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A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes

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This is a story about you. It is the history of who you are and how you came to be. It is unique to you, as it is to each of the 100 billion modern humans who have ever drawn breath. But it is also our collective story, because in every one of our genomes we each carry the history of our species - births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration and a lot of sex. Since scient This is a story about you. It is the history of who you are and how you came to be. It is unique to you, as it is to each of the 100 billion modern humans who have ever drawn breath. But it is also our collective story, because in every one of our genomes we each carry the history of our species - births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration and a lot of sex. Since scientists first read the human genome in 2001 it has been subject to all sorts of claims, counterclaims and myths. In fact, as Adam Rutherford explains, our genomes should be read not as instruction manuals, but as epic poems. DNA determines far less than we have been led to believe about us as individuals, but vastly more about us as a species. In this captivating journey through the expanding landscape of genetics, Adam Rutherford reveals what our genes now tell us about history, and what history tells us about our genes. From Neanderthals to murder, from redheads to race, dead kings to plague, evolution to epigenetics, this is a demystifying and illuminating new portrait of who we are and how we came to be.


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This is a story about you. It is the history of who you are and how you came to be. It is unique to you, as it is to each of the 100 billion modern humans who have ever drawn breath. But it is also our collective story, because in every one of our genomes we each carry the history of our species - births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration and a lot of sex. Since scient This is a story about you. It is the history of who you are and how you came to be. It is unique to you, as it is to each of the 100 billion modern humans who have ever drawn breath. But it is also our collective story, because in every one of our genomes we each carry the history of our species - births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration and a lot of sex. Since scientists first read the human genome in 2001 it has been subject to all sorts of claims, counterclaims and myths. In fact, as Adam Rutherford explains, our genomes should be read not as instruction manuals, but as epic poems. DNA determines far less than we have been led to believe about us as individuals, but vastly more about us as a species. In this captivating journey through the expanding landscape of genetics, Adam Rutherford reveals what our genes now tell us about history, and what history tells us about our genes. From Neanderthals to murder, from redheads to race, dead kings to plague, evolution to epigenetics, this is a demystifying and illuminating new portrait of who we are and how we came to be.

30 review for A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes

  1. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    It’s hard to find a modern book on race which will tell you what is the current scientific thinking, given the remarkable progress of genetics and the unravelling of the human genome and all that. There are a thousand books on racism, but hardly any on race. Isn’t that curious? I believe that may be because scientists realise it’s a hornet’s nest and they prefer not to stick their heads in. I recently heard of Nicholas Wade’s A Troubling Inheritance (2014) but before I got to that one I found thi It’s hard to find a modern book on race which will tell you what is the current scientific thinking, given the remarkable progress of genetics and the unravelling of the human genome and all that. There are a thousand books on racism, but hardly any on race. Isn’t that curious? I believe that may be because scientists realise it’s a hornet’s nest and they prefer not to stick their heads in. I recently heard of Nicholas Wade’s A Troubling Inheritance (2014) but before I got to that one I found this one, which turns out to be pretty much what I was looking for – a third of it anyway, the other two thirds is above my head. But first, what can genetics do for you? SCIENTISTS HAVE DISCOVERED THE GENE FOR RIDICULOUS SCIENTIFIC CLAIMS Adam Rutherford does a search on Google : “Scientists discover the gene for”. It gets him thousands of headlines from every type of publication “from the trashy to the august”. Scientists discover the gene for cocaine addiction (Guardian 11 November 2008) Scientists discover height gene (BBC Outline, 3 September 2007) Scientists have discovered an “anxiety gene” (Daily Mail, 19 July 2002) Scientists find “gay gene” that can help predict your sexuality (Daily Mirror, 9 October 2015) Scientists find gene for compulsive reviewing of books on Goodreads (Okay, I made that one up) Adam Rutherford holds his head in his hands and moans slightly. Then he writes this book, the message of which is It’s much more complicated than that. Mainly this book is a deflating mythbusting exercise – you can’t check anyone’s DNA and find out what percentage of her is from the Sudan and what percentage is Viking. It’s a bit disappointing really – I wanted to ask Dr Rutherford, well, what can you tell me? Never mind about what you can’t. He likes to say what you can’t do. RACE One of the things he thinks genetics can do and has done is show that scientifically speaking, there’s no such thing as race. This was the best part of the book. I like it when people draw a line in the sand. Actually, in this case, he’s obliterating the many previous lines which have been drawn in the sand. there are no essential genetic elements for any particular group of people who might be identified as a “race”. As far as genetics is concerned, race does not exist…. This does not align with the popular concept of race. He hastily adds That, of course, does not mean that racism doesn’t exist. Okay, he’s willing to say that there may be other interpretations: The question of what race means from a scientific point of view is complex, controversial and still a source of great ire and debate. But that doesn’t last long : Biology fundamentally deceives our eyes. Genetically, two black people are more likely to be more different to each other than a black person and a white person…. The genes that confer skin pigmentation are few, but mask a level of deeper genetic variation within Africa than without. JEWISH SONGWRITERS, BLACK ATHLETES So then we get to the ticklish question – what about when it appears to be clear that a particular “race” appears to be BETTER at some activity than other “races”? Is it racist to say that, for instance, Jewish Americans have been consistently brilliant at writing popular music for about a hundred years? (This is something which particularly fascinates me.) All the way from Gershwin and Rodgers and Hart to Goffin and King and Greenwich and Barry and on to Randy Newman, Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen – the list is endless. Is it in their genes? Dr Rutherford picks another obvious example, black athletes. It turns out : there is no genetic component. He says robustly: The idea that black people are better at sport because of genetics, and possibly because of breeding during the wicked centuries of slavery, is built upon tissue foundations, and its cultural ubiquity yet another example of the chasm between what we think and what science says is true. Well, it’s a curious thing. Adam Rutherford along with other geneticists say very clearly that race does not exist, but of course as we know every day the world ignores this and proceeds on the assumption that everyone is a member of a discrete race, or is to be classified as mixed race. So it all becomes rather like atheists arguing that there’s no God when almost everyone in the world operates on the assumption that there is. I think we must conclude that the human race, speaking generally, does not much care what scientists say is real or not real. There’s just no telling them. They just stick their fingers in their ears and say to people like Adam Rutherford “la la la la, we’re not listening”.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lois Bujold

    That should be 3 1/2, really. Well, hm. That was very... British. In the sense that its assumed core audience was Brit, and a lot of the references and examples aimed at them. I watch enough PBS and read enough Britlit not to be wholly at sea, but I noticed in a way that might be invisible to the intended audience. The writer almost always corrects the casual assumption that his reader will be male, but he misses a few subtle spots. (Dear lord English desperately needs a generally accepted, unclum That should be 3 1/2, really. Well, hm. That was very... British. In the sense that its assumed core audience was Brit, and a lot of the references and examples aimed at them. I watch enough PBS and read enough Britlit not to be wholly at sea, but I noticed in a way that might be invisible to the intended audience. The writer almost always corrects the casual assumption that his reader will be male, but he misses a few subtle spots. (Dear lord English desperately needs a generally accepted, unclumsy gender-neutral pronoun besides the plural "they", which only works sometimes.) It was about 50% the book I was hoping for, an account of the latest findings in deep human history and evolution from DNA evidence. Many of the examples were things I already knew about, because PBS. There was a lot of patiently attempting to explain how science really works, from a scientist/science journalist who is clearly deeply pained by how headlines and pop science news and the general public consistently get it wrong; remedial science education, on the fly. The other 50% was more about the current intersections of genetics and social and legal issues. Written in a chatty modern style. Lots of personal anecdotes, and some opinions, partly to try to lighten the density of the material perhaps, partly to illustrate it. I have another book on order from the library from 2018 that would appear to cover some of the same ground, with updates perhaps -- and Rutherford is right that updates in this fast-moving field are happening every week. We'll see if the paired readings complement each other. Ta, L. * -- Oh. And do read the footnotes. As is common, much of the fun stuff is concealed therein.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael Perkins

