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The Genetic Strand: Exploring a Family History Through DNA
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The Genetic Strand: Exploring a Family History Through DNA

3.04 of 5 stars 3.04  ·  rating details  ·  104 ratings  ·  33 reviews
The Genetic Strand is the story of a writer's investigation, using DNA science, into the tale of his family's origins. National Book Award winner Edward Ball has turned his probing gaze on the microcosm of the human genome, and not just any human genome -- that of his slave-holding ancestors. What is the legacy of such a family history, and can DNA say something about it? ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published November 6th 2007 by Simon & Schuster (first published 2007)
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Judy Roberts
This is the only book that i have actually "read" about DNA. i find it a dry subject at best for myself ( not the scientific type) .
This author (and i don't recall reading anything else by him) manages to take DNA and make it into a family story with well written prose and HUMOR.
i enjoyed this, a slim volume.
Gloria
Interesting discussion of one family and using DNA testing to try to learn about their ancestry. the book is out of date in terms of modern DNA testing for personal genealogy, but interesting in that he found a collection of hair samples from many deceased members of his own family.

Modern genealogy companies such as Ancestry.com and FamiltytreeDNA and 23andme had not yet begun doing genealogical DNA testing when this book was published in 2007. Nevertheless, it is interesting to see his quest to
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Spotsalots
Dec 08, 2012 Spotsalots added it
Shelves: history, science
This was okay, but somewhat disappointing. I was intrigued by the idea of finding and DNA-testing samples of ancestral hair (we're about to test my mother's DNA in part because both of her grandfathers are mystery men). However, the book veered back and forth between the family story and the story of testing the various samples at quite a few different labs, and while I'm interested in genetics, some of the scientific explanation seemed tediously basic and much more of it seemed tediously techni ...more
Diane
This was an interesting concept. The author finds lockets of hair from several his ancestors from as early as 1830 in the drawer of a family heirloom desk. He decides to do DNA analysis on the hair to confirm or deny some family stories. They might have had an African and/or a Native American ancestor. He goes to several different DNA labs with different niche specialties. He explains at length the science behind DNA and analysis and interviews several scientists. Alternating with the science he ...more
Ellee
This isn't quite the book that a brief description makes it out to be. What most of the book does is describe the current state of DNA testing in most of the variations that someone is likely to come across. That it was mostly science-talk didn't bother me - I'm familiar enough with the science around DNA to not be bothered by "the Vocabulary." What did bother me, though, was getting back to what the brief description promises - a book about race and racial tension within multiple generations of ...more
Joanne
Jan 10, 2008 Joanne rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: someone REALLY interested in DNA testing
Shelves: non-fiction
There are two aspects of this book: an explanation of DNA testing and the application of that testing to nineteenth century hair samples from Ball's family.

The better part of the book is the application part, especially as Ball explains his family tree and then tries to add information with the DNA testing of not only the strands, but also his own DNA and that of cousins he tracks down from various branches. He learns some about his racial heritage and some about mercury levels. That's all inter
...more
Cyndi
A family history interspersed with the science of DNA testing. Both are interesting and decently written. The story moves towards a conclusion but then claims testing error and ends up back where the author started, knowing very little new information about his family. While I'm sure it was even more disappointing for him than for his readers, it doesn't make much sense. He had three separate tests on three separate people pointing to this one conclusion and only one of the tests was in error (m ...more
Justin
Ball provides an interesting and well written personal family history in "The Genetic Strand." Ball tells the story of his experience with exploring his own family history and personal identity through his genetics. He interviews many people and puts his, and his ancestors' DNA through many tests. The story in quite interesting and Ball's writing is engaging.

The downfall of this book is in its conclusion. Ball eschews science, calling it a religion, and he attacks the media for so readily accept
...more
Louise
The author comes upon some "hairlooms" (locks of hair from his forbears) and shares what he learns as he pursues DNA analysis on them.

The book rambles. He writes something of his slave holding ancestors and some bits and pieces about DNA. Most interesting to me were the current uses and potential uses of DNA from hair, bone, blood, saliva, etc. and how researchers characterize the patterns of human migration that DNA research has unlocked.

Interviews with living family members and DNA researchers
...more
Jordan
I enjoyed Edward Ball's writing style, and his serendipitous account of finding a cache of hair from long deceased family members made for an unbeatable premise for a book. Unfortunately Mr. Ball fell in love with his research into DNA and couldn't bear to leave of some of it to footnotes, where it would have found a better home. I did find his critique of the absolutism of science in the final chapter to be quite provocative and well worth reading. If you are curious about modern DNA science wr ...more
Monica
I checked this book out for the family history part of DNA research. While that is the main topic, it was very hard to get past what he calls "The Vocabulary" which is scientific talk. Every time I thought I was going to just quit reading the book he would bring me back with some of his family history. I did end up finishing it although it was a struggle at times. He is a very good, descriptive writer; I just wasn't interested in that much of the scientific talk. It's worth finishing, however, f ...more
Suzanne
I was pleasantly surprised by the writing. The story is a thin one, woven between the science of DNA and some family history of the writer. Even though I didn't enjoy the scientific explanations (or "The Vocabulary" of genetics, as the author puts it), I did come away with a more skeptical view of DNA evidence. I like history and genealogy, so I enjoyed the discussions about identity, and trying to parse a family history from the DNA of people in the author's family.

