-European question” today. The combination of archaeology and ancient DNA has allowed for massive advances, though the whole picture remains incomplete.
6 - A Hun by any other name The genetic and cultural significance of the Huns is that they were the first eastern steppe raiders to descend on Europe, though definitely not the last. We now know from genetics who they were in the east, in Mongolia, long before they came to populate generations of European nightmares.
5 - Built to Last: Continuity in Japanese Genetics The latest findings on the ethnogenesis of the Japanese, which dates to a surprisingly late period (the last 2,000 years).
4 - Passing the civilizational purity test: India's 3000-year caste straitjacket How caste plays out genetically and culturally in the Indian subcontinent in the present and the past.
3 - Eternal as the Nile The continuity of modern and ancient Egyptians, and their genetic position in the landscape of West Asia and Africa. The post was well received by Egyptians. Less so by Afrocentrists.
2 - Getting a sense of the Russian soul The genetics and history of Russia, and how it relates to the West and the rest of Eurasia. Of some topical interest in relation to the Ukraine-Russian conflict.
1 - You can’t take it with you: straight talk about epigenetics and intergenerational trauma This is a straight-up debunking of the conventional narrative in the press, which emphasizes more tentative but sensational findings rather than the tediously technical but ubiquitous role that epigenetics plays in day to day biology. Epigenetics is very important, just not where people breathlessly telling you about its impacts want it to be. Unless you have a breathless slime-mold enthusiast in your life.
6 - A whole New World Updating Native American prehistory as informed by genetics. It’s frankly still confusing, but basically, everything is way stranger than we would have expected a few years prior. They were here longer than we thought, and they might not be who we thought.
5 - Get lucky A personal post reflecting on how lucky I feel to be American, and my winding path from immigrant child to whatever I am today.
4 - Here be humans The big finding in ancient DNA for deep human history is that there’s a lot of “archaic admixture” in our lineage. Put another way, our forebears were doing a lot of getting jiggy with Denisovans and Neanderthals.
3 - Yo mama's mama's mama's mama... etc. The “Out of Africa” theory in its fifth decade. I looked at its origins, how it was presented, and how it fits into the framework of human evolutionary science today (or at least in 2021).
2 - Applying IQ to IQ Some evolutionary, genetic and social context for studying the phenomenon of intelligence, the general factor that tracks the correlation in performance across many cognitive tests and tasks. Yes, it measures something real, and that something has real consequences.
1 - Ashkenazi Jewish genetics: a match made in the Mediterranean A post that outlines the different genetic components that coalesce in the Ashkenazi Jews of Northern Europe (Middle Eastern + European).