    “What genes are and what they tell us about people are very closely related, but not, in almost all cases, definitive. This is a seam that will run throughout this book, confronting and dispelling the culturally ubiquitous idea that genes are fate, and a certain type of any one gene will determine exactly what an individual is like. That this is a fallacy is universally known among geneticists, yet it is still an idea that carries a lot of cultural significance, fueled frequently by the media an “What genes are and what they tell us about people are very closely related, but not, in almost all cases, definitive. This is a seam that will run throughout this book, confronting and dispelling the culturally ubiquitous idea that genes are fate, and a certain type of any one gene will determine exactly what an individual is like. That this is a fallacy is universally known among geneticists, yet it is still an idea that carries a lot of cultural significance, fueled frequently by the media and an ultra-simplistic understanding of the absurd complexities of human biology...... ......When we look to the past and to our presumed genetic ancestry to understand and explain our own behaviors today, it is not much better than astrology. The genes of your forebears have very little influence over you. Unless you carry a particular disease that has passed down the family tree, the unending shuffling of genes, the dilution through generations, and the highly variably and immensely complex influence that genes have over your actual behavior mean that your ancestors have little sway over you at all." ===================== "There are no essential genetic elements for any particular group of people who might be identified as a “race.” As far as genetics is concerned, race does not exist." ==================== "With our current knowledge of the genomics of of Native Americans, there is no possibility of DNA being anywhere near a useful tool in ascribing tribal status to people. Furthermore, given our understanding of ancestry and family trees I have profound doubts that DNA could ever be used to determine tribal membership..... Over centuries, people are too mobile to have remained genetically isolated for any significant length of time. Tribes are known to have mixed before and after colonialism, which should be enough to indicate that that some notion of tribal purity is at best imagined. Genealogy companies will sell you kits that claim to grant you membership to historical peoples, albeit ill-defined, is highly romanticized. It's a kind of of genetic astrology. That hasn’t stopped the emergence of some companies in the United States that sell kits that claim to use DNA to ascribe tribal membership. The list is comprehensive, from Abenaki to Zuni. Accu-Metrics is not the only company: DNA Consultants sells a Cherokee test for $99. There is no biological test that alone can demonstrate tribal membership. These outfits state: “All tests can be done for legal purposes” and “The results of this scientific test can be used to receive a status card or tribal enrollment.” The author goes on to express full sympathy to Native Americans and their traditions and religion. And their rights. He just wants to debunk profiteers who claim to provide what is scientifically impossible at this time. Meanwhile, the author debunks several "genetic services" such as Accu-Metrics and DNA Consultants above, as well as BritainsDNA. The latter claims to have found some of the descendants of the Queen of Sheba, a mythical figure. 23andMe comes off as more solid, but has its limits. But too often the "results" from many of these other services sound like astrology: divination drawn from banality in which we tend to cling to the things that appeal, and happily ignore the rest. But the media likes to pick up on the more sensational claims. ----- Too funny: Charlemagne could be out of LOTR, with maybe some Harry Potter thrown in.... "A fecund ruler, Charlemagne sired at least eighteen children by motley wives and concubines, including nine by his second wife, Hildegard of Vinzgau. These kin included Charles the Younger, Pippin the Hunchback, Drogo of Metz, Hruodrud, Ruodhaid, Adalheid, Hludowic, and not forgetting Hugh" "Christopher Lee— the great actor who among his roles counts Dracula; Tolkien’s Saruman the White; the Man with the Golden Gun himself, Scaramanga; the fallen Jedi Count Dooku; and The Wicker Man’s Lord Summerisle— claimed direct ancestry to King Charlemagne via the ancient house of his mother, Countess Estelle Marie (née Carandini di Sarzano)....but I can say with absolute confidence that if you’re vaguely of European extraction you are also descended from Charlemagne." I have a very detailed genealogy on my father's side, going back to the arrival to America of our ancestor in 1636. But we had nothing like that on my mother's side. Her maiden name was Martel and she liked to say were were related to Charlemagne. The father of Charlemagne, was Charles Martel, known as "The Hammer" having led the Frankish troops in the Battle of Tours in turning back the invading Muslim forces from Gaul. But it seems that my mother may have been right. The population of Europe a the time of Charlemagne was small and he was very "fecund" as noted. The author explains.... "Each generation back the number of ancestors you have doubles. But this ancestral expansion is not borne back ceaselessly into the past. What this means is that pedigrees begin to fold in on themselves a few generations back and become weblike. You can be, and in fact are, descended from the same individual many times over. Your great-great-great-great-great-grandmother might hold that position in your family tree twice, or many times, as her lines of descent branch out from her, but collapse onto you. The further back through time we go, the more these lines will coalesce on fewer individuals. Basically, everyone alive in the ninth century who left descendants is the ancestor of every living European today, including Charlemagne, Drogo, Pippin and Hugh." If this seems unlikely or confusing, of course you will have to read the book to get more details. The author goes on to explain how this was demonstrated mathematically even before the incorporation of high-powered DNA. Ultimately, this kind of analysis extends beyond Europe and farther back in time, as the book explains. "When mathematician Joseph Chang factored in new, highly conservative variables, such as reducing the number of migrants across the Bering Straits to one person every ten generations, the age of the most recent common ancestor of everyone alive went up to 3,600 years ago. This number may not feel right, and when I talk about it in lectures, it often results in a frown of disbelief. We’re not very good at imagining generational time. We see families as discrete units in our lifetimes, which they are. But they’re fluid and continuous over longer periods beyond our view, and our family trees sprawl in all directions. The concluding paragraph of Chang’s otherwise tricky mathematical and highly technical study is neither of those things. It’s beautiful writing, extremely unusual in an academic paper, and it deserves to be shared in full: Our findings suggest a remarkable proposition: no matter the languages we speak or the color of our skin, we share ancestors who planted rice on the banks of the Yangtze, who first domesticated horses on the steppes of the Ukraine, who hunted giant sloths in the forests of North and South America, and who laboured to build the Great Pyramid of Khufu." ============ Darwin's half-cousin, Francis Galton, was the founder of the eugenics movement. He created a taxonomy of physical and personality attributes to determine if a person, and people, were of superior stock or "feeble." This concept was quite popular across the political spectrum. George Bernard Shaw approved, as did Winston Churchill, as did Teddy Roosevelt. But a program was not seriously implemented in Britain, but it was in the U.S., Sweden and, of course Germany. The head of the eugenics movement in America was President of Stanford University, David Starr Jordan, who was a founding member of the American Breeders Association and the Eugenics Record Office. In the U.S...... "the forced, involuntary, and often secret sterilization of undesirables was embraced enthusiastically. From 1907, when Indiana passed the first mandate, until 1963, forced sterilization was legally administered in thirty-one states, with California the most vigorous adopter. The most recent cases of forced sterilization in that famously liberal state occurred in 2010. In the twentieth century, more than 60,000 men and women, though mostly women, were sterilized for a variety of undesirable traits— men frequently to curtail the propagation of criminal behaviors. Native American women were forcibly sterilized in their thousands, and as late as the 1970s, black women with multiple children were being sterilized under the threat of withheld welfare, or in some cases without their knowledge." In 1937, the American Eugenics Society issued statements of praise for the work that the Nazis were doing to cleanse the gene pool. For them, the scale on which the Nazis were carrying out their mass sterilization was what they had wanted for America. Of course, the fullest horrors would come with the Nazi Holocaust, which not only included Jews in their millions, but also homosexual men, Roma, Poles, and people with mental illness. ---- The author discusses the futile search for a "criminal gene," supposedly a defective MAOA gene. Though sensationalized in the media, it has never been established scientifically. Although, for example, the "finding" has been conveniently ascribed to the Maori people by white scientists in New Zealand. There was also an attempt, based on a preconceived notion, to discover such a gene in Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter. The killing of 20 children, and 26 people overall, was quite horrid, but what was to blame? Video games? that he was autistic? Nope. It was the answer so many wanted to resist and what the author gives.... "We look to statistics for reassurance in these types of case. Here is one: 100 percent of mass shootings have been enabled by access to guns. I can guarantee that even if there were a genotype shared by the mass shooters, which there will not be, none of the killings would have happened if they didn’t have guns." "No one will ever find a gene for “evil,” or for beauty, or for musical genius, or for scientific genius, because they don’t exist. DNA is not destiny." ===== The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’..... https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018... ------------ Per Europe.... https://www.nature.com/news/most-euro... More on the Eugenics movement.... http://listverse.com/2014/02/05/10-th... https://www.stanforddaily.com/2016/12... ============== In keeping with the science in this book. Elizabeth Warren's DNA test proves nothing.... https://www.theatlantic.com/science/a... "The inherent imprecision of the six-page DNA analysis could provide fodder for Warren’s critics. If her great-great-great-grandmother was Native American, that puts her at 1/32nd American Indian. But the report includes the possibility that she’s just 1/1024th Native American if the ancestor is 10 generations back." Not satisfied with this, in a video that Warren released along with the analysis, she described how her mother had discussed their Native American ancestry. Family lore held that there were Cherokee and Delaware indigenous ancestors. The Cherokee Nation condemned Warren’s analysis in a statement Monday. “Using a DNA test to lay claim to any connection to the Cherokee Nation or any tribal nation, even vaguely, is inappropriate and wrong” As explained above, there is no DNA test to demonstrate direct tribal heritage, Cherokee or otherwise.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    The stories of our genes have been all over publishing right now and this is one of the best examples of how scientists can make complex subjects interesting, relevant, and fun. Adam Rutherford reads his own work, something I particularly love as it enables the author to convey the passion and enthusiasm they hold for their subject in a way that no narrator can match. And he's funny with it too. It's one of those listening experiences where you end up feeling like you've learnt something but had The stories of our genes have been all over publishing right now and this is one of the best examples of how scientists can make complex subjects interesting, relevant, and fun. Adam Rutherford reads his own work, something I particularly love as it enables the author to convey the passion and enthusiasm they hold for their subject in a way that no narrator can match. And he's funny with it too. It's one of those listening experiences where you end up feeling like you've learnt something but had a good laugh doing it. He debunks myths with dedication and humour (the section on the extinction of gingers is particularly amusing), explains the current status of research and knowledge, and offers the some idea about how much more there is to learn. It's truly fascinating. For me, as a history enthusiast, I really enjoyed the way science and history are coming together to offer insights that neither subject can do alone. For example, in genetically mapping the people of Britain, it was found that there was very little of the Roman invaders left in our genes, suggesting that while they may her left us many things within the material, cultural, and social spheres, they clearly weren't interacting with us more physically. That says a lot about the whole systems in place during a very long period. Happy to rule us, but not have sex with us clearly. Not only that, I had no idea how many different types of humans there have been, what types of remains had been found, and the ways in which scientists are using these remains to map the movements of ancient peoples. That we can see the full genome of people who lived many thousands of years ago is staggering, the we continue to pass on some of that information within our genes is incredible. This book has turned me from someone largely uninterested in the specifics of prehistory to a bit of a fan. Like a lot of history, it's a thrilling form of detective work and the science of our genes has so much to say. I very much recommend it, even if you are new to the subject, as I was. The experience reminds me of having that one favourite teacher at school- you know the one who converted you on to a specific subject and nurtured your interest. For me, it was history, not science. But Rutherford has shown me how it can be a mix of both.

