The Invisible History of the Human Race
What the latest research reveals about how the history of the human race shapes us as individuals We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by the forces that are invisible to us? In The Invisible History of the Human Race, Christine Kenneally draws on cutting-edge research to reveal how both historical artifacts and DNA tell us where we come from and where we may be going. While some books explore our genetic inheritance and popular television shows celebrate ancestry, this is the first book to explore how everything from DNA to emotions to names and the stories that form our lives are all part of our human legacy. This book shows how trust is inherited in Africa, silence is passed down in Tasmania, and how the history of nations is written in our DNA. From fateful, ancient encounters to modern mass migrations and medical diagnoses, Kenneally explains how the forces that shaped the history of the world ultimately shape each human who inhabits it. The Invisible History of the Human Race is a deeply researched, carefully crafted, and provocative perspective on how our stories, psychology, and genetics affect our past and our future.

The Invisible History of the Human Race Details

TitleThe Invisible History of the Human Race
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseOct 9th, 2014
PublisherViking
ISBN-139780670025558
Rating
GenreScience, Nonfiction, History, Biology, Genetics, Anthropology

The Invisible History of the Human Race Review

  • J.L. Sutton
    January 1, 1970
    What science (especially DNA) can tell us about who we are (and where we come from) has grown exponentially in the last few decades. DNA is only part of the story. How our personal history or family history (coded in DNA) intersects not only with a bigger history (migrations and such) but technological innovations, social movements and even attitudes makes Christine Kenneally’s Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures a fascinating read. I wou What science (especially DNA) can tell us about who we are (and where we come from) has grown exponentially in the last few decades. DNA is only part of the story. How our personal history or family history (coded in DNA) intersects not only with a bigger history (migrations and such) but technological innovations, social movements and even attitudes makes Christine Kenneally’s Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures a fascinating read. I would have liked more focus on specific cultural histories; however, this story/study was engaging. 3.5 stars bumped to 4 stars.
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  • Greg
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book as part of a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, and it was an interesting read on the impact of inheritance. Kenneally introduces a later chapter in the book with a fantastic Confucian quote that I think aptly describes the main thrust of the book: “By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart.” Despite the subtitle I assumed the main argument of this book would be to highlight the migration of variances in human DNA around the world. I was wrong – wh I received this book as part of a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, and it was an interesting read on the impact of inheritance. Kenneally introduces a later chapter in the book with a fantastic Confucian quote that I think aptly describes the main thrust of the book: “By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart.” Despite the subtitle I assumed the main argument of this book would be to highlight the migration of variances in human DNA around the world. I was wrong – while this is discussed, the main topic of the book is the combination of genetic and cultural inheritance, and what it means for individuals and societies. It is an interesting and at times surprising book.It is not surprising that the Kenneally must discuss eugenics at some point. In her first section, she describes different attitudes about inheritance. Kenneally’s discussion of the eugenics movement, and Madison Grant in particular, is very revealing. A major conservationist and friend and ally of Theodore Roosevelt, Grant is lauded for his environmentalist tendencies. The paternalism and racism with which he approached eugenics was born in his mind out of the same progressive motivations. It is chilling and interesting to me that so divergent outcomes, with today’s moralistic hindsight, could be birthed by the same primary motivation. “In today’s world, where conservation is considered a necessity and a virtue and racism is regarded as deplorable, Grant is a hard person to understand. But for him, preserving his beloved redwoods and bison, putting human beings on display, and saving the Nordic race were all part of the same package. Grant believed that all these actions were a benevolent form of stewardship.” (58)Nazi genealogy and eugenics picked up on Grant’s work. Hitler’s physician Major General Karl Brandt referenced Madison Grant’s The Passing of the Great Race in defense of Nazi activities: “Mistaken regard for what are believed to be divine laws and a sentimental belief in the sanctity of human life tend to prevent both the elimination of defective infants and the sterilization of such adults as are themselves of no value to the community. The laws of nature require the obliteration of the unfit and human life is valuable only when it is of use to the community or race.” (76) I find this very disturbing indeed.The second part of the book discusses primarily what is NOT passed down. Discussing the importance of memory and inheritance. “Totalitarian power thrives when it alienates people from basic information about themselves.” (92) It is a dehumanizing process, and repeated in moments of slavery, communist regimes, and other totalitarian states.Lastly, Kenneally finishes with a discussion of how transmitted information affects individuals and societies. Economic impacts of distant historical events through time have now been studied. Horizontal transmission (things learned from peers in a society) and vertical transmission (what gets passed down in a society) both have a massive impact. The impact of vertical transmission of cultural and societal behaviors is quite large and surprising.All in all, this is an easy read and a thoughtful, more personal than expected, book about how we become who we are.
