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DNA USA: A Genetic Biography of America
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DNA USA: A Genetic Biography of America

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  360 ratings  ·  85 reviews
The best-selling author of The Seven Daughters of Eve now turns his sights on the United States, one of the most genetically variegated countries in the world. From the blue-blooded pockets of old-WASP New England to the vast tribal lands of the Navajo, Bryan Sykes takes us on a historical genetic tour, interviewing genealogists, geneticists, anthropologists, and everyday...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published September 1st 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company
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DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Bryan Sykes


“DNA USA" is the ambitious but overall disappointing book about the genetic makeup of America. Bryan Sykes, author of the successful book, “The Seven Daughters of Eve and Saxons, Vikings, and Celt” and professor of human genetics at the University of Oxford and founder of Oxford Ancestors, takes the reader on a literal three-month journey through America as he collects DNA and assembles a genetic portrait. The author though engaging and makin...more
Jennifer
DNA USA is absolutely fascinating, although some of the concepts are rather difficult to completely understand, at least the first time around. The author, who is a professor at Oxford University, embarks on a road trip across the United States with his son (and later, his wife) discussing the genetic origins of Americans, with some insights into American society from someone across the Atlantic. My favorite is a comment on the ongoing Affordable Health Care Act: "Most surprising to my ears was...more
Danica
Considering myself a geneticist, I really liked a lot of the content of this book. I worked for Relative Genetics and DNA Heritage for over 5 years. I focused on MtDNA and Y DNA tests. Therefore reading about what I have done for a living and finally understanding the beginnings of this industry was very interesting to me.
However, why did I give this book only two stars?
I find Bryan Sykes to belittle many of the things I hold dear in life. Being from England, especially Oxford, he puts on airs...more
Jim Gallen
Did you ever wonder where America’s genetic heritage came from? I remember years ago asking a representative of an Indian organization if anyone know just what proportion of America’s ancestry Indians provided. She did not know but “DNA USA” gives us a hint at the answer to this and other questions.

Author Bryan Sykes explains the science of DNA, as to how it is tested, what it can tell and some interesting facts regarding how we came to be who we are. That ground work having been laid, Sykes ta...more
Diane


First disclaimer: I'm adopted, so DNA and genetics interest me. I have considered doing DNA testing on myself for both medical and genetic ethnic background testing as DNA testing is likely the only way I will ever receive such information.
Second disclaimer: while I saw the book at my local bookstore and found it interesting, I mainly put it in my queue at my local library to show my daughter how cool our library's new app is. I can barcode scan a book in the bookstore, put it in my library qu...more
Kristi Thielen
Moderately educational book about a genetic study of a select group of Americans. The subject is fascinating but also complex and Mr. Sykes is not gifted with a writing style that makes the difficult clearly understood. Additionally: he is an Englishman who takes pains to say he is laboring to write a book for American readership, but then goes off topic to describe, in depth, a cross country train trip with his son in which he provides breathless detail about the U.S. than any literate American...more
Katie Curtis
I was very happy to receive a copy of this book through the First Reads program. Overall I would say it was a pretty okay read. Not terrible, but not something I would recommend to everyone I know. The copy I read was an ARC, so I understand there may have been changes in the final copy. I really hope one of the changes involved the flow of the book. It felt very choppy, and some things seemed out of place. Maybe a shuffling of the chapters would have helped. The road trip he took with his son i...more
Cyndi
By the author of the Seven Daughters of Eve. Plenty of good information but it's buried inside of a travelogue written with the skill of a starry-eyed foreigner describing his first big US trip for his holiday newsletter. The maddening part is that he met up with all sorts of movers and shakers in the genetic genealogy world but much of the time he merely mentions the meeting then moves on to the next part of the trip.
Diane
I won't repeat what some others here have written so eloquently. I gave the book 3 stars because it vacillated between one and five throughout the book.

There was some great info... there was some awful info.

I got an overall impression of "smug" from the author, but am about to read a couple of his other books to see if they are better.