  5. 5 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    'For every complicated problem there is a solution that is simple, direct, understandable, and wrong.' (H.L. Mencken) And Biology is complex. I see that it took nearly three months for me to read this. My sincere apologies to Adam Rutherford, for that length of time might constitute a reflection on his ability to engage, entertain, inform and delight. Not so, not so. I'm not sure why this stayed on my currently reading table for quite so long, because it is actually utterly fascinating. And not d 'For every complicated problem there is a solution that is simple, direct, understandable, and wrong.' (H.L. Mencken) And Biology is complex. I see that it took nearly three months for me to read this. My sincere apologies to Adam Rutherford, for that length of time might constitute a reflection on his ability to engage, entertain, inform and delight. Not so, not so. I'm not sure why this stayed on my currently reading table for quite so long, because it is actually utterly fascinating. And not daunting at all, even to the biologically illiterate (moi). Mr. Rutherford has an excellent technique of finding relatable analogies to the complexity of genome mapping, frequently using letters, words, sentences as his vehicle to make DNA understandable, and cutting down false analogies on the way, the ones that only relate one complex incomprehensible concept to another, equally unknown quantity. I was never confused, and there's a particularly useful glossary at the back so that I could go and check (yet again) what an allele is, or an SNP (single nucleotide polymorphism in case you were wondering). 'Popular science'. That sounds dismissive. How about: clear, coherent science. Plus added humour.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Katy

    It is really difficult for me to articulate my feelings after I had read this book. I found this book fascinating in the first half which focused on what genes can tell us about the origin of our species, especially the bits discussing the evidence found in the genome of ancient remains. The tone was very humorous and quite sarcastic and it was just a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the second half focusing on race and where the actual science is heading in relation to the study of the human genome, It is really difficult for me to articulate my feelings after I had read this book. I found this book fascinating in the first half which focused on what genes can tell us about the origin of our species, especially the bits discussing the evidence found in the genome of ancient remains. The tone was very humorous and quite sarcastic and it was just a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the second half focusing on race and where the actual science is heading in relation to the study of the human genome, was a bit yawn inducing. Adam Rutherford’s writing style felt quite jumbled at times and read like a stream of consciousness almost which felt odd. In my opinion, this book could have been just a tad more accessible and not bogged down with so much scantily explained jargon, the glossary also felt like an afterthought. I didn’t really feel there was a point to the book by the end. So in summary, this book starts off interesting and strong but gradually peters out by the end where I was on the verge of losing interest entirely. Still an interesting read though and I think it’s worth it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kathleen

    National Book Critics Circle Award Longlist for Nonfiction 2017. It has been roughly 15 years since the Human Genome Project determined that humans have about 20,000 genes. Surprisingly, this is less than either the roundworm or even a grain of rice. Everyone associated with the Project predicted thousands more—but they were wrong. Rutherford reports on the limits of what genes can tell us about ourselves. While they have helped us to understand the causes of some diseases; they have not helped National Book Critics Circle Award Longlist for Nonfiction 2017. It has been roughly 15 years since the Human Genome Project determined that humans have about 20,000 genes. Surprisingly, this is less than either the roundworm or even a grain of rice. Everyone associated with the Project predicted thousands more—but they were wrong. Rutherford reports on the limits of what genes can tell us about ourselves. While they have helped us to understand the causes of some diseases; they have not helped us to eradicate or cure them. The science writer/geneticist points out that the modern human genome began in Africa around 300,000 years ago and developed web-like as ancient hominins coalesced into a single species. Further, genetic research has shown that race is not identifiable in the genome. Indeed, gene research has shown that a Namibian and a Nigerian have more genetic similarities with a Swede than they do each other. “Genetics has shown that people are different and these differences cluster according to geography and culture but never in a way that aligns with the traditional concepts of human races.” Rutherford takes issue with the brash marketing claims of some DNA companies that suggest they can identify ancestry lineage down to a specific Native American tribe. Such precision is just not possible. And health claims are just as shaky. For example, the gene marker associated with Alzheimer’s does not ensure they will get the disease. Nor does the absence of the gene marker protect them. Recommend this gene overview by the popular science writer.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Tanja Berg

