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Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins
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Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins

3.89  ·  Rating Details  ·  745 Ratings  ·  56 Reviews
In a journey across four continents, acclaimed science writer Steve Olson traces the origins of modern humans and the migrations of our ancestors throughout the world over the past 150,000 years. Like Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel, Mapping Human History is a groundbreaking synthesis of science and history. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including the latest ge ...more
Paperback, 304 pages
Published April 1st 2003 by Mariner Books (first published May 15th 2002)
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Mar 16, 2008 Grumpus rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
It’s the history of all of us. . . and we’re more alike than most people know.

Mitochondrial Eve (our common female ancestor) lived fewer than 200,000 years ago and thus shows the recency of our common ancestry. “Some people might like to believe that genetic mixing of people from different groups is rare—and that their ancestors certainly didn’t mix with hoi polloi. But groups have many ways of mixing.”

By comparing the DNA sequences of people all over the world, geneticists have found 85% of th
Timothy Riley
Apr 02, 2016 Timothy Riley rated it liked it
This was a quick read relative to the subject matter, informative but not too technical. The basic premise is that the human species is incredibly alike regardless of our visual differences. Race is nothing but a human construct designed to neatly put groups in categories but doesn't reflect DNA similiarities. The most interesting part of this book concerns the migrations out of Africa, about how there were several attempts and then maybe returns to Africa and the bottleneck that modern Egpyt an ...more
Aug 13, 2015 Steve rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mid 3. Olson traces the evolution of mankind across four continents, and in doing so begs the question of whether racial distinctions are nothing more than historical accidents. According to his account everyone alive today can trace their biological roots to a small group of anatomically modern humans inhabiting the grasslands of Eastern Africa some 100,000 years ago. The four most momentous events in the prehistory of human evolution all probably occurred within 500 miles of the equator. Aroun ...more
Sep 10, 2013 Stig rated it liked it
The scientific part of this book is fascinating reading. Olson gives a great account of how mankind evolved in Africa and spread to the rest of the world, along with some interesting case studies such as that of the Lemba people in Zimbabwe and South Africa who - based on genetic evidence - have Jewish ancestors. Also includes a good explanation of why we all have ancestors from all corners of the world. For me, the book is marred by a certain amount of preachiness, but if one can abstract from ...more
Dec 18, 2014 Jenny rated it did not like it
Shelves: gave-up-on
I purchased Mapping Human History: Genes, Race, and Our Common Origins thinking I'd found an in-depth discussion of the genetic aspect of the origin and spread of Homo. After all, it was a National Book Award Finalist, and a Discover Best Science Book of the Year. Ordinarily such accolades mean little to me, but in the case of a non-specialist who, I hoped, would have a new take on the issue, I appreciated the professional nod.

I'm sure it's no surprise from my introduction to say that I was terr
Sally Hegedus
In this wonderful book, Olson explores the origin of Homo sapiens and our eventual migrations to populate the globe. The bulk of the book focuses on the latest genetic research using DNA analysis to discover just where we all come from. How do humans genetically differ from one another, and more importantly, what does research tell us we all of us have in common? Olson argues strongly, and backs it up with science, that the human race is one; that we are all the product on interbreeding and the ...more
Victor Sonkin
Olson provides one of the most accessible accounts of population genetics, the fascinating field pioneered in the trenches of WWI and later developed into a full-blown science through the efforts of L.L.Cavalli-Sforza and many others. The book is divided into sections corresponding to parts of the world, though this is only a very sketchy division (since the human race is intrinsically interconnected, one can't really speak of Africa without touching upon the rest of the world).

