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The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  1,184 Ratings  ·  178 Reviews
What the latest research reveals about how the history of the human race shapes us as individuals

We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by the forces that are invisible to us? In The Invisible History of the Human Race, Christine Kenneally draws on cutting-edge research to reveal how both historical artifacts and DNA tell us w
Hardcover, 355 pages
Published October 9th 2014 by Viking (first published January 1st 2014)
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J.L.   Sutton
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
What science (especially DNA) can tell us about who we are (and where we come from) has grown exponentially in the last few decades. DNA is only part of the story. How our personal history or family history (coded in DNA) intersects not only with a bigger history (migrations and such) but technological innovations, social movements and even attitudes makes Christine Kenneally’s Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures a fascinating read. I wou ...more
Sep 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
I received this book as part of a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, and it was an interesting read on the impact of inheritance. Kenneally introduces a later chapter in the book with a fantastic Confucian quote that I think aptly describes the main thrust of the book: “By nature, men are nearly alike; by practice, they get to be wide apart.” Despite the subtitle I assumed the main argument of this book would be to highlight the migration of variances in human DNA around the world. I was wrong – wh ...more
Oct 23, 2014 rated it it was amazing
DNA and the riveting meta-history of being human

This fascinating reader-friendly book covers a diverse but related set of topics including ancient human origins, the history of our fascination with genealogy and ancestors, the inexplicable longevity of ideas that arise in a culture almost incidentally, the latest sometimes surprising finding about the workings of the human genome, and the benefits, risks, and limits of DNA testing for disease likelihood, cultural identity, and prehistoric ancest
David Moss
Aug 22, 2014 rated it liked it
Disclosure: I received this book free as a "First Read" from Goodreads.

The words "history", "Human Race", and "DNA" in the title and subtitle mislead the potential reader. The book is really about personal identity and the discovery of ancestry. The author specifically mentions the scientific community holding investigations into one's heredity as less than important, and the author argues that these things "matter" and "have significance." While they may have significance to the people who have
Sep 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
I received this book for free through Goodreads First Reads.

The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures seeks to show how "the concept of ancestry can bring genetics and history together fruitfully." Author Christine Kenneally is very successful in this objective, weaving together stories of genealogy, historical records, and genetic science. She divides the book into three sections:

I. Ideas About What Is Passed Down Are Passed Down - a somew
Jul 08, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Normally, this would be the kind of book I would walk right past in a bookshop. Science, race, identity. Shudder.

But, two things happened:
- Black Inc. send out a monthly email, and this book was on special as an ebook
- this book was shortlisted for The Stella Prize

So, I began reading the book on my ipad (not something I have successfully done to date) expecting it wouldn't be too interesting... only to discover her writing style is marvellous and I couldn't resist reading more.

Still struggli
Doris Jean
Jan 27, 2015 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: especially to all interested in ancestry, and also to those just wanting to ponder about who we are.
I would correct the title to reflect that this book is on the history and sociology of geneology and ancestry. I thought this book would be more about the science of DNA and maybe even epigenetics which I find fascinating. Apparently there are ancestral non-DNA markers passed down which affect behavior, ideas, feelings and psychology. But there were only a couple of paragraphs on epigenetics, just enough to say it's not yet understood. This book embodied a philosophical approach rather than hard ...more
Bob Nichols
Jun 08, 2018 rated it liked it
The book summarizes the information that is covered elsewhere – e.g., the interest in and concerns about the use of genealogical information, its misuse (eugenics), DNA’s role in passing along physical characteristics and health problems, and the use of DNA to trace migration patterns of early humans (and the intermixing with Neanderthals). The book pulls together and updates the information and puts it in one place, but the title and subtitle, and hype on back flap, oversells. The book is not a ...more
Negar Negaru
Jan 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Learned some new things about genes which was interesting.
Peter Mcloughlin
Ancestry according to the author is a subject that brings about an animus in many and great number of people have no small disdain for people involved in Genealogy. It bespeaks of an unhealthy interest in pedigree, snobbery and a tinge of Eugenics. Besides the right wing associations it is also true that most of use in modern societies want to be our own person and genealogy seems to erode the idea self made individual. As a result most of us only know our ancestors down to two or three generat ...more
Andrew Davis
Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: natural-science
Expected more focus on genetics and DNA. Instead, a lot of journalistic relations of author's trips and discussions with the various individuals that are involved in genealogy and genetics. Made a few following notes:
- Inside each cell of each person is a massive library of DNA, 3 billion base pairs that have been passed down to us.
- Women have 2 X chromosomes, whilst men have one X and one Y chromosome. The Y chromosome is passed down from father to son as is. The X chromosome is always from th
Oct 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
I was expecting this book to have far more examples from rigid scientific and empirical studies, but it provided more of an anecdotal approach, which still proved to be very interesting. This is not to say that the author excluded more traditional experimental studies from this work but only that she relied less on this approach and more on individual case studies.