    This book explores the latest discoveries made from are genes. The human genome was first laid bare in 2003 or so, and since then a lot has happened. However, this books makes abundantly clear that complex human behavior cannot be explained by genes alone. It is not "nature versus nurture" but "nature via nurture". The books also picks apart our definition of race, the ones that are based on how we look. It is fairly meaningless since there are more differences in the genes within "racial" group This book explores the latest discoveries made from are genes. The human genome was first laid bare in 2003 or so, and since then a lot has happened. However, this books makes abundantly clear that complex human behavior cannot be explained by genes alone. It is not "nature versus nurture" but "nature via nurture". The books also picks apart our definition of race, the ones that are based on how we look. It is fairly meaningless since there are more differences in the genes within "racial" groups than between. The most genetic variation in human being is found in Africa. The rest of us are descended from the narrow pool of genes carried by the people who left that continent. This is a very good introduction to the field of genetics, which will help you automatically realize that many of the headlines referring to new-found genes are more founded on the wish to sell papers and get clicks, than on real science. The author is incredibly funny, so this is not dry. Some parts are quite technical, but for most part, this is definitely aimed at lay persons. Definitely recommended.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Andrea

    My thanks go out to NetGalley and The Experiment for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Marvellous book, and I couldn't get enough of it! The author does a great job rounding up exactly what makes us, humans, unique and at the same time homogeneous. My favourite sections were of course on our relation to other species of Hominids and the failed attempts by some scientists to show correlation between genetics and predisposal to criminal behaviour. Written in an My thanks go out to NetGalley and The Experiment for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Marvellous book, and I couldn't get enough of it! The author does a great job rounding up exactly what makes us, humans, unique and at the same time homogeneous. My favourite sections were of course on our relation to other species of Hominids and the failed attempts by some scientists to show correlation between genetics and predisposal to criminal behaviour. Written in an accessible language, this work will be a fine compliment to The Gene: An Intimate History.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Don Lundman

    "A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived" was a disappointment. The book is at least two drafts away from being ready for publication. It reads as if dictated by a busy, distracted, garrulous man bent on clearing his calendar for a more interesting and important project. Disorganized. Poorly edited. Thin. Thoughts are introduced but never elaborated fully. A title in search of content. I can't think why it has become so popular.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    There is no gene for evil. Black people have no genetic predisposition to excel at sports. Tay-Sachs is not a Jewish disease. Native Americans are not genetically predisposed to alcoholism. And, of course, there is no such thing as a “race” in genetics. These are a few of the many axes Adam Rutherford grinds in his ambitious new book, A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. Rutherford's book consists of two parts. Part One, “How We Came to Be,” lives There is no gene for evil. Black people have no genetic predisposition to excel at sports. Tay-Sachs is not a Jewish disease. Native Americans are not genetically predisposed to alcoholism. And, of course, there is no such thing as a “race” in genetics. These are a few of the many axes Adam Rutherford grinds in his ambitious new book, A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. Rutherford's book consists of two parts. Part One, “How We Came to Be,” lives up to the title for the most part. He outlines the emergence of Homo sapiens as the sole survivor of several human species. (All members of the genus Homo are human. This includes Neanderthals, Denisovans, Homo erectus, and an as yet unknown number of other species.) Using the latest findings from genetic research, the author traces the movements of various human populations over 200,000 years since the first anatomically modern human walked the Earth. Rutherford emphasizes that the patterns of migration were far more complex than earlier studies have led us to believe—and interbreeding among human species far more extensive. In Part Two, “Who We Are Now,” Rutherford departs from the promise of the title to survey the findings of genetic research about some of the many popular misconceptions about race and genetics. Here are a few highlights: Are African-Americans uniquely well-suited to play basketball? Not so, he writes. “The Dutch are the tallest people on average on Earth, and I have little doubt that if there were similar numbers of Dutch people as there are Americans, and basketball were as culturally important and ubiquitous, then they would produce teams as good as the LA Lakers.” Do some people commit awful crimes because their genes program them to do so? “No one will ever find a gene for ‘evil,’ or for beauty, or for musical genius, or for scientific genius, because they don’t exist. DNA is not destiny.” What about that “Jewish disease” Tay-Sachs? “Tay-Sachs . . . is seen at roughly the same frequency in Cajuns in Louisiana, and French Canadians in Quebec. There is no such thing as a Jewish disease, because Jews are not a genetically distinct group of people.” What about race? The visible differences between, say, East Asians and Africans suggest that races are real, don’t they? Well, no. Not at all. As Rutherford makes clear, “certain genetic groupings do roughly correspond to geography. But not exclusively, and not essentially.” There is, in fact, no such thing as “race” in genetics. “Eighty-five percent of human variation, according to the genetic differences in blood groups,” Rutherford writes, “was seen in the same racial groups. Of the remaining 15 percent, only 8 percent accounted for differences between one racial group and another.” In other words, those visible differences among the races are trivial from a genetic perspective. The genetic differences among any two Africans from different parts of the continent are almost certainly greater than the differences between either of them and a pale, blond, blue-eyed Scandinavian. This should be obvious to anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of genetics, Rutherford suggests. When Homo sapiens began migrating out of Africa and radiating around the world, only small groups left the motherland. The genetic diversity among them was immeasurably smaller than that of the much larger numbers they left behind. The author explains at length that the Human Genome Project did not decode the whole genome. In fact, more than 98 percent of the three billion letters on the genome do not encode for proteins, which is the primary function of genes. These non-coding letters have been given the unfortunate and misleading name of “junk DNA.” Many do have discernible and important functions. But the function of most junk DNA is not understood. Scientists are in the very earliest stages of tapping the power of genetics to address disease. As of now, “the number of diseases that have been eradicated as a result of our knowing the genome? Zero. The number of diseases that have been cured as a result of gene therapy? Zero.” The Human Genome Project was a beginning, not an end. Today, “DNA is used routinely in the diagnosis of dozens of cancers, of heart arrhythmias, in identifying the causes of thousands of diseases too rare to have historically warranted major research projects.” But science today is merely scratching the surface of this potential. Rutherford clearly knows his stuff. But he’s far from infallible. He’s dismissive of linguistic studies that inform our understanding of prehistorical migration patterns. Why? He doesn’t explain. He’s inconsistent about the number of years when Homo sapiens first entered the Americas, citing numbers all the way from 12,000 years to more than 24,000. He refers on numerous occasions to findings from the for-profit companies 23andme and BritainsDNA, both of which provide genetic profiles to individuals for a price. But he fails to mention the National Geographic Genographic Project, which predates them both and now encompasses genetic records from more than 800,000 people. And he first states that individuals from different species can't mate and produce fertile offspring, then fails to explain how Homo sapiens and Neanderthals together produced so many of the rest of us. British geneticist and broadcaster Adam Rutherford is a former editor of the journal Nature. He hosts the BBC Radio 4 program Inside Science.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    Science books can sometimes be rather stuffy or prissy - but no one can accuse Adam Rutherford of this. In his exploration of 'the stories in our genes' that word 'stories' is foremost - and Rutherford proves himself time and again to be an accomplished storyteller. His style is sometimes extremely colloquial (and very British) - so at one point, when referring to the way some people react to the smell of a particular steroid he says 'to many it honks like stale urine' and rather than say 'what Science books can sometimes be rather stuffy or prissy - but no one can accuse Adam Rutherford of this. In his exploration of 'the stories in our genes' that word 'stories' is foremost - and Rutherford proves himself time and again to be an accomplished storyteller. His style is sometimes extremely colloquial (and very British) - so at one point, when referring to the way some people react to the smell of a particular steroid he says 'to many it honks like stale urine' and rather than say 'what really interests me' he is likely to remark 'what turns me on'. I love the many meanders that Rutherford takes along the way, whether it's the horrendously inbred family tree of the Hapsburgs resulting in the sad case of Charles II, or the unique genetic laboratory provided by the small and relatively isolated population of Iceland. Rutherford is at his best when exploring an apparently trivial but genuinely interesting topic like variations in earwax type. This is dependent on a single gene and his exploration of its distribution across the world is delightful. This kind of material brings a lot of QI appeal to the book. Though there is coverage of that 'everyone who every lived', for the UK reader there is lots specific to our origins and how groupings we tend to make don't necessarily make any sense genetically. For instance, Rutherford points out that Scottish Celts are more different from Welsh Celts than either are from the English. There's also plenty of delving into the past, from the latest version of Out of Africa to our relationship (literally) with Neanderthals. Darwin, as you might imagine, features quite a lot. I'd say that Rutherford rather overdoes the Darwin fandom, calling him 'the greatest of all scientists across all disciplines.' I certainly don't want to do Darwin down, as he certainly made a great contribution, but as the work of Wallace and others show, his ideas were very much in the air, so if you really want to make the invidious comparison of scientists this way I'd be inclined to say someone like Einstein, who with general relativity came up with something that really came out of the blue, probably should be ranked higher. What begins with a genetic exploration of early humans takes us into all kinds of genetic adventures (including a section where Rutherford crushes a pathetic attempt to identify Jack the Ripper that was scientifically full of holes). While I'd recommend reading Henry Gee's The Accidental Species as well for more of the paleontology of early humans, and the evolutionary considerations of our ending up the way we have, Rutherford makes humankind's genetic origins and identity his own. Mostly the book is hard to fault. Sometimes it felt just a bit too unstructured - jumping all over the place in the manner of an over-excited mountain goat. And the final two main chapters lacked some of the engagement of the others. There was a fascinating section on the worrying legal cases where the defence has been ‘my genes made me do it’, but that apart, there’s an awful lot at the specific gene level, whether it’s the ins and outs of the Human Genome Project or the relationship of genes and diseases, and after a while, to the non-biologist, this got a bit samey. Having said that, it’s hard to see how Rutherford could have written the book without these chapters and overall it’s a magnificent achievement, a big, friendly bear of a book that pummels the reader with delightful stories and no doubt would buy you a drink if it could. I can’t help but wonder if the cover was deliberately designed to pick up DNA - it has become far more marked than any book I can ever remember reading - if it was, it wouldn’t surprise me because Rutherford fills his book with clever little detail like this. Either way, it’s a fantastic popular science read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Raquel