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  • Jaylia3
    January 1, 1970
    DNA and the riveting meta-history of being humanThis fascinating reader-friendly book covers a diverse but related set of topics including ancient human origins, the history of our fascination with genealogy and ancestors, the inexplicable longevity of ideas that arise in a culture almost incidentally, the latest sometimes surprising finding about the workings of the human genome, and the benefits, risks, and limits of DNA testing for disease likelihood, cultural identity, and prehistoric ancest DNA and the riveting meta-history of being humanThis fascinating reader-friendly book covers a diverse but related set of topics including ancient human origins, the history of our fascination with genealogy and ancestors, the inexplicable longevity of ideas that arise in a culture almost incidentally, the latest sometimes surprising finding about the workings of the human genome, and the benefits, risks, and limits of DNA testing for disease likelihood, cultural identity, and prehistoric ancestry.The Invisible History of the Human Race is the kind of book that compels me to interrupt otherwise occupied people in the hope that they’ll share my deep interest in the thought-provoking passage I’ve just read and want to discuss it. Here is some of what intrigued me the most:*The gene whose mutation causes Huntington's disease is ancient enough to be found in slime mold. It’s crucial to slime mold, when it’s disabled the slime mold will sicken, but when a nearly identical human copy of the gene is inserted the slime mold revives.*Someone can be your direct blood ancestor but contribute nothing to your actual DNA--it’s not as simple as having one-sixteenth of your DNA from each of your great-great-grandparents.*Ideas tend to stick around way past their expiration date. For instance, the author cites research indicating that in areas where people farmed wheat and began using the plow, which requires a lot of upper body strength, the idea developed that men should be in the field/world and women should stay in the home--it was seen as natural and right. Now hundreds of years later, and even though no one in the area is still farming, that belief persists, having been passed down somehow through generations, and is more prevalent than in communities which didn't use the plow, like in places where rice was farmed instead. The pernicious latent influence of institutions like slavery is also discussed in this chapter.Christine Kenneally’s other book, The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, also hooked me completely and I highly recommend it too. It’s similarly broad in scope and would appeal to readers interested in the origins and evolution of human language, the history of language research, and the proto-languages of animals. I first read it years ago and am still thinking about it.
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  • David Moss
    January 1, 1970
    Disclosure: I received this book free as a "First Read" from Goodreads.The words "history", "Human Race", and "DNA" in the title and subtitle mislead the potential reader. The book is really about personal identity and the discovery of ancestry. The author specifically mentions the scientific community holding investigations into one's heredity as less than important, and the author argues that these things "matter" and "have significance." While they may have significance to the people who have Disclosure: I received this book free as a "First Read" from Goodreads.The words "history", "Human Race", and "DNA" in the title and subtitle mislead the potential reader. The book is really about personal identity and the discovery of ancestry. The author specifically mentions the scientific community holding investigations into one's heredity as less than important, and the author argues that these things "matter" and "have significance." While they may have significance to the people who have discovered things about themselves that have impacted their sense of personal identity, no evidence is given to refute the overall attitude of the scientific community. Rather, it is clear through the book that personal journeys and not scientific discovery are most important to the author. Pages are dedicated to the latest scientific breakthroughs, and the author does seem to believe in the importance of scientific advancement. However, in the end, it always comes back to how it affected an individual who heard the news. This makes for an entertaining and emotional piece of fluff. As long as that's what you're looking for, it's a pretty good book. The best parts involve the research into specific groups of people who are especially affected by their place in the world, whether it be because of persecution, governmental indifference, or susceptibility to disease. If the title had been "Our Invisible Past: How Our Ancestry and Our Knowledge of Our Ancestry Shape Our Personal Identities", then it would have been a more accurate title, but, then again, I wouldn't have read a book with that title.
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  • Doris Jean
    January 1, 1970
    I would correct the title to reflect that this book is on the history and sociology of geneology and ancestry. I thought this book would be more about the science of DNA and maybe even epigenetics which I find fascinating. Apparently there are ancestral non-DNA markers passed down which affect behavior, ideas, feelings and psychology. But there were only a couple of paragraphs on epigenetics, just enough to say it's not yet understood. This book embodied a philosophical approach rather than hard I would correct the title to reflect that this book is on the history and sociology of geneology and ancestry. I thought this book would be more about the science of DNA and maybe even epigenetics which I find fascinating. Apparently there are ancestral non-DNA markers passed down which affect behavior, ideas, feelings and psychology. But there were only a couple of paragraphs on epigenetics, just enough to say it's not yet understood. This book embodied a philosophical approach rather than hard science. It's really not about DNA itself, it's about implied ancestry.For science, the author said that the Y chromosome does not shuffle when the sperm recombines with the ova as the other 22 chromosomes do. If a son does not sire another son, that Y chromosome dies out there. Otherwise it is passed on unchanged and can be traced back in time to the beginning. Since females lack a Y chromosome, their DNA can give no paternal information. The Y chromosome apparently binds the X chromosome travelling with it so intermingling of that X chromosome is skipped for that generation. This was the main scientific information I gleaned.Ancestry is a fascinating and addicting hobby so this book was interesting from the point of view from humanities, surveying philosophy, history, politics, psychology, sociology. The history of the Mormon data bank was impelling. There was current information about the companies that are selling DNA analyses, and their history and what they do and do not do. It seems that many people put online their family trees according to family history and surnames, and more information is gained from that than from any DNA analysis."The Worst Idea in History" was an interesting chapter. It discusses how breeding sheep and Darwin's theories led to the idea of human racial purity and eugenics which Hitler adopted and made government policy. The United States governments also adopted a eugenics policy, and from 1907 and into the 1970's people who were considered tainted or abnormal were forcibly sterilized so that their DNA would not be perpetuated.There were chapters on how the Romans affected Britain, how the genes of Genghis Khan affected millions, African slavery, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings (his first wife's half-sister who was 75% white), the Melangeons, Neanderthals, Denisovans, and Australian ancestry. This author is Australian and there was interesting information about convicts and aborigines.To paraphrase an interesting quote from a man with an IQ of 84: "Humans are nothing but carriers for genes. They ride us like racehorses from generation to generation. Genes don't think about good and evil. They don't care if we're happy or sad. We are just a means to an end for them, the only thing they think about is what makes the ride for them."
