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DNA USA: A Genetic Biography of America

3.49  ·  Rating details ·  577 Ratings  ·  115 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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May 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, science
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
Danica
Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was ok
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
Jennifer
Jul 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Diane
Jun 18, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: wpl, nonfiction


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
Cyndi
Nov 26, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jun 12, 2012 rated it liked it
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!
Kristi Thielen
Dec 02, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Jim Gallen
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
John Wood
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
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
Katie Curtis
Nov 20, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Sam
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Anne
Sep 05, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
Jennifer
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jennifer by: Book
My first book on genetics - I had just watched the National Geographic documentary "Human Family Tree" when I saw a fellow Goodreads member had rated this title, and it looked interesting. It was!
sara
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
This started off very interesting and grew a little laborious, then painful, with the exception of the poetic description of Native lands in the West.

He loses one star for going on and on for pages about Native American mistrust of DNA and the history of eugenics without ONCE mentioning that at one time Native American women were force-sterilized, often without their knowledge (when undergoing an otherwise benign procedure like an appendectomy -- or even tonsillectomy! -- for instance), as a re
...more
Colette
Audiobook.
This book was had to rate because some parts were so interesting I would give it 5 stars, and then other parts dragged and were completely off-topic. Overall, I enjoyed it, however listening to American history from the eyes of a British man was sometimes annoying. Also, coming to it from the perspective of a professional genealogist also has its challenges. I don't know too much about genealogical DNA testing, and this book came out quite awhile ago (in terms of genetics research), s
...more
Pat Beard
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book. The author is a talented writer with a wry wit that shows through on occasion. Book starts with a very good explanation of the basics of genetic testing and what it can and cannot mean and show and some of the background of the field of genetics. That was the best part of the book. I just didn't find the genetic portraitures that made up the last part of the work nearly as captivating. I wasn't surprised by any of the findings there.
Claire
Aug 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Interesting DNA travelogue. Brian Sykes travels across the US doing DNA tests and interjecting interesting bits of DNA research history from other places. In particular I enjoyed a side story (I am sure chronicled in his other books) about Somerled, a historic Celtic hero and his genetic influence on the Scottish clans (and the fact that the same Y chromosome suggests that the clan leaders strayed with non clan women).
Awjtf
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
very interesting book!
Stephany
Jun 28, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: non-fiction
This book is 1 star because I DNF'd it. Not a bad book, and subject to change if I pick it up again,
Jenna
Jul 13, 2017 rated it liked it
Great book, but not what I was expecting. It wasn't nearly as entertaining as "Saxons, Vikings, and Celts."
John Vanek
Apr 12, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, history
1. Sykes never figured out what he was trying to do with this book. It is part genetic survey, part travelogue, part ego-stroking self-promotion.

2. Sykes misses most Americans. I understand the interest in Native Americans and Africa-Americans and I enjoyed some of his discussion about the role of genetic testing in their lives, but considering America's many chapters of immigration and internal migration he missed so many potential stories.

3. Whatever critical thinking skills Sykes uses within
...more
Chris Demer
Sep 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Sarah
Apr 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Recommended for someone in North America to read if they're interested in exploring their ancestry through their DNA. This book would help the reader comprehend the results. The author goes in depth about maternal and paternal haplogroups which often confuses people. Another benefit is that he expands on what the numbers or conclusions mean. One example is that it is not just normal for a Native American to have European DNA but also why that is normal. And to say a man has a Scottish chromosome ...more
Brooke
*Goodreads First Read*
3 stars

As a genealogy hobbyist I've known about the move to link DNA/genetics and ancestry for a long time, hence my interest in this book. Some segments were interesting, particularly those covering Native Americans, but I felt that a lot of the studies and outcomes could apply anywhere, not just in the US. For example, in the first part of the book Sykes recounted a study of Scottish clans; perhaps relevant to Scottish-Americans, but otherwise merely a general example of
...more
Anne
Jun 10, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Jane Night
Dec 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
First off, I need to confess that I listened to this as an audiobook and I would recommend that for pacing if nothing else. This is a very interesting book on a very interesting topic.

My dad is big into genealogy and that certainly had some impact on why I enjoyed this book so much. One of the topics the book covers is using DNA to help with genealogy when a family has followed the paper record as far back as possible. At times, the paper record may even be proved inaccurate or incomplete by DNA
...more
marcus miller
Nov 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Anna Herr
Apr 27, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Claire Eden
Jul 16, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012-reads
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
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Bryan Sykes is professor of genetics at the Institute of Molecular Medicine at Oxford University and the author of the national bestseller The Seven Daughters of Eve.
More about Bryan Sykes...