The first few chapters focused so strongly on specific examples with so little emphasis rigorous experimental data that their role as
Jim Fix
Apr 07, 2015 rated it it was ok
Great writer, good reporter. But, goodness, how difficult to follow. To do it over, I might start with the Epilogue, then move to the last chapter. That's the only way I can figure to understand what points she is making. Somebody should have helped her organize this rambling thing. The author could take some clues from great educators: Tell us what you will say and why. Then say it. Repeatedly, I was following some path of information, simply to see it disappear, or later be disavowed entirely. ...more
Azita Rassi
Dec 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Very well written. The content is presented in an absorbing fashion that feels accessible even for a lay person like me, yet it is as finely organized as a dissertation. It was the best non-fiction book I read in 2017, a year in which I read several great non-fictions in various fields. This book made me so interested in genetics that I’ve signed up for a course on the subject offered by Duke University on Coursera.
Apr 20, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: non-fiction
an absolute mess of a book which put me in a bad mood every time I picked it up. lacking in structure or focus. ambles through its alleged topic without a point of view. most deceptive is the title which falsely promises a cohesive summary of Dna science . if I'm not mistaken "Dna" isn't even mentioned until the midway point of the book. and this is most certainly not a history of the human race invisible or visible. good riddance.
Thomas S Berg
Dec 19, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Got me curious

Intrigued me enough to order a genetic sequencing kit from 23andMe. Soon enough I'll know how Neanderthal I am and how much of my Norse appearance is really from wandering Swedes.
Excellent and very accessible book. Kenneally starts with the personal and moves fluidly into the historical then the universal, touching on issues of heritage, politics, ethnicity, medicine and the human future along the way.
Aug 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Received as a ARC. A very interesting read that explores our human genetics. Provides a rich history of our earliest ancestors that will leave you thinking. Can tell research was very well done. Would definitely recommend to a friend.
Rachel (Sfogs)
May 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: library, non-fiction
This book I found extremely interested. I was really hooked. I'm now sad it's finished.
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
I got a copy of this book from the giveaways program on Goodreads.

When I received this book, I jumped right into it, looking forward to it, and then struggled through the first 100 pages or so. I kept putting it down. The first section is a defense of geneology, as if the author wants to defend her interest in the subject against many nameless critics who said that the field is only for ego-maniacs and Nazis. It was tiresome. She was defending her right to study something that her readers inevit
Peter Geyer
Covers or titles of books can encourage or discourage a read or a purchase, and can be outside the control of an author. C.G. Jung wrote that the title of his book The Undiscovered Self was invented by his American publisher, and that he "would never have thought of it, as the self is not really undiscovered, it is merely ignored or misunderstood. Perhaps sardonically, he commented "for the American public it seems to have been the right term."