Olson is not a sc
Chris Demer
Steve Olson explains in this clearly written book how the Human Genome Project has given scientists new information in determining the history of our species, and some of those closely related. He discusses how genetic information (especially that provided by mitochondrial DNA and the DNA of the X chromosome) has helped us to understand where humans originated (Africa) and how they migrated out of that continent to populate the earth.
The overriding theme is how very similar we are to all other
Feb 27, 2013 Nate rated it liked it
Shelves: evolution, science
Interesting, sweeping account of the history of human population movements based on where genetics was in 2002. Some fascinating info about the Jews, Bushmen, Mitochondrial Eve, the Neandertals, and the Native Americans. After each chapter, however, I was left wanting more. Too much commentary and speculation mixed in with hard genetic evidence. While I appreciated Olson's insight that race is a biologically indefensible construct, he seemed, by the end of the book, to be gathering as many quote ...more
Cougar Dan Misogynistic Empire
This book was full of interesting and pertinent information and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. But if I had to pick a title for it, I would have called it The Case Against Racism. While it does talk a little bit about the origin, distribution, and diversification of the human species over the course of the past 200,000 years, that's not what Olson seems to be focused on. In the book, he goes into great detail discussing the history of bigotry on the basis of race, and then uses science to syst ...more
Apr 29, 2014 Dana rated it really liked it
Interesting book- the author's premise is that there should be no racism as there are truly no races. He avoids the controversial subject of religion except at one point notes that Christianity has reinforced racism in some ways. I think Olson's point is extremely important- there are no genetic differences between peoples, so we cannot prove intellectual differences based on skin color or other physical attributes. Variation occurs more within groups than between groups.
Sean Mahdi
Mapping Human History attempts to answer the big questions about how modern humans evolved. In doing so, it traces the fascinating story of modern humans' journey out of Africa 100,000 years ago and their subsequent migration around the world.

One of the points of tension in the book is that while genetics demonstrates our fundamental similarities as human beings and the meaninglessness of racial distinctions, tiny genetic differences are enough to trace groups of people back into the distant pa
Oct 22, 2009 Michael rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
Olson's overview of genetic research on the migrations of modern humans out of Africa and into every inhabited land is very useful. He includes good notes for those wishing to read the primary sources. Although the material is fascinating, the style is somewhat unexciting. The book would benefit from a section on the spread of those hominids who left Africa in earlier migrations, since the work refers to the encounters between modern humans and pre-modern humans already established in territorie ...more
Annika Altpeter
Mar 30, 2014 Annika Altpeter rated it liked it
Shelves: science
I found this book sort of disappointing- really more of a 2.5. The premise was pretty interesting, but it wasn't as fact oriented as I had hoped. I ended up skipping over entire chapters which contained nothing but information that was either useless or obvious. That being said, I did get a few new facts out of it, so it was technically worth my time. And it was a (mercifully) quick read.
Aug 11, 2012 Noreen rated it really liked it
Some things about genetics I assumed were true turns out are false.
1. The mathematical "proof" that biological numbers of an individuals ancestors converges to a common "eve".
2. Ethnic groups who claim genetic "purity" such as the "Basque,Lemba, assorted Jews, " do in fact share the same DNA as their geographic neighbors.
3. It is impossible to determine whether or not someone is pure "Hawaiian" because there is no Hawaiian set of genes, or an Asian set of genes, or a European set of genes etc.
Mark Heishman
Feb 28, 2013 Mark Heishman rated it liked it
This book rejects most of what I was taught in school and Sunday school and Church. It also challanges as fiction much of what I have spent my adult life reading about. It makes such statements as we are all of black ancestory roots, man did not have its beginning in the middle east, we can all probably be linked to the same famous figures in history such as Julius Caesar and Attila the Hun, there is no true blood Jewish nation existing today. We all can be linked by blood to Jewish ancestory, r ...more
May 29, 2007 Alvin rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: those interested in geography, physical/cultural anthropology, diaspora, and human diversity
I picked up this book without prior knowledge of the genetic human origins theory, and soon I was sucked into a fascinating ride to prehistoric times when early forms of homo sapiens first emerged in East Africa. I'd suggest anyone pondering this book not to be turned off by the word "Genes" in the title - it's true that genetics play a central role in this book, but it is reader-friendly enough to suit even non-science aficionados and young readers. The writing is well-balanced with evidence an ...more
Aug 08, 2010 Katie rated it really liked it
Human genetics and our development into modern humans and our relationship to each other is one of my particular areas of interest, and this is an excellent book for a layman who knows little about the subject. What's so compelling about it to me is that it makes the same arguments as many other books (we're really not that different after all) but does it with irrefutable evidence -- our own DNA. I've read this book twice already (as evidenced by all the underlining and margin notes on just abo ...more
Katharine Ott
Jun 26, 2015 Katharine Ott rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"Mapping Human History: Discovering the Past Through Our Genes" - written by Steve Olson and published in 2002 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. A very readable discussion of heredity.
Feb 04, 2015 Manuel rated it it was amazing
Erudite and well-written. Gives a very thorough exploration of the idea, rooted in genetic science, that the concept of race is a fantasy. A great compliment to Ian Tattersall's and Richard Lewontin's work on the topic.
Rachel Drew
Dec 24, 2010 Rachel Drew rated it it was amazing
Genetics is an amateur passion of mine (not in a creepy white supremicist/measuring skulls kind of way, but in a "wow, look how we moved around and settled different parts of the globe" kind of way.) DNA and the concept of haplogroups allows us to see how we are all connected and originate from the same place and also how our ancestors parted ways and rejoined and parted and joined again throughout human history. Did you know there is no marker for race? And that, in fact, it really only exists ...more
Adam Cherson
Jul 23, 2013 Adam Cherson rated it really liked it
I rate this book a 4.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being best. For those new to the subject of ancestral genetics, this book will be world view changing experience, if not a life changing one. The revolution in genetic science is probably the greatest human accomplishment of our slice of historical time. This book explores only one aspect of this revolution: what genes can tell us about our own human history. While the science is only beginning to scratch the surface of knowledge, this is a good ...more
Dec 24, 2010 Stephen rated it really liked it
A good read. The book comes to the (I think) reassuring conclusion that race has very little to do with genetics. All humans are so genetically similar that race is irrelevant at that level. The really cool and interesting parts are about how the various continents became populated. There are also several highly interesting descriptions of isolated populations like the Basque in France and the Samaritans in Palestine. It is particularly amusing (and ironic) that the humble Bushmen appear to have ...more
Grant Staley
Aug 08, 2012 Grant Staley rated it really liked it
I have always held interest in this subject since seeing a PBS piece on human migration years ago. This book covers the subject in a very readable format that is narrative rather than scientific. An opinion piece it is not, however, as the bibliography runs for 45 pages. I especially liked the author's sub-text that in the end, despite outward appearances, all humans are much more similar (genetically) than we are different. The final chapter is about Hawaii's melting-pot culture that supersedes ...more
Aug 23, 2007 Meinarno rated it really liked it
Shelves: sejarah, antropologi
Buku yang pada awalnya membingungkan. Ketika perlahan dibaca, maka takjublah bahwa yang sebenarnya terjadi dalam rangkaian evolusi manusia selama jutaan tahun telah dirangkum oleh Olson.