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  • charlie
    January 1, 1970
    an absolute mess of a book which put me in a bad mood every time I picked it up. lacking in structure or focus. ambles through its alleged topic without a point of view. most deceptive is the title which falsely promises a cohesive summary of Dna science . if I'm not mistaken "Dna" isn't even mentioned until the midway point of the book. and this is most certainly not a history of the human race invisible or visible. good riddance.
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  • Eric
    January 1, 1970
    I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures seeks to show how "the concept of ancestry can bring genetics and history together fruitfully." Author Christine Kenneally is very successful in this objective, weaving together stories of genealogy, historical records, and genetic science. She divides the book into three sections:I. Ideas About What Is Passed Down Are Passed Down - a somew I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures seeks to show how "the concept of ancestry can bring genetics and history together fruitfully." Author Christine Kenneally is very successful in this objective, weaving together stories of genealogy, historical records, and genetic science. She divides the book into three sections:I. Ideas About What Is Passed Down Are Passed Down - a somewhat awkward way of describing the four chapters that deal with the negative perceptions of genealogy, hidden family histories, and the terrible ideas behind eugenics and the Third Reich's racial doctrines. Kenneally explores the way that our genealogical history has been tied to social status and a sense of belonging in exclusive groups.II. What is Passed Down? - a mix of information on genealogy and DNA. Kenneally also uses this section to talk about what is not passed down - those parts of our past that we remain silent about.III. How What Is Passed Down Shapes Bodies and Minds - two short chapters on how our family history or the information in our genes affect us today. These continue the conversations in section II to give a modern look at how our society thinks about these issues.I think the best parts of The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures are those sections that help to illuminate how each of us is part of a broader fabric that extends backwards and forwards in time. In "Do Not Ask What Gets Passed Down," Kenneally writes:We live in a temporal envelope. For most of us the horizon extends forward maybe two generations and back just two or three. It is hard to break out of the mind-set that we stand at a crucial center point of that span and that all the people who came before were merely precursors to us. It isn't until you populate the family tree that it becomes clear how brief a human life is, how soon it is over, and how you only play a bit part in a story line that expands out and contracts back and goes off in directions that no one can predict or control.Kenneally also is careful to point out that, despite the modern advances in recording information and examining our genetic code, modern technologies and businesses are incredibly temporary. From the Domesday genealogical information burned on to laser discs that can no longer be read to the genetic testing company sold and your information sold with it, we need to be cautious in how we proceed with documenting and sharing our histories.
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  • Rebecca
    January 1, 1970
    Normally, this would be the kind of book I would walk right past in a bookshop. Science, race, identity. Shudder. But, two things happened: - Black Inc. send out a monthly email, and this book was on special as an ebook - this book was shortlisted for The Stella PrizeSo, I began reading the book on my ipad (not something I have successfully done to date) expecting it wouldn't be too interesting... only to discover her writing style is marvellous and I couldn't resist reading more.Still struggli Normally, this would be the kind of book I would walk right past in a bookshop. Science, race, identity. Shudder. But, two things happened: - Black Inc. send out a monthly email, and this book was on special as an ebook - this book was shortlisted for The Stella PrizeSo, I began reading the book on my ipad (not something I have successfully done to date) expecting it wouldn't be too interesting... only to discover her writing style is marvellous and I couldn't resist reading more.Still struggling with ebooks, I dashed to the local library and finished reading this as an old fashioned paper and ink book - which relates nicely to the story in the book about The Doomsday Book II. And that is the thing, the way this book is constructed is what makes it magic. With a background in journalism and science, Christine Kenneally uses 'information strung together with anecdote and narrative' to share research and ideas and then supported and tied together with stories and anecdotes.Looking at genealogy, genetic research, records, archaeological evidence and theory the author demonstrates how ideas of personal traits (both physical and behavioral) could possibly be shaped and handed down from our ancestors many, many generations ago and what this shows.Why do people search for their family history and what do they do with what they find? What does this say about us? All sensitively presented, supported and discussed. I loved reading this book and have talked excitedly to others about reading it. The Lifted Brow wrote a great piece about the author and the her work and I feel that I would like to go back and reread parts of the book again.An excellent book that I think doesn't get the attention it deserves.