    Mini review in English / Reseña completa en español It must not be easy to write about the story in our genes, the genes of humankind, in a very accesible, highly gripping way, full of delightful (british) humour (and nerdy references!). Yet in A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford achieves it, and makes you feel passionate about it. Along a very ingenious drawn narration, from the beginning to the present, he touches such sensible topics as endogamy, racism (really impres Mini review in English / Reseña completa en español It must not be easy to write about the story in our genes, the genes of humankind, in a very accesible, highly gripping way, full of delightful (british) humour (and nerdy references!). Yet in A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford achieves it, and makes you feel passionate about it. Along a very ingenious drawn narration, from the beginning to the present, he touches such sensible topics as endogamy, racism (really impressive chapter), and debunks myths such as "the gene of evil" brilliantly. His message is clear: reality (and therefore, science) isn't as simplistic as some want to sell, but it's much more interesting. Fascinating. I really can't recommend it enough, you'll learn a lot. Even though it is brief, I must admit I had never thought I'd finish it in only one week. ESP No creo que sea nada sencillo escribir sobre la historia que relatan nuestros genes, la historia del ser humano desde un punto de vista científico, de una manera clara, muy accesible (lo prometo), muy amena y con un fino (y muy británico) sentido del humor (con referencias literarias y de la cultura popular que se agradecen). Pero Adam Rutherford consigue mucho más que eso. Transmite (y contagia) además su pasión. A lo largo de una narración ingeniosamente hilada, comenzando por los orígenes de la humanidad de mano de la paleontología, pasando por la Edad Media Europea hasta una increíble reflexión sobre nuestro futuro, el autor trata temas tan sensibles como la endogamia, el racismo (impresionante este capítulo), la eugenesia, o desmonta mitos como el "gen de la maldad" de forma brillante. Creo que existen tres cuestiones fundamentales sobre las que pivota este relato de nuestra historia: - Sexo: lo que siempre lo complicado todo, desde tiempos inmemoriables. El homo sapiens ha practicado *mucho* sexo, lo que no solo hace inconsistente cualquier intento de clasificarnos racialmente, sino que incluso ha desdibujado el concepto del ser humano como especie, tal y como se entendía hasta hace bien poco. - Ego: es una cuestión recurrente a lo largo de todo este relato (y por supuesto de la humanidad). Al ser humano le fascina el ser humano. Y si bien la curiosidad es aquello que nos define, lo que nos hace "humanos", también es un arma de doble filo del que se aprovecharán empresas para lucrarse a base de vender pseudociencia, o cobrarte un buen dinero por un sinsentido de test genético. - Poder: si unes el ansia por la perpetuación en el poder con el sexo, tendrás endogamia (véase el capítulo dedicado a las monarquías europeas...). Y si unes poder con ego, tendrás algo más perverso aún: el racismo como institución, la búsqueda en la ciencia de la legitimación de la supremacía blanca. Y en épocas más recientes se le suma el hambre de los medios por el titular fácil, la guerra por los clicks que tienen como consecuencia titulares sensacionalistas, con explicaciones científicas mal explicadas cuando no completamente érroneas, que poco ayudan a acabar con falsos mitos sobre la genética y el determinismo biológico. El mensaje es claro: la realidad (y con ello la ciencia) nunca es tan simplista como algunos nos quieren vender, pero es muchísimo más interesante. "Deberíamos tener cuidado de aprender y entender las cosas, de estar tan al día como sea posible, de no vivir apabullados por mitos y equívocos. (...) Perpetuamos mitos aferrándonos a explicaciones simples, sin sumergirnos en la extraordinaria complejidad de lo que significa ser humano." No esperaba leerlo en tan solo una semana. Una lectura fascinante. No apto para aquellos que busquen una "teoría del todo". Recomendadísimo para todos los demás. Sobre la edición: Fantástica edición y traducción de la editorial Pasado y Presente. Es raro que prefiera la portada española, pero si al hecho de que me parece más inteligente usar un plano de metro como representación del entramado "árbol" de la humanidad, añades a la familia Weasley, me matas.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ana

    A very interesting read on genetics and the common mistakes that people make when thinking about DNA and its role in human life. Filled with fun trivia information about the subject and weaved together with historical backgrounds on big personalities in the sciences or areas of research that we should all be familiar with. Worth the read.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chrisl

