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DNA USA: A Genetic Biography of America

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  686 ratings  ·  124 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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Average rating 3.50  · 
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 ·  686 ratings  ·  124 reviews

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May 06, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: science, history
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
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
I was hoping for better. It's not that there isn't any good content here. It's that much of this has been covered in other books I've read. Some has been explicitly covered in other books by this author. And then some of this is travelogue - as in the author travelling around the USA by train. The pieces explicitly targeting Native Americans or Africans were the better parts. The last section on the results of gene painting was basically unreadable. So read other books first. 2.5 of 5. ...more
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 q
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
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
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
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.
Mar 05, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018, audiobook, science
More like 3.5 stars. I liked it; it was engaging, but it seemed a little bit unfocused.

I don't feel like I got a genetic portrait of America.

Frequent references to his earlier The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry made me want to read that, although there's lots of interesting stuff right here. He posits through stats inferences about humankind's most recent common ancestor, as distinct from mitochondrial Eve, or Y-Adam. He talks about his travels by train acr
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
Nov 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
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
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
Katie Johnson
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
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
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!
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. ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to uosɯɐS 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! ...more
Melissa Embry
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it
As the United States moves toward a society in which those who identify as white are fast losing their majority statues and with a biracial American grafted onto the British royal family, Bryan Sykes’ DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America seems increasingly relevant. But the Oxford geneticist who pioneered the use of human DNA to explore the history of the British Isles doesn’t aim to map America’s ancestral heritage. “The sheer size of the country and the magnitude of the population rules out ...more
Jul 13, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not what was advertised

This book was a disappointment after some of Sykes' previous work. This was much more of a travelogue and ode to the Native American than any sort of genetic research. The genetics discussed are limited to 25 individuals, one of whom is the author who is not even American. Sykes purposefully stays away from anything that could cause conflict so does no genetic sampling from Native Americans, even though about half the book talks about their history, or from African America
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
Susie Besecker
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Intriguing text delving into what it might really mean to be "categorized" as American. Interesting facts and truths about Native Americans and why they, as a group of nations, are against DNA testing of their populations. Also notes how much alike we all are at a genetic level, literally and figuratively - especially African Americans and European Americans - a truth supported by the science showing a rather un-lopsided/equal sharing of DNA across ethnicities whether you believe it or not. In t ...more
David Hunsicker
Jan 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Bryan Sykes tends to recycle a lot of his material. Each of the books references the previous ones. So if you were to pick one of his books to get a summary of all his important works, I would recommend this one. And if after reading this you want to learn more about his other research you could always go back and read those. But the Readers' Digest version of those books can be found here along with interesting new anecdotes about genetics in the United States and why our genetic melting pot lo ...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. ...more
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).
Marisa Markowski
Dec 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I thought Sykes provided some valuable information on the value, or harm, of genetic testing. Overall, I enjoyed diving into a new topic, but after reading other reviews, it looks like this book isn't best-suited for those that are already experts on the topic. So, that probably explains why I enjoyed it. ...more
Sep 11, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

There was too much personal and travel.information for a book that was supposed to be about genetics. It rambles on a lot and didn't seem to have much cohesion. Disappointing compared to the other works by this author which I have read.
May 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
very interesting book!
Jenna Gazarek
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." ...more
Jerry Jares
May 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book title promises more than it could possibly offer. I knew I would be disappointed if Bryan Sykes didn't talk about each of the genetic groups in America. However, he did something quite interesting. Sykes offered a lengthy explanation of the historically under-reported genetic groups in our country. Specifically, they are the American Indians and African -Americans. To a lesser extent, the author discussed differences between the varieties of Latino and Hispanic peoples.

The book's title
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
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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.

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