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  • DebsD
    January 1, 1970
    The title of this is very misleading; I (along with many other readers, clearly) expected something different: more about genes, more about DNA, more *science*. I don't think that expectation is unreasonable, especially given the subtitle of the book. Although it claims to be "how DNA and..." does something, DNA isn't even mentioned until about half-way through, and even after that, much of what is said is far more about historical events and social attitudes than it is about science. There is f The title of this is very misleading; I (along with many other readers, clearly) expected something different: more about genes, more about DNA, more *science*. I don't think that expectation is unreasonable, especially given the subtitle of the book. Although it claims to be "how DNA and..." does something, DNA isn't even mentioned until about half-way through, and even after that, much of what is said is far more about historical events and social attitudes than it is about science. There is far more here about *genealogy* - i.e. family history, finding your ancestors, etc. - than about DNA; it's really not a science book.Setting aside this mis-selling, it could still have been an entertaining and interesting read, but even there, it doesn't really live up to its promise. It's somewhat rambly, with far too much detail on far too many anecdotes about individuals and groups of people, far too much repetition, and I found that I began to skim rather than hear in detail how yet another person had a parent who wouldn't give straight answers but an aunt or uncle who gave them hints about some family secret. The author makes it clear that she is in favour of wider genetic testing and greater use of its results, but while she touches on the possible negative consequences of that, she doesn't really cover them adequately. So, 2* because I found this so disappointing.
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  • Andrew Davis
    January 1, 1970
    Expected more focus on genetics and DNA. Instead, a lot of journalistic relations of author's trips and discussions with the various individuals that are involved in genealogy and genetics. Made a few following notes:- Inside each cell of each person is a massive library of DNA, 3 billion base pairs that have been passed down to us.- Women have 2 X chromosomes, whilst men have one X and one Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is passed down from father to son as is. The X chromosome is always from th Expected more focus on genetics and DNA. Instead, a lot of journalistic relations of author's trips and discussions with the various individuals that are involved in genealogy and genetics. Made a few following notes:- Inside each cell of each person is a massive library of DNA, 3 billion base pairs that have been passed down to us.- Women have 2 X chromosomes, whilst men have one X and one Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is passed down from father to son as is. The X chromosome is always from the mother. In case when something goes wrong with the copying process there are differences between the Y of a father and that of his son.- Mothers have their own genetic markers too, but they aren’t part of the human genome. Rather, they are found in mitochondria, which float in the space between the bubble of a cell nucleus and its outer layer. Mitochondria have their own DNA, which is passed down from mothers to their children in the ovum.- Apart from the Y and X chromosomes, the rest of the genome is called the autosome. These 22 chromosome pairs are all the ones that get recombined before they are passed on.- Three major companies are involved in testing DNA: 23andMe, Family Tree DNA and Ancestry DNA.
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  • Jim Fix
    January 1, 1970
    Great writer, good reporter. But, goodness, how difficult to follow. To do it over, I might start with the Epilogue, then move to the last chapter. That's the only way I can figure to understand what points she is making. Somebody should have helped her organize this rambling thing. The author could take some clues from great educators: Tell us what you will say and why. Then say it. Repeatedly, I was following some path of information, simply to see it disappear, or later be disavowed entirely. Great writer, good reporter. But, goodness, how difficult to follow. To do it over, I might start with the Epilogue, then move to the last chapter. That's the only way I can figure to understand what points she is making. Somebody should have helped her organize this rambling thing. The author could take some clues from great educators: Tell us what you will say and why. Then say it. Repeatedly, I was following some path of information, simply to see it disappear, or later be disavowed entirely. Probably the biggest point is that cultures can last a long, long time. And that's surprising? To me the most important information involved all the evidence why, when we try to trace our ancestors, we come to severely incorrect conclusions. Clandestine, and other forms of questionable relationships, have been wildly under-acknowledged, even when the "data"--weddings, birth certificates, etc. seem to point otherwise.
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  • Bob Nichols
    January 1, 1970
    The book summarizes the information that is covered elsewhere – e.g., the interest in and concerns about the use of genealogical information, its misuse (eugenics), DNA’s role in passing along physical characteristics and health problems, and the use of DNA to trace migration patterns of early humans (and the intermixing with Neanderthals). The book pulls together and updates the information and puts it in one place, but the title and subtitle, and hype on back flap, oversells. The book is not a The book summarizes the information that is covered elsewhere – e.g., the interest in and concerns about the use of genealogical information, its misuse (eugenics), DNA’s role in passing along physical characteristics and health problems, and the use of DNA to trace migration patterns of early humans (and the intermixing with Neanderthals). The book pulls together and updates the information and puts it in one place, but the title and subtitle, and hype on back flap, oversells. The book is not about the deep DNA structures that discuss the evolution of behavior and it is not “a wholly original book” that, from the back cover, “shows us how our societies and our selves got to be the way they are.” It is, though, “first-class story telling.”
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  • Negar
    January 1, 1970
    Learned some new things about genes which was interesting.