Where the book was good... it was great!
James
Even better than Dr. Sykes' very good The Seven Daughters of Eve - taking full advantage of advances in DNA analysis in the years between the two books, he traveled across the United States, using DNA samples collected from volunteers to study the three main population migrations that settled the New World, i.e. from Asia, Europe, and Africa (most of the latter involuntarily, brought to this hemisphere as slaves.)

Among other advances, Dr. Sykes was able to trace not only the matrilineal descent...more
Anne
Interesting: The author follows lines of DNA that I would never think of, which still are interesting. Read it in the bookstore, which means I'd like to reread it at some point a little more carefully. All sorts of interesting facts and trivia about our diverse "melting pot" nation. Enjoyed his other works, too.
Jessica
If you want to follow the thoughts of a Brit on his first US cross-country trip, if you'd like to know what he thinks about American vehicles (the entire suburbs could fit inside a Suburban), American animals (grizzly bears are a real threat in Denver), or American population groups(if you talk to them, Mexican men are likely to do you physical harm), then this is a book for you. If, however, you actually want to read about the DNA of the people of the USA, there are probably better options. Thi...more
James
Very interesting! I've had my family tree put together for several years and every now and then pull it out to update births, deaths, marriages, children, etc.

This book taught me about matrilineal and y-chromosome DNA testing, what they reveal and how they help us understand histories of where our distant relatives may come from. For my direct linages, I'm able to trace back to European countries but have no idea if there are other ancestry deviations prior to the earliest folks I've recorded....more
Anna Herr
I give it a 3.5 because at first it was too wordy for someone that is not a Geneticist expert, but overall a fascinating read. I liked that the author was British and explored America to find about our DNA and where everyone came from, and especially enjoyed peoples reactions when they found out their DNA makeup. The stories throughout the book and the people he met along the way were my favorite part. His last paragraph of the book summarizes my feeling towards the book and attitude on said sub...more
Chris Demer
I found this book fascinating on several levels as I have a couple of his previous books. Part travelogue and history, Sykes travels throughout the US, looking at the genetic backgrounds of some of the members of the population. He meets with and talks to Native Americans (and those who think they are), New Englanders with long pedigrees, some African Americans, and others.
The areas I found most interesting were: some studies indicating that Native Americans were here earlier than most scientis...more
Claire Eden
My brain cannot quite grasp the DNA genome concept in its entirety so I've taken to just skimming when the details begin to get complicated. But I do believe that the author makes a point to bring it into layman's terms when possible.

I enjoy the narrative and genealogical implications of our dna sequences and the diverse possibilities of our ancestors and the personal dramas, tragedies and triumphs that have somehow, over thousands of years, led to us. I agreed somewhat with his point that ther...more
Kallen Kentner
My review of this book reflects my disappointment. Bryan Sykes fails to deliver. The biggest problem in DNA USA is the extremely limited scope. This is not a “Genetic Portrait of America”; this is “a Genetic Portrait of the Parts of US History that the Author Deemed most Interesting."

Sykes was no doubt excited about exploring genetics in the United States for the same reason I was excited about reading about genetics in the US. In his preface, he says “As a geneticist, what I found most appealin...more
Sarah
This is such an interesting book! It's the third book I've read by Bryan Sykes, and by now I'm becoming more familiar with the science of DNA. He makes the case that all human beings are descended from one woman, who was part of a small band that saved mankind something like 170,000 years ago off the bottom coast of South Africa (as the rest of the world was descending into an ice age). Without her and that group, we would probably have been wiped off the planet.

He always does something weird i...more
marcus miller
I got the sense this was the third of a three book contract and that Sykes finally came up with a way to produce the 275 or so pages he needed to please his publisher. The book is ambitious as Sykes sets out to write his "genetic biography of America." He quickly realizes this and only tests 25-30 people as part of the book. One disappointment is that while Sykes rides a train across the U.S. he doesn't actually stop in the mid-west to do any testing. The majority is done in New England, the we...more
John Wood
I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway.
I thoroughly enjoyed it although it was often hard to follow the genetics and the history involved in the different groups that make up the USA. I am also not sure why the DNA paintings of the individual participants in the study were in the middle of the book when they weren't explained until later and were not really discussed in any detail until the last chapter. Also why were names of famous people used as aliases. Overall the book is well written...more
Anne
I had a hard time rating this book. When it was good, it was really good. But when it was bad, it was awful!