All in all, enjoyable and I'
...more
Sally
Not as interesting as I thought it would be. Might have been better as an essay in a collection or as a series of magazine articles.

All he learned was that one set of genetic tests on the family hair he found hidden in an old desk showed Native American and African gene markers, then the same hair tested by different companies did not reproduce those results.

If you're interested in which parts of the DNA indicate ancestry, you might like all that discussion. I didn't find it kept my attention.
...more
Sarah
I was expecting a bit less science-talk and a bit more family history, but it was fine. It does seem to come to the conclusion that DNA scientists really don't know what they're talking about when it comes to genetic history and medicine. This conclusion might be easier to take from someone who can spell Fort Detrick properly. (Seriously - is it that hard to look up? The book I'm reading now does the same thing. They're called factcheckers, people. Hire one.)
Jonathan
definitely chock full of info on genetic testing, coding, the human genome project, eugenics, etc. lots of great historical anecdotes and stories. however, he didn't have to turn it into a weak attack on the ivory tower of science. i don't think a 'genetic memoir' is the place for that. so, edward ball... should have saved that for another book. 'slavery in the family' is superb, though.
Margaret Sankey
When Edward Ball, author of _Slaves in the Family_, finds a stash of 19th Century ancestors' locks of hair in an antique desk, he turns them over to a variety of labs for genetic testing. This book does nice job explaining DNA and DNA testing to non-scientific readers, and lays out what testing can (and most importantly, can't) tell us about the history encoded in our genes.
Jenny
Too much complicated DNA information for me. If you are looking to learn what halpotypes, mtDNA, nucleotides, G-A-C-T, admixture, PCR, etc., etc. mean than you might enjoy this book. I got bogged down in the vocabulary and the intracacies of DNA testing. More of a "how-to" of DNA testing than a family story or even historical background of the development of DNA research.
A.gasior
I learned that at first glance DNA analysis is amazing, however it does have its shortcomings. Its interesting to learn about the strides made in this field in layman's terms. Although I personally couldn't relate to the back story in this book, it helped carry things along and kept it from becoming a dry technical read.
Sarah Jones
I was very interested to see what this book would do, but was disappointed. It focused far too much on the scientific babble, and most of the information was given so quickly it went right over my head.
I did enjoy the family stories and the general concept. Perhaps it would have been better in a shorter format.
PastAllReason
To begin with I felt annoyed that the description presented on the flyleaf of the book did not match the reality of the substance of the book.

There wasn't anything inherently wrong with the contents of the book, but I did not find it persuasive or compelling. I would not have bought the book had I known.
Jayne
Jul 06, 2011 Jayne rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those with an interest in genetics and science
Recommended to Jayne by: the sale price
A nice example of how science can be written about in popular form - given personal context and a critical lens. The author could have, should have gone one step further and reverenced his material as he did exercise good lay inquiry. The last chapter was an excellent insight comparing religion and science.
Beth
Interesting subject for a book but I felt like the author wondered away from the point to frequently. I did find it interesting that he received different results on the DNA tests from different firms, showing that this is not such an exact science after all.
Konrad Joseph
Light read. A neat twist on the blind trust in DNA matching, but ends with a rant on how science is not to be trusted. And also starts with a comment on how he thinks science is boring. Not sure why he decided to write a book on it then...
Crystal
Dec 31, 2007 Crystal marked it as to-read
This book is interesting so far, but in an almost uncomfortably personal, almost too revealing kind of way--it's like reading the personal/ emotional blog of someone you don't know. It IS interesting, though, so I plan to keep reading.
Debbie
Not as good as I thought it would be and the science got a bit technical for me at times, but still raises important issues regarding the realiability of DNA testing and the lack of critical analysis of this glamour science.
Christina Dudley
Some fascinating stuff in here, for those interested in DNA testing and genealogy. I skimmed the technical stuff. Wished I could have heard more historical bits about famous cases.
Barbarawiley
This author is able to take a fascinating subject and beat the reader over the head with endless detail that helps one go to sleep at night. I found it necessary to skip pages.
Andrea Sirls
I read Edward Ball's "Slaves in the Family" about 10 years ago and really enjoyed it so I decided to try this one. Not as interesting.
Jostalady
Feb 28, 2012 Jostalady is currently reading it
I am on page 21, if I ever do come back to this book. It seems exciting-just too much on my plate.
Jean Liska
An easy to read books on the possibilities of using DNA for learning about one's ancestors
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Edward Ball was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1958, grew up in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana. He finished high school in New Orleans and attended Brown University, graduating in 1982 with a B.A. in Semiotics.

He received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1984, and afterwards moved to New York City, where he worked as a freelance art critic, writing about film, art, arc
...more
More about Edward Ball...
Slaves in the Family The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures The Sweet Hell Inside: The Rise of an Elite Black Family in the Segregated South Peninsula of Lies: A True Story of Mysterious Birth and Taboo Love The Inventor and the Tycoon: The Murderer Eadweard Muybridge, the Entrepreneur Leland Stanford, and the Birth of Moving Pictures

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