  • Peter Mcloughlin
    January 1, 1970
    Ancestry according to the author is a subject that brings about an animus in many and great number of people have no small disdain for people involved in Genealogy. It bespeaks of an unhealthy interest in pedigree, snobbery and a tinge of Eugenics. Besides the right wing associations it is also true that most of use in modern societies want to be our own person and genealogy seems to erode the idea self made individual. As a result most of us only know our ancestors down to two or three generat Ancestry according to the author is a subject that brings about an animus in many and great number of people have no small disdain for people involved in Genealogy. It bespeaks of an unhealthy interest in pedigree, snobbery and a tinge of Eugenics. Besides the right wing associations it is also true that most of use in modern societies want to be our own person and genealogy seems to erode the idea self made individual. As a result most of us only know our ancestors down to two or three generations before they disappear in the mists of time. We are if we are lucky will know two or three generations that come after us. This is a limited horizon in time. Our roots however connect in an uninterrupted chain of generation going back to the first life 4 billion years ago. Aside guilty pleasure of linking ourselves to famous ancestors the desire to know our roots and the thread that connects us to all who came before us is a natural desire. Where do I come from is a deeply felt question and the answers in the book show the lines of pedigree instead of dividing humanity tend to link us together. The exponential growth in ancestors as one goes back by generation leads to the fact that if one goes back far enough into the past that we all share many of the same ancestors. The book also covers the well known darkside of an unhealthy interest in genes and ancestors. The eugenics movement being the most egregious example being a wave that passed through both North America and Europe with horrific consequences in both places. Fairly entertaining look at the history of our fascination with our ancestors. 6/23/16 I will stand by most of this review. If I had anything to add you will see it in my status updates from my second encounter with this book.
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  • Vegantrav
    January 1, 1970
    I was expecting this book to have far more examples from rigid scientific and empirical studies, but it provided more of an anecdotal approach, which still proved to be very interesting. This is not to say that the author excluded more traditional experimental studies from this work but only that she relied less on this approach and more on individual case studies.The first few chapters focused so strongly on specific examples with so little emphasis rigorous experimental data that their role as I was expecting this book to have far more examples from rigid scientific and empirical studies, but it provided more of an anecdotal approach, which still proved to be very interesting. This is not to say that the author excluded more traditional experimental studies from this work but only that she relied less on this approach and more on individual case studies.The first few chapters focused so strongly on specific examples with so little emphasis rigorous experimental data that their role as exemplars was not as strong as they might otherwise have been, but the examples were still of such quality as both to hold the reader's attention as well as to shed some light on the larger picture of human ancestry and inter-relatedness.All in all, this was a fascinating read describing in many close, personal examples how we humans are related and how our ancestry has shaped who we are.
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  • Azita Rassi
    January 1, 1970
    Very well written. The content is presented in an absorbing fashion that feels accessible even for a lay person like me, yet it is as finely organized as a dissertation. It was the best non-fiction book I read in 2017, a year in which I read several great non-fictions in various fields. This book made me so interested in genetics that I’ve signed up for a course on the subject offered by Duke University on Coursera.
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  • Thomas S Berg
    January 1, 1970
    Got me curiousIntrigued me enough to order a genetic sequencing kit from 23andMe. Soon enough I'll know how Neanderthal I am and how much of my Norse appearance is really from wandering Swedes.
  • Marie-Therese
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent and very accessible book. Kenneally starts with the personal and moves fluidly into the historical then the universal, touching on issues of heritage, politics, ethnicity, medicine and the human future along the way.
  • Maria-Paula
    January 1, 1970
    Received as a ARC. A very interesting read that explores our human genetics. Provides a rich history of our earliest ancestors that will leave you thinking. Can tell research was very well done. Would definitely recommend to a friend.
  • Jennifer
    January 1, 1970
    I really enjoyed this book. I liked her style of writing, explanations, and examples. It gave me so much to think about and increased a desire to learn more about DNA and how it affects me and those around me.
  • Mai Huong
    January 1, 1970
    wasn't sure what the book is about
  • Rachel (Sfogs)
    January 1, 1970
    This book I found extremely interested. I was really hooked. I'm now sad it's finished.
  • Angie
    January 1, 1970
    I got a copy of this book from the giveaways program on Goodreads.When I received this book, I jumped right into it, looking forward to it, and then struggled through the first 100 pages or so. I kept putting it down. The first section is a defense of geneology, as if the author wants to defend her interest in the subject against many nameless critics who said that the field is only for ego-maniacs and Nazis. It was tiresome. She was defending her right to study something that her readers inevit I got a copy of this book from the giveaways program on Goodreads.When I received this book, I jumped right into it, looking forward to it, and then struggled through the first 100 pages or so. I kept putting it down. The first section is a defense of geneology, as if the author wants to defend her interest in the subject against many nameless critics who said that the field is only for ego-maniacs and Nazis. It was tiresome. She was defending her right to study something that her readers inevitably already want her to study. We picked this book up -- we're on board. Don't defend yourself before you've said anything.But after that, the book finally got going. She pulled a combination of DNA results, historic population patterns, and geneology to put together an interesting case for what we can know about our pasts and futures. She's from Australia and lives in the UK, so examples from those areas were common, but her point was not to be all-inclusive. Her point was that it's amazing what we can learn about ourselves and to give some concrete examples. The current distribution of DNA in rural UK lines up with centuries-long histories of conquering peoples. The rural population of the UK tends to stay in the same place, not moving from region to region, so they still mirror the population distribution of 1600 or so. You can pick out from that map of today's DNA where the Romans and then Saxons invaded. That's pretty awesome. She also made some interesting points about our values and economies. She highlighted one researchers theory that the regions in western Africa that lost the highest population to slavery have a history of distrust (it's not clear whether it came from the slave trade or predated it, in which case it fostered the slave trade) and are also the regions that are doing the worst in today's economy. Okay, that's not enough to convince me of true causality, but it's a correlation that's terribly interesting. She compared pogroms against Jews during the Black Death in the region that eventually become Germany to the pattern of enforcement of the Nazi laws against Jews during WWII -- those that did terribly things to Jews in the Middle Ages were terrible to them in the 1940s, and leniency in the 1940s can be traced to a lack of pogroms in the Middle ages. Prejudices and history of violence are more important than we think, over far longer time scales than we previously imagined.So after the first 100 pages, this became really amazing to me. She pointed out connections I hadn't heard before. She pointed out how useful surnames were in filling out DNA profiles. She made her point how important it is to pull from several different academic fields to piece our history together, and made a startling good case that our history affects us more today than we think. Or than I think. So it was a successful, interesting book.