    There is a considerable amount of relatively recent research clearly presented in A Brief History ... the science of genetics is a rapidly evolving field of knowledge. However, because my interest was primarily focused on the genetics of the populating of the Americas, I skimmed the majority of this book. While I would recommend it to genetics science oriented readers, it isn't a book I'd add permanently to my size limited collection. ** First half of book had informational nuggets new or differe There is a considerable amount of relatively recent research clearly presented in A Brief History ... the science of genetics is a rapidly evolving field of knowledge. However, because my interest was primarily focused on the genetics of the populating of the Americas, I skimmed the majority of this book. While I would recommend it to genetics science oriented readers, it isn't a book I'd add permanently to my size limited collection. ** First half of book had informational nuggets new or different from my previous perspective. But, my "reading" was more skim than focus. Second half of book more medical genetics focus than I was interested in. Got to page 139 before getting to intriguing new stuff. Will quote: "Other pieces of the jigsaw of the first peoples are slowly beginning to fall into place. At the end of 2016, an earlier admixture was revealed in the Inuit of Greenland. These people live in the cold, and their diet is dominated by seafood. By sampling hundreds of Inuit genomes, an area of DNA had been identified that plays a part in these very Inuit characteristics. One of the genes that sits there ... does a huge range of things in the body by regulating the expression of other genes. The version ... in the Inuit appears to have a role in the distribution of fat around the body, and may help maintain warmth by fueling a particular type of fat burning. ... this particular variant appears to be a piece of Denisovan DNA. It's virtually absent in Africa, and different from the one we see in Neanderthals. This suggest that the people of Beringia had this Inuit version, acquired from their relations with the Denisovans, and in those cold climes it proved to help hardy fishermen. We see a similar story in other genes relating to diet. Fatty acid desaturases (FADS) are enzymes that help convert saturated fats found in fish and meat into unsaturated fats. They're a rich source of evolutionary intrigue, too: Many studies have revealed that this cluster of genes shows signs of positive selection in ancient populations all over the world. ... But what is clear is that there have been selective sweeps around these genes in all populations, suggesting their importance in adapting to the foods available to our ancient forebears in their local environment The Greenland Inuit have versions of the FADS genes that also look like they have been positively selected in Beringia more than 18,000 years ago. This is not wholly unexpected given that FADS appear to evolve in response to local conditions all over the world. But we can use this fact as a tracer for migration in the Americas. By examining the distribution of the Inuit version of the FADS genes up and down the Americas, Spanish gene hunters ... showed in 2017 that fifty-three indigenous populations in the Americas showed local adaptation in the FADS that were all derived from a founder population Beringia. This includes a forceful presence in Amazonian tribes, where diet and lifestyle is obviously different from the Inuits." "These gene maps powerfully suggest that that the Beringian Standstill hypothesis is correct: All Native Americans, north and south, have versions of genes relating to diet that are suited to their current environments, but born of an ancient population subject to local adaptation in the frozen north, thousands of years ago. ** page 55 - "The Altai Mountains loom out of the ground near the Russian borders with China and Mongolia, and they are icy cold. This land is harsh. There's a cave in this hinterland of Siberia, called Denisova. named after an eighteenth-century eremite called Denis who lived there. Due to the brutal weather it's inaccessibble for much of the year. Modern human and Neanderthal remains have been recovered from Denis' cave over the forty years it has been explored, as well as dozens of species of animals, from lions and hyenas to woolly rhinos and, as befits the Russian motherland, a lot of bears. Soviet researchers had pulled out over 50,000 artifacts from this cave right up to the Middle Ages, indicating that it had been occupied in some form for more than 230,000 years. ... For Denis' cave to be such a regular haunt for hundreds of thousands of years is not usual. You can see why though. Despite the gritty weather, it's a highly desirable residence; a waterfront property overlooking a picturesque river, the rustic estate boasts a wide rectangular south-facing entrance ... "In 2008, the remains of one of the former residents surfaced ... The layer in which it was found puts its date as being somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 years old ... " ... in 2010. That sequence, patched up from the inevitable decay of several hundred centuries, was enough to be revolutionary. It wasn't us, and it wasn't Neanderthal ... was a new type of human. ... "The comparison in the new genomes showed that Denisovans and Neanderthals were more closely related to each other than either was to any living human. But the real kicker came with the revelation that Denisovan DNA was alive and well in contemporary Melanesians--the indigenous people of Fiji, Papua New Guinea ... their genetic mark through the ages in the ancestors of these island people, up to 5 percent of their genomes. ** page 135 - "Today, the emerging theory is that the people up in the Bluefish Caves some 24,000 years ago were the founders, and that they represent a culture that was isolated for thousands of years up in the cold north, incubating a population that would eventually seed everywhere else. This idea has become known as Beringian Standstill. Those founders had split from known populations in Siberian Asia some 40,000 years ago, come across Beringia, and stayed put until around 16,000 years ago. Analysis of the genomes of indigenous people show fifteen founding mitochondrial types not found in Asia. This suggests a time when genetic diversification occurred, an incubation lasting maybe 10,000 years. New gene variants spread across the American lands, but not back into Asia, as the waters had cut them off. Nowadays, we see lower levels of genetic diversity in modern Native Americans--derived from just those original fifteen--than in the rest of the world. Again, this supports the idea of a single, small population seeding the continents, and--unlike in Europe or Asia--these people being cut off, with little admixture from new populations for thousands of years, at least until Columbus." ** http://www.science20.com/news_account... https://www.archaeology.org/news/1866... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altai_M... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hermit

  16. 5 out of 5

    Radiantflux

    76th book for 2018. I hate it when books don't deliver on their titles. I was expecting a brief history of everyone who lived. Spoiler: Didn't happen. Various chapters are devoted to the authors own pet peeves like how genetics is misrepresented in the media. A much better book, which at least lives up to it's title, is Robert Reich's "Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the new science of the human past". Topics about genetics and behavior and the effects of environment on gene expre 76th book for 2018. I hate it when books don't deliver on their titles. I was expecting a brief history of everyone who lived. Spoiler: Didn't happen. Various chapters are devoted to the authors own pet peeves like how genetics is misrepresented in the media. A much better book, which at least lives up to it's title, is Robert Reich's "Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the new science of the human past". Topics about genetics and behavior and the effects of environment on gene expression are covered in a far more nuanced fashion in "Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst" by Robert Sapolsky. While it was only a small part of the book: I found his discussion of color vision (as an ex-vision scientist) annoying. He completely misrepresents how color vision works: We don't have "three-color vision" (whatever that means - we do see FOUR pure colors); this is not because we have 3-cones classes (three colors) - for instance, if we had 4-cone classes we wouldn't see four colors). His discussion of tetrachromacy (which occurs in about 50% of women) is an interesting story, which he fails to explain in any real way, which is a shame as the genetics is interesting. His complete failure to explain color vision makes me wonder what other errors are in the book. 2-stars.

  17. 5 out of 5

    James

    ‘A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived’ (2016) by Adam Rutherford – is a fascinating and largely compelling popular science introduction to the world and history of human genetics and genomics. Rutherford takes us on a journey – one which is all about our shared human history, as viewed through the lens of genetics and which Rutherford split into two parts: 1. How we came to be 2. Who we are now ‘Brief History’ is an amazing journey whichever way it’s viewed and takes us from the very origins ‘A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived’ (2016) by Adam Rutherford – is a fascinating and largely compelling popular science introduction to the world and history of human genetics and genomics. Rutherford takes us on a journey – one which is all about our shared human history, as viewed through the lens of genetics and which Rutherford split into two parts: 1. How we came to be 2. Who we are now ‘Brief History’ is an amazing journey whichever way it’s viewed and takes us from the very origins of humans (moreover our genetic pre-homosapien ancestors) in Africa, through the 'Out of Africa' migration and beyond; from the very beginnings of Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution and natural selection; through Crick and Watson’s discovery of DNA, all the way to today’s cutting edge scientific research – taking in all manner of fascinating things along the way, such as the exhumation and positive identification of Richard III from his unmarked grave beneath a car park in Leicester, to the myths surrounding the so-called positive identification of ‘Jack the Ripper’. Rutherford’s book – whether for the scientist and non-scientist alike, is an engaging and thought-provoking history, in which Rutherford successfully and very easily debunks so many of the quasi-scientific and media promoted myths concerning genetics (‘redheads to become extinct?’) and provides the reader with a largely accessible account of our history interlinked with the history, findings and developments within the science of human genetics. As very much a non-scientist, I cannot pretend to fully understand all of the ideas and concepts outlined in ‘Brief History’ – nevertheless Rutherford’s book, whilst very occasionally verging on the esoteric, is neither patronising nor impenetrable. Moreover, Rutherford provides us with a fascinating, thought-provoking book concerning our amazing shared history – an inspired and inspiring read.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    There are two parts to this book. The first “How We Came to Be”, looks at the genetic evidence around human evolution. It touches on Neanderthals, Denisovans and Flores Man (DNA can’t be recovered from earlier species) before looking at the evolution of modern H. sapiens. It also covers the timescale under which an individual’s family history will intersect with those of everyone else, and it’s probably put me off ever trying to use one of those commercial companies who promise to reveal your an There are two parts to this book. The first “How We Came to Be”, looks at the genetic evidence around human evolution. It touches on Neanderthals, Denisovans and Flores Man (DNA can’t be recovered from earlier species) before looking at the evolution of modern H. sapiens. It also covers the timescale under which an individual’s family history will intersect with those of everyone else, and it’s probably put me off ever trying to use one of those commercial companies who promise to reveal your ancestry via your DNA (something that I had thought about, I must admit). I thought Part I was excellent. Part II, “Who We Are Now” is a slight drier read but still has plenty to recommend it. There are too many themes to summarise, but I think the author most wants to convey the message that there is never a single gene that explains any aspect of personality or behaviour. Genes do not act in isolation of one another, and all act in concert with environmental influences. “It’s a lot more complicated than you think” would be a one-line summary. There’s quite a lot of humour in the book, no doubt included in a conscious attempt to retain the interest of the general reader. For me it mostly fell flat. One or two references made me smile but on the whole I found the humour a bit forced. As the author acknowledges, this is a field where new discoveries are being made all the time. It probably won’t be too many years before the book is out of date. In the meantime, this is an excellent overview for the layman.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mandy