Beberapa informasi tentang evolusi yang tak ada di buku-buku pelajaran SMA menjadikan buku ini seperti "gerbang" ke area baru yang sama sekali belum tersentuh oleh pengetahuan dasar selama ini.

Sangat baik bagi yang tertarik tentang asal muasal manusia, khususnya dalam hal evolusi biologis (genetika).
May 15, 2011 Peter added it
Similar to The Seven Daughters of Eve (above), but with a somewhat different focus. Goes into more detail on the spread of anatomically-modern humans across the globe, and how mitochondrial DNA has been used to discover what we know. Includes some fascinating discussion on the ethical aspects of this kind of research, and pros/cons for various small native populations that geneticists want to study. Less accessible than The Seven Daughters of Eve, but a bit more interesting overall.
J. Ewbank
Apr 22, 2010 J. Ewbank rated it really liked it
Shelves: a-good-read, science
This book by Steve Olson is about DNA and where we human beings came from. For instance he says that all of the 6 billion people alive today have descended from a small group of anatomically modern humans who once lived in eastern Africa.
Historically wherever modern humans met and perhaps mixed with the earlier human beings the older human beings eventually disappeared.

Fascinating reading.

J. Robert Ewbank author "John Wesley, Natural Man, and the 'Isms'"
Cassandra Kay Silva
Oct 21, 2010 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it liked it
Shelves: science
I was not entirely impressed with the authors writing style, however I can not think of any subject that better underlies our connectedness as humans than genetics. Understanding our genetic history has the uncanny ability to help us realize how pointless racism and segregation are. We are all truly connected, our history as humans is entertwined and recognizing our common origins should give humanity a deeper sense of the true meaning of family.
Juno 1101
Sep 24, 2007 Juno 1101 rated it really liked it
This one is a great and provocative book,with main thesis that "We, all of earth inhabitants, are from one ancestor". This argument leads to the peace-approach in interracial and interethnic relations. Some friends might say that, "It was what American said,and it was absolutely American project." But, when exploring this book deeper and deeper, we'll get scientific explanation that is also logical and provocative !
Nov 10, 2010 Jen rated it really liked it
Having studied biology and anthropology in college, I have a decent amount of knowledge in this area. With that being said, I went into the book feeling a little apprehensive that I wouldn't learn much of anything and that it might be too basic for me. However, I was happy to find that it retold the information I already knew in a really interesting way, and wove in with some things that were new to me!
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