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  • Peter Geyer
    January 1, 1970
    Covers or titles of books can encourage or discourage a read or a purchase, and can be outside the control of an author. C.G. Jung wrote that the title of his book The Undiscovered Self was invented by his American publisher, and that he "would never have thought of it, as the self is not really undiscovered, it is merely ignored or misunderstood. Perhaps sardonically, he commented "for the American public it seems to have been the right term."The clincher for ultimate purchase of this book was Covers or titles of books can encourage or discourage a read or a purchase, and can be outside the control of an author. C.G. Jung wrote that the title of his book The Undiscovered Self was invented by his American publisher, and that he "would never have thought of it, as the self is not really undiscovered, it is merely ignored or misunderstood. Perhaps sardonically, he commented "for the American public it seems to have been the right term."The clincher for ultimate purchase of this book was that it enabled me to get other books on a 3 for 2 basis, and I did so with some misgivings, as the title seemed more definitive than might be allowed and I dislike authors telling me that I must do X or think Y when I don't. The popular science area is full of such claims: even outside that, Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind, a purchase made more recently on the same basis displays the author's confidence that what he says is right and that you will enjoy him telling you this over many pages, without nuance or subtlety.Christine Kenneally is a much better writer than that, although this book hovers all too often between the kind of American English that starts sentences with "Recall" or "Consider" – a strategy that annoys me, at least in part because I think it is poor English in any version – and a more discursive kind which is more in tune with her stated Australian background. Actually this change of style occurs a few times in this book, apart from the beginnings of sentences, which points to inadequate editing.I wonder, too, whether the title of this book was agreeable, as it reads as "Haidt-like" and I would be embarrassed to have any reviewer say that a book I wrote was "most fun" let alone have it places on the cover. Actually, there are 3 pages of various comments before you get to the book itself, which I find intrusive. Perhaps the publisher thinks that readers will only buy something because someone tells them they should, which is extremely disappointing, particularly as they may actually be right in their thinking.Anyway, the content is the thing, at least for me and there's a lot of interesting things here. The book purports to be about DNA, and for the most part that's correct, but a broader theme is people's origins – family history, for instance, which the author depicts as quite a maligned enterprise, amongst historians at any rate. I can partly understand this disdain, because history is a complex area and some family historians, I've encountered, perhaps better described as people interested in family ancestry, appear blissfully unaware of what might crudely be called the broader picture. I'm a fifth-generation European Australian, with my paternal forebears arriving here in Melbourne from India in 1857. Apparently originally minor German nobility, which doesn't mean much if you read about the history of that country, particularly the Holy Roman Empire, it's always been of fascination to me and I did a little looking around a few decades ago. Not long ago I had a discussion on this topic with a cousin of mine, of a similar age to me, because he was going to Germany with his eldest daughter ato have a look around. This was a good thing as far as I was concerned, but he lacked the historical context and mindset. So that's a caveat. But there's all this information and many archives, notably the efforts of the Mormon church, and surely this interest is a good thing and can open up an understanding of the past, people in the past and the current situation. Kenneally takes the reader on various journeys here, commenting on the tendency of many Australians (not me) to be excited about their convict origins, until recent times not something people would really shout about. There are some interesting stories about what families do and don't tell their members about the past and their origins and they are well-told.DNA overlaps with the ancestry enterprise and Kenneally explains as best she can the process of what might be called a DNA swab and what it can reveal, outlining the process made over the years. This is a controversial area historically, as DNA isn't exactly a linear, mechanistic process, in that not everything gets passed on for a variety of reasons. Generalisations made about the origins of particular peoples and cultures have been made from this information and are very informative. On the other hand, the eminent classical historian Mary Beard has pointed out that there appears no genetic record of the Normans in Britain, yet they were certainly there, and in numbers. So it depends on who you have in your sample in some respects. I don't wish to dismiss the work Kenneally reports on, by the way as I have a couple of books here that use this DNA information to suggest something about origins of Europeans, and of course the British.The other part of DNA is what you don't want to know, which is more than not wanting to have a convict ancestor, or that your family isn't your biological family and/or a parent not your parent. So we are taken through the inherited Huntingdon's disease, consanguinity in the form of the Samaritans and the marriage practices of certain groups in what seems to be the usual journalistic fashion of telling particular stories. I got lost here, possibly with some of the detail surrounding the p[eople involved and the nature of DNA itself, which is not to say it wasn't of interest.A subtext here is the notion of race, which is a contested topic demanding an understanding of the recent history of eugenics including the recognition that Nazi Germany wasn't alone in sterilization