    The trouble with popular science books is that at some point they have to get down and dirty with real hard science, and however hard the author tries, and however skilled he is at making the difficult accessible, that’s one big stumbling block for the non-scientists out there. I so wanted to be more engaged with this book. Genetics is important, right? We need to understand the subject. It explains our past and informs out future. Adam Rutherford has no doubt done his best, but his best just is The trouble with popular science books is that at some point they have to get down and dirty with real hard science, and however hard the author tries, and however skilled he is at making the difficult accessible, that’s one big stumbling block for the non-scientists out there. I so wanted to be more engaged with this book. Genetics is important, right? We need to understand the subject. It explains our past and informs out future. Adam Rutherford has no doubt done his best, but his best just isn’t good enough. The book is so long-winded, muddled and rambling that the science gets lost along the way. A few anecdotes do not a good science book make. And it seems (though I am not qualified to judge) that he makes quite a few mistakes and misinterprets the data on more than one occasion. I can’t comment on that but I didn’t feel that I came away from struggling through the book with any clear idea of what he was actually saying. There are some interesting nuggets here, for sure, but they get lost in all those words. A brave, but ultimately unsuccessful, attempt at making genetics clear for the layman.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Albert Norton

    I picked up this book because I had in mind to get current (as a layman) on the state of DNA research, after hearing so much hoopla about mapping of the human genome some years ago. The epiphanies I hoped for never arrived. That's not entirely Rutherford's fault. As he points out in the book, it's a complex subject, and ancestry-mapping is not the main point, there are bigger fish to fry, like treating or curing inherited disease. Still, DNA research tells us a lot, but most of what Rutherford r I picked up this book because I had in mind to get current (as a layman) on the state of DNA research, after hearing so much hoopla about mapping of the human genome some years ago. The epiphanies I hoped for never arrived. That's not entirely Rutherford's fault. As he points out in the book, it's a complex subject, and ancestry-mapping is not the main point, there are bigger fish to fry, like treating or curing inherited disease. Still, DNA research tells us a lot, but most of what Rutherford relates you probably know intuitively. Rutherford explains, genetically, lactose intolerance, which is of interest to me. He explains that, contrary to a report a few years ago in the UK, redheads will not go extinct. There is more genetic variation among members of the same race, than among two randomly-chosen people of two races. Somewhat interesting. Lots of anecdotal explanations, which are really not the state-of-the-art, but rather corrections of common misunderstandings. One interesting insight is a mathematical understanding of how our ancestry works. Rutherford explains how, for example, it is actually true that nearly everyone with any European ancestry is related to the great Charlemagne. As you trace your tree back up the generations, you very quickly get to overlaps, to the point that our ancestry is one great network, rather than an ever-dwindling step-down of branches into the main trunk, which is you. For this reason, Rutherford explains, it is possible to pinpoint to a mere 3600 years ago the most recent date on which there was a single common ancestor of everyone now alive. I was disappointed with this book because I felt I came away with very little that was new, even for someone like me not routinely immersed in the study of genetics or ancestry. I admit, though, that I might have a more charitable attitude toward Rutherford, if he had a more charitable attitude toward those with whom he disagrees. Here's what he has to say about people who don't buy entirely into the non-teleological, naturalist version of evolution as the explanation of all biological development and of the first life as well. Early in his book he talks over his glasses at us thusly: "Nowadays, only the willfully ignorant dismiss the truth that we evolved from earlier ancestors." So much for critical thinking. "[C]reationism," he says, is "frothing with risible fallacies." Creationists are "dolts." They make "zombie arguments." Ambiguously, either the creationists or their arguments are "unthinking and mindless, tired and drooling, relentlessly shuffling along, impervious to reason, intelligence or debate, and desperately ugly." Rutherford doesn't prove naturalistic evolution nor deal with any objections to it, before going straight to name-calling. He doesn't do that because he worships Darwin, and gives no indication of having ever heard of a teleological version of biological evolution. Though this book isn't mainly about Darwin or about evolution, Rutherford gushes his idolatrous admiration. Darwin is a "star," a "genius," "the greatest of all scientists," "at the very top of the intellectual pile." Fine. Everyone has heroes. But I think there is one person Rutherford admires even more: himself. His smugness gets old fast, and detracts from what might otherwise be a diverting if superficial stroll through contemporary thinking on genetics.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth Theiss

    Where did you come from? Who are your ancestors? Is there a queen, a president, or a pirate in your past? Rutherford's answer to this last question is yes. In the end, we are all interrelated because our gene pool working backwards was rather small. For example, 23andMe tells me I am related to Marie Antoinette. Rutherford suggests holding off on claiming royal property and privilege because so are millions of other people. Homo sapiens emerged from Africa at least years ago. Neanderthals, Deniso Where did you come from? Who are your ancestors? Is there a queen, a president, or a pirate in your past? Rutherford's answer to this last question is yes. In the end, we are all interrelated because our gene pool working backwards was rather small. For example, 23andMe tells me I am related to Marie Antoinette. Rutherford suggests holding off on claiming royal property and privilege because so are millions of other people. Homo sapiens emerged from Africa at least years ago. Neanderthals, Denisovans, and other hominids were already inhabiting the places they wandered. The evidence in our DNA suggests that our ancestors mated with them. Oddly, it was male Homo sapiens who mated with female Neanderthals. The fact that mating occurred calls into question the labeling of Neanderthals and Denisovans as other species of human. By definition, a species is made up of organisms capable of mating and producing offspring. So either we need to patch up the definition of species or welcome Neanderthals into the human species. One of the most fascinating sections of the book was the chapter on race because it examines differences in the genome and concludes that there is no genetic basis for race. Variation is endemic to genetics because every human will have about 100 genetic changes out of about 3 billion. These mutations are largely inconsequential but those that are adaptive to the population's environment will spread. So Africans have developed more melanin pigment in their skin to screen out the strong sun. Scandinavians have developed lighter skin and hair pigmentation to absorb more sun in less sunny climates. However, the variation between the African's genome and the Scandinavian's genome other than coding for melanin are inconsequential. Geneticists cannot see race. It is a cultural construct with no basis in science. The chapter on Richard III, dubbed the King in the Car Park, was especially interesting to me, as I followed the story as it was unfolding in the news. Richard III died in battle and his dead body paraded before jeering crowds before being buried unceremoniously in the Greyfriar's cemetery. When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, Greyfriars was transferred to private hands. In recent excavations for a car park, bones were found that were consistent with descriptions of Richard III's death. Geneticists were able to find two individuals related to Richard and confirm the identity of the bones. It was an exciting bit of forensic defective work that Rutherford explains well. Although the writer's style annoyed me at times, this book is well worth reading for its clear explanations of the latest genetic research (up to 2016) and how to interpret it. I was disappointed in its failure to incorporate some of the latest work on epigenetics, which he mentions only in passing. Some readers may find the more technical explanations challenging. It took me a few weeks to absorb the book, but it was well worth the time.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shannan

    You might not be ready for some of the information in this book, but I think you should be be. One example "By asking how recently the people of Europe would have a common ancestor, he constructed a mathematical model that incorporated the number of ancestors an individual is presumed to have had (each with two parents), and given the current population size, the point at which all those possible lines of ascent up the family trees would cross. The answer was merely 600 years ago. Sometime at the You might not be ready for some of the information in this book, but I think you should be be. One example "By asking how recently the people of Europe would have a common ancestor, he constructed a mathematical model that incorporated the number of ancestors an individual is presumed to have had (each with two parents), and given the current population size, the point at which all those possible lines of ascent up the family trees would cross. The answer was merely 600 years ago. Sometime at the end of the thirteenth century lived a man or woman from whom all Europeans could trace ancestry, if records permitted (which they don’t). If this sounds unlikely or weird, remember this individual is one of thousands of lines of descent that you and everyone else has at this moment in time, and whoever this unknown individual was, they represent a tiny proportion of your total familial webbed pedigree. But if we could document the total family tree of everyone alive back through 600 years, among the impenetrable mess, everyone European alive would be able to select a line that would cross everyone else’s around the time of Richard II. All lines of European ancestry coalesce on every individual in the tenth century. Chang factored that into a further study of common ancestry beyond Europe, and concluded in 2003 that the most recent common ancestor of everyone alive today on Earth lived only around 3,400 years ago." What I would like to you is if anyone watches this https://www.facebook.com/JayShettyIW/... And reads the book what they make of video in light of the book. Great stuff!