I really enjoyed the very readable information on the progress in DNA analysis that's been made recently (as it applies to genealogical research). I was very interested in the summary discussion of Native American, European, and African clans. More specifically, the issues surrounding Native Americans and genetic testing and the feeling of connection to African roots were both engagingly...more
Diane
This book is a genealogy of the American people, explaining through genetics what parts of the world we originated from. There were parts of the book I found fascinating and other parts only mildly interesting. The author describes the background of each person he DNA samples during his train/road trip throughout the US (giving the samplers fictitious names from characters out of Hollywood films.) (Hollywood films are referenced throughout the book. The author is British, and he relates to the U...more
Jennifer
Really this should be 2.5. The thing is I am fascinated by genetics and the implication they have on family history, ancestry, and history so I had to pick up Sykes book and from what I can tell if this is your first trip into the oeuvre of Bryan Sykes stick with the first books, because this is a bit of a mess. The science is completely backed up but the anecdotes of Americans and the American experience are ridiculous. First this is not comprehensive in the least and as many reviewers have not...more
Phyllis
I agree with other reviewers that there are some issues with this book, although I'm not sorry I picked it up. I won't belabor the point that the handful of people used to represent the rich genetic background of the US wasn't remotely representative.

What really bothered me was a section on page 158 of the hardcover version. Sykes proposes that all living homo sapiens descend from a "universal ancestor" who originated about 1,900 years ago. The model used to calculate this estimate is supposed...more
Sam
A very readable book, and fascinating. while there is plenty of DNA, Sykes goes further, and adds a lot of comment on history, the 1st part treating the "older world" and Europe in particular with its migrations,

Then does, in what he clearly is not a "scientific sample", a trip to the USA, and gets a background of people and then does a "DNA painting" of the selection he did the tests on.

So while it is clearly a scientific book, it goes further and give a good "cultural" angle to the various d...more
Augie
I thought the book provided good back ground information on DNA testing. I even like the background on the people he tested; however, I did not buy the book for a European's editorial on America. Also, I can see going to New England for good DNA on European Americans and why he would want to go to the south for African American DNA, but he missed a huge opportunity by not visiting and describing New Mexico DNA. The sampling would have been very diverse: Spanish mixed with Pueblo,Apache, and Nava...more
Kate
I thought it was a fascinating and quick read for the first 3/4s. I'm really interested in DNA applications to genealogy and history, but I'm definitely much more educated in the latter. So I appreciated his detailed and conversational but not overbearing descriptions of how it all works and its implications. I can honestly say I learned a ton from reading this book.

Now, I kind of put it down for awhile after the first three-quarters when he embarked on his roadtrip across America. It wasn't aw...more
Mike
I really like books that combine history and science. See 1493 or The Columbian Exchange, or Guns, Germs, and Steel. Plus I had just handled a case at work that involved DNA so when I heard an interview with this author on public radio, I thought I'd check out the book.

I thought it was ok but not as good as I'd hope. The basic problem is that it can't seem to decide if it wants to be a science story or a travelogue of the British author's trip to America. And I didn't find the author to be a pa...more
Kara
This book give a brief overview of dna testing with an emphasis on different ethnic groups within the United States. It will help if you have read one of his earlier books. I am not sure of the point of this book. It wanders through the testing of different individuals and specific groups by giving anecdotes that are interesting but only loosely tied together. Bryan Sykes starts a conversation about the ethics of dna testing and using the outcomes and how the testing is viewed within different p...more
Suzanne
This book was quite interesting, but not really for the reason the title states. It veered quite a bit from actually being about DNA in the USA, which is understandable, because nearly all DNA here comes from someplace else (even that of Native Americans, which is one of the most interesting parts of the book). Parts of the book are a travelogue, telling of a train trip across the US. I liked this part, but it had very little to do with DNA. Other parts are long digressions about other DNA studi...more
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