programs and the like for people deemed "unfit" and the countries involved included Australia, the US and the UK. There's a good discussion here. Many people have appeared unaware that these kinds of ideas are held by all sorts of people regarding the superiority of one "race" over another and so have been surprised and startled by the recent upsurge of activity by particular groups. This surprises me, in that dealing with people, even in an informal way, exposes you to their prejudices, and they to yours for that matter and I wonder whether the surprised and startled have thought that just because they have come to the conclusion that all humans are equal that everyone else must also have come to that conclusion, easy to think, but also startlingly naive and not only on issues of racial differences. Part of this thinking, in my limited experience, can come from educated people (i.e. people with some kind of academic qualification) who may accept carte blanche the idea that because humans have a common origin that there's no such thing as race, when there are people all over the world acting on the presumption that there are differences, benignly and otherwise. For me it is obvious there are different kinds of people, with different desires and perspectives, whether they look the same as me or not. Kenneally quotes an academic anthropological source that states physical differences "have no meaning except the social ones people put on them," in order to comment that DNA research shows that physical differences are important, not in the eugenics sense of superior beings and disposing of the unfit, but that some people are more susceptible to a disease or problem than others, whilst others appear better adapted to their environment and so on.I must admit that the similarity/difference juxtaposition presented in this book was interesting to follow. It's a useful and appropriate set of opposites in this field and in this topic.I'll look out for another book by this author, with the wish that she's better served by publishers and the internal language style is more consistent.
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  • Vanessa Meachen
    January 1, 1970
    This is one of the most extraordinary and interesting books I've read in a long time; the best way I can describe it is an investigation of, in the author's words, "the way that history affects DNA and the way that DNA affects history, with both together acting on some version of us." Some reviewers seem to have assumed it would all be about DNA and what it reveals about human societies, but it's much more nuanced and complicated than that. Social history and family history affect who we are and This is one of the most extraordinary and interesting books I've read in a long time; the best way I can describe it is an investigation of, in the author's words, "the way that history affects DNA and the way that DNA affects history, with both together acting on some version of us." Some reviewers seem to have assumed it would all be about DNA and what it reveals about human societies, but it's much more nuanced and complicated than that. Social history and family history affect who we are and which parts of our DNA are switched on and off. One of the most fascinating (and sad) parts of the book was discovering that the centuries of slave trading affected many African countries not just in the ongoing impact on their economies but even in the way people think about and trust one another. We're affected by so much social and personal history, from whether our ancestors were wheat-growing or rice-growing, to which groups mixed with which, who was shunned or kept to marrying within small groups, who moved and who stayed put. What this confirms for me - apart from the fact that my investigations of my own DNA and ancestry aren't just whims - is that we're all shaped by both our genetic and social backgrounds, and then we reshape ourselves constantly as we move forward in life. We are neither fixed by the past, nor are we untouched by it. We are not blank slates. Even for someone who doesn't share my interests in DNA and history and genealogy, I think this is a good read.
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  • Mary
    January 1, 1970
    Excellent book. Kenneally has a gift for explaining complex concepts, and I learned a lot about history, genealogy, and DNA, mostly in the context of interesting personal stories, both about the author and her family and about other people and their families. The chapter on the political issues surrounding genetic information (and specifically the concept of race) was especially thought-provoking, but the whole book was a great read. It's one of those big-picture books that makes me feel like I' Excellent book. Kenneally has a gift for explaining complex concepts, and I learned a lot about history, genealogy, and DNA, mostly in the context of interesting personal stories, both about the author and her family and about other people and their families. The chapter on the political issues surrounding genetic information (and specifically the concept of race) was especially thought-provoking, but the whole book was a great read. It's one of those big-picture books that makes me feel like I've stepped back far enough to see a bigger panorama of space and time than I usually do, which is one of my favorite reading experiences.Kenneally did a pretty even-handed job, IMO, of discussing some of the drawbacks of genetic testing for individuals and populations, while overall making a case for learning more about who we are genetically. Before I read this book, I was pretty sure that I wanted to have my DNA analyzed by 23andMe or one of the other companies that does it. I'm a bit hesitant now. I learned a lot in this book about how genealogy services are using DNA information, and that was really exciting. However, before going ahead, I need to think about what I learned in this book for a while, especially about the ways that genetic information and family history affect our sense of who we are. I'm glad to have some added context that will help me if/when I do get my DNA analyzed and maybe plug myself into a genealogical network.