  23. 5 out of 5

    thefourthvine

    This was a slow but compelling read. (The slowness mostly arose from the fact that this book requires a certain amount of mental acuity; I couldn’t read it before bed, for example, and actually retain any of the information I read.) Part of what’s compelling here is simply the science: the field of human genetics is advancing so quickly, in so many directions, that every month brings new and fascinating studies. And it’s such a widespread field that it’s hard to keep up with it unless that’s you This was a slow but compelling read. (The slowness mostly arose from the fact that this book requires a certain amount of mental acuity; I couldn’t read it before bed, for example, and actually retain any of the information I read.) Part of what’s compelling here is simply the science: the field of human genetics is advancing so quickly, in so many directions, that every month brings new and fascinating studies. And it’s such a widespread field that it’s hard to keep up with it unless that’s your job, so it’s nice to have a book that tries to sum it all up. Part of what’s compelling is the writing style. Rutherford writes complicated information fairly lucidly, and keeps things light and jargon-free. He is rather repetitive, though; I kept reading things in various chapters and going, “Yeah, I know, because you told me two chapters ago.” I’m not sure if that’s a bug born of a long writing time and a complex topic, or a feature intended for people who read only a chapter of the book, or who go a long time in between chapters. Either way, it was a bit disconcerting. My only real complaint about this book, though, is that it seems extremely weird to have a conventionally published *book* on a topic that’s evolving (hee) as quickly as human genetics is. This book is already out of date. It will be more out of date next year. (Except, of course, for the bits that tell you how to *think* about genetics, how to evaluate claims about genetics — that stuff will stay useful for a good long time.) I guess my advice is: if you’re looking for a good snapshot of the science of human genes, this is a good place to go, and you should read it ASAP, because pretty soon it won’t be anymore.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Genetically you are unique. However, there is nothing particularly special about being unique if everyone else is… In your 23 base pairs of DNA there are around 20,000 human protein-coding genes. To put this in perspective, a banana has 36,000... The first complete draft of the sequence was published on February 12th 2001. Being able to read this code of T C G A’s is one thing; being able to understand it is another, and we are nowhere near being able to manipulate it yet either. This code is what Genetically you are unique. However, there is nothing particularly special about being unique if everyone else is… In your 23 base pairs of DNA there are around 20,000 human protein-coding genes. To put this in perspective, a banana has 36,000... The first complete draft of the sequence was published on February 12th 2001. Being able to read this code of T C G A’s is one thing; being able to understand it is another, and we are nowhere near being able to manipulate it yet either. This code is what makes you, you, but hidden deep within it are the countless secrets of our forefathers and mothers, the history of our species including the echoes of past events. There is even small amounts of Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Denisovan genome intertwined within our homo sapiens DNA. Rutherford takes us on this fascinating journey up and down our collective family trees via the spirals of our DNA. No subject is beyond his gaze, hair and eye colour, to the horrors of eugenics to finding out if a body under a carpark is a deceased monarch or why it seems to be those of European descent are the only ones who can drink milk. There are some amusing parts, such as when he lists just what journalists think that scientists have found the genes for and the genetic peril of being in the Royal family. Given how complicated this subject could have been, and it did occasionally go right over my head, it is written with a refreshing clarity. The anecdotes and stories that are in here add greatly to the book. Thankfully I could understand most of it, which is the principle aim of these books to bring science to the wider audience.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Angela Smith

    I am interested in things like genetics and DNA, but what I knew about it I could have maybe fitted on a postage stamp. Reading this book I learned quite a lot of new things that I didn't know. First and for most, it is scientific ( I am sure you are thinking well...duh...just look at the subject matter) but it is more than that. It also has a lot of history wrapped up in it as well, which for me made it a lot less dry than a regular science non fiction book. There was much covered in this book a I am interested in things like genetics and DNA, but what I knew about it I could have maybe fitted on a postage stamp. Reading this book I learned quite a lot of new things that I didn't know. First and for most, it is scientific ( I am sure you are thinking well...duh...just look at the subject matter) but it is more than that. It also has a lot of history wrapped up in it as well, which for me made it a lot less dry than a regular science non fiction book. There was much covered in this book about where we all (mostly) originated in the world. How some of the ladies back then still had an eye for the caveman type (Neanderthals). It talks about Richard III and his identification and about the ludicrous claims of the man who bought the shawl that was supposedly recovered from one of the Ripper's victims and had the Ripper's DNA on it. (All because of an old letter where someone said so) Just think how contaminated any DNA would have been after a 100+ years. There is humour in places in this book too, but it does take it's subject seriously.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Mag

    Utterly fascinating. Very well written and witty to boot. 5+

  27. 4 out of 5

    Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    I read this book. It's a mashup of very cool information about our genes. It covers all the interesting things we want to know.... I didn't understand all of it. The book is a wild mix of the vernacular and the scientific. Much was like this: "Red hair appearing exclusively in beards in not uncommon, though we don't really know why. Forgive us; it's not really been a research priority over the last few decades." Perfect. Intriguing. Readable. Quotable. I read on. But chunks of it were like this: "The I read this book. It's a mashup of very cool information about our genes. It covers all the interesting things we want to know.... I didn't understand all of it. The book is a wild mix of the vernacular and the scientific. Much was like this: "Red hair appearing exclusively in beards in not uncommon, though we don't really know why. Forgive us; it's not really been a research priority over the last few decades." Perfect. Intriguing. Readable. Quotable. I read on. But chunks of it were like this: "The vast majority of Brits, and northern and Western Europeans (including places colonized by them) have a single change, a C becomes a T, around 13,000 letters of DNA before the start of the lactase gene....Thirteen thousand nucleotides upstream of the beginning of the lactase gene is a region that controls its activity, and a mutation in that distant control center accounts for the vast majority of milk drinkers." I gave up on this book about halfway through the month. Some of it was just tedious, I thought. I got ready to return it to the library today, and, unexpectedly, I got all caught up in it again. "You are of royal descent, because everyone is." "The science of genetics was founded specifically on the study of racial inequality, by a racist." "The unglamorous truth is that there are but a handful of uniquely human traits that we have clearly demonstrated are adaptations evolved to thrive in specific geographical regions. Skin color is one. The ability to digest milk is another...." "Earwax is of great interest to people like me....We like it because it's one of a very small handful of traits that has a relatively straightforward relationship between the DNA and its outcome...." And so I, reluctantly at first and then compulsively for the rest of the afternoon, I read on. Fascinating stuff. Mixed with a lot of paragraphs of tmi, imho.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Annikky

    4+ I recommend this warmly to anyone with even the slightest interest in genetics. The book is accessible without being painfully dumbed down, funny without ignoring difficult topics. I’m obsessed with the genetics of ancient humans and I also welcome any ammunition against ‘but race x is just genetically like this’ arguments. Rutherford delivers on both.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sara M. Abudahab

    So what do you shelf a book that you read 3 chapters of out of 7, and it's unlikely that you will read the rest? unlikely because I was interested in those chapters only.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    Wonderful book, very readable, about human genetics, and how closely all people around the globe are related to each other. Look at everyone at the UN General Assembly and say to yourself “Every single person there is my cousin!”

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