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  • Ely
    January 1, 1970
    Originally posted at A Book So Fathomless3.5 starsMy experience with non-fiction is limited to textbooks, and other things I’ve been forced to read over the years for class. I don’t hate non-fiction, but I don’t love it either. I think I’m more of a literary based non-fiction reader, so biographies of authors, or literary criticism – that sort of thing.I just wanted to mention this because I think this book is probably really good, but it’s just not my sort of thing. I wish I could say I was sti Originally posted at A Book So Fathomless3.5 starsMy experience with non-fiction is limited to textbooks, and other things I’ve been forced to read over the years for class. I don’t hate non-fiction, but I don’t love it either. I think I’m more of a literary based non-fiction reader, so biographies of authors, or literary criticism – that sort of thing.I just wanted to mention this because I think this book is probably really good, but it’s just not my sort of thing. I wish I could say I was still interested in science, but honestly I think I left that behind at high school.I’m sure a lot of people would really enjoy this, and I did personally like sections. I really loved the first part of the book that looked at genealogy in Western society and elsewhere. The chapter about genealogy in Nazi Germany was particularly interesting. But sometimes, the science behind it all just got a little too much for me.I think the writing style was great too. I loved how personal it was and I definitely laughed a few times which I wasn’t really expecting. Even though I have a very basic knowledge of most of the things covered in this book and even though I wasn’t passionate about any of it, the writing was so engaging that I kept reading long after where I would have usually given up.Basically, this is a great book, just not my kind of book.
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  • Sam Dye
    January 1, 1970
    She has the ability to weave voluminous research into a very readable book. The topics covered are unexpected and made me anticipate each transition to the next subject. Just a few facts from one chapter: The first-draft sequence of Neanderhal DNA was published in 2010 and by 2014 it was published that 1-3% Europeans have small pieces of the Neanderthal genome scattered in our DNA. Asians have a different ancient group Denisovans DNA and Africans have a third group yet un-named in their DNA. Nat She has the ability to weave voluminous research into a very readable book. The topics covered are unexpected and made me anticipate each transition to the next subject. Just a few facts from one chapter: The first-draft sequence of Neanderhal DNA was published in 2010 and by 2014 it was published that 1-3% Europeans have small pieces of the Neanderthal genome scattered in our DNA. Asians have a different ancient group Denisovans DNA and Africans have a third group yet un-named in their DNA. Native Americans originated in a small population from Siberia and came to North America less than 18,000 years ago and spread down the Pacific Coast into South American and then eastward. When humans left Africa 60,000 years ago they weren't the first. There have been 120,000 year old skeletons found in caves in Israel, but they are not in our ancestral line. There is a wealth of other interesting stories on diseases, prejudice and isolated populations and even the genetic analysis of animals (rodents) they brought with them. A quote from the start of the book: "One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present." Golda Meir The author tells of her own quest to find out about her convict ancestors in Australia and how this book grew from that activity. Well done! An intriguing book. My next goal is to get her earlier book on the origen of language The First Word
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  • Rachel
    January 1, 1970
    Warning: this book may trigger an existential crisis. This very well-researched book takes a crack at tackling the history, cultural implications, and current science of heritability, ancestry, genealogy, and genetics. In addition to the hard science, Kenneally introduces important questions about our motivations for seeking this kind of knowledge about ourselves, and the potential risks in finding (or not finding) the answers we seek. I thought that the author's breakdown of very dense scientif Warning: this book may trigger an existential crisis. This very well-researched book takes a crack at tackling the history, cultural implications, and current science of heritability, ancestry, genealogy, and genetics. In addition to the hard science, Kenneally introduces important questions about our motivations for seeking this kind of knowledge about ourselves, and the potential risks in finding (or not finding) the answers we seek. I thought that the author's breakdown of very dense scientific topics was very approachable, although there were chapters that tried to cover too much ground and got a bit unfocused and shallow. However, I thought that the chapters about the rapidity of advances in genetics and the limitations of the field were also really intriguing. I also enjoyed the discussion of how different countries and cultures think about and use this technology as it is to grapple with our genetic inheritances. This book digs into the link between history and genetics, and often talks about historical atrocities in an unflinching and occasionally overwhelmingly emotional way. While sometimes emotionally challenging, I think the discussions were important and worthwhile and I had never considered them from this perspective. I would love to see more work from this author that follows the developments in this field.
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  • David Quinn
    January 1, 1970
    Christine Kenneally does a very nice job blending history, anecdote, social science and genetics to motivate her audience to ponder who we are, how we fit together currently and through time and why we didn't pay more attention when we studied DNA and genetics in high school. I remembered some genetics basics but wished I had a better understanding of that field as I read the last several chapters. If the subject of DNA and genetics is a turn off then this probably is a book that should be skipp Christine Kenneally does a very nice job blending history, anecdote, social science and genetics to motivate her audience to ponder who we are, how we fit together currently and through time and why we didn't pay more attention when we studied DNA and genetics in high school. I remembered some genetics basics but wished I had a better understanding of that field as I read the last several chapters. If the subject of DNA and genetics is a turn off then this probably is a book that should be skipped.Kenneally's greatest strength is her storytelling and her ability to make her subjects interesting and relatable. I found that I loved the beginning to middle of every chapter and was less enthusiastic about the last quarter of each chapter. It's not that those sections were bad so much as that's where she tended to get into the technical aspects of the subject matter and they were just never as good as the histories or anecdotes that came earlier. For me she was a victim of her own success.The earlier chapters are based more on genealogy and sociology whereas the middle chapters to the end of the book tended to be more oriented towards DNA and genetics. Her easy and humorous style remains throughout the book.
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