The clincher for ultimate purchase of this book was
Vanessa Meachen
This is one of the most extraordinary and interesting books I've read in a long time; the best way I can describe it is an investigation of, in the author's words, "the way that history affects DNA and the way that DNA affects history, with both together acting on some version of us." Some reviewers seem to have assumed it would all be about DNA and what it reveals about human societies, but it's much more nuanced and complicated than that. Social history and family history affect who we are and ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it
Excellent book. Kenneally has a gift for explaining complex concepts, and I learned a lot about history, genealogy, and DNA, mostly in the context of interesting personal stories, both about the author and her family and about other people and their families. The chapter on the political issues surrounding genetic information (and specifically the concept of race) was especially thought-provoking, but the whole book was a great read. It's one of those big-picture books that makes me feel like I' ...more
Feb 16, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: stella-prize
Originally posted at A Book So Fathomless

3.5 stars

My experience with non-fiction is limited to textbooks, and other things I’ve been forced to read over the years for class. I don’t hate non-fiction, but I don’t love it either. I think I’m more of a literary based non-fiction reader, so biographies of authors, or literary criticism – that sort of thing.

I just wanted to mention this because I think this book is probably really good, but it’s just not my sort of thing. I wish I could say I was sti
Sam Dye
Jan 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
She has the ability to weave voluminous research into a very readable book. The topics covered are unexpected and made me anticipate each transition to the next subject. Just a few facts from one chapter:

The first-draft sequence of Neanderhal DNA was published in 2010 and by 2014 it was published that 1-3% Europeans have small pieces of the Neanderthal genome scattered in our DNA. Asians have a different ancient group Denisovans DNA and Africans have a third group yet un-named in their DNA.

Sep 25, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
Warning: this book may trigger an existential crisis.

This very well-researched book takes a crack at tackling the history, cultural implications, and current science of heritability, ancestry, genealogy, and genetics. In addition to the hard science, Kenneally introduces important questions about our motivations for seeking this kind of knowledge about ourselves, and the potential risks in finding (or not finding) the answers we seek.

I thought that the author's breakdown of very dense scientif
David Quinn
Nov 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Christine Kenneally does a very nice job blending history, anecdote, social science and genetics to motivate her audience to ponder who we are, how we fit together currently and through time and why we didn't pay more attention when we studied DNA and genetics in high school. I remembered some genetics basics but wished I had a better understanding of that field as I read the last several chapters. If the subject of DNA and genetics is a turn off then this probably is a book that should be skipp ...more
Apr 06, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some sections are absolutely mesmerizing. Others are easily distracted and/or scrambled with hype and lengthy "scene setting" prose. Great when it sticks to the topic – the DNA chapters and the evil history of genealogy were fantastic. Grating when it visibly follows "the rules for creative non-fiction”, routinely telling us what office buildings look like, the facial hair status of the interviewee, and inserting how the author felt that day into the story. Bloody awful when it turns into an opi ...more
Mar 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only book I've read from this year's Stella Prize shortlist. It's an indepth and fascinating look at genes and family history, DNA and our identity. It's very well-structured, informatively written and engaging. At times my mind wandered because there is a lot to ingest, but overall it's solid, with plenty of interesting anecdotes and personal accounts. Definitely recommend it for anyone interested in either their genetic past or future.
Nov 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Fascinating content. I was expecting the entire book to be about DNA, so I was surprised to see the author begin with genealogy. All good stuff, just unexpected.

If you enjoy this book, take a look at the book Neanderthal Man written by the person who figured out how to extract ancient DNA. Kenneally touches on his work in a later chapter.
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Science and Natur...: April 2015: The Invisible History of the Human Race 1 21 Apr 05, 2015 01:19AM  
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Christine Kenneally is Australian and received her Ph.D. in linguistics at Cambridge. She has written about language, science, and culture for publications such as the New Yorker, the New York Times, Scientific American, Discover, and Slate.
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“The history of the world may be writ in your cells, all of it personal to your lineage and some of it part of the broader context, but though you have been shaped by history, you have only been shaped by some of it. Fundamentally,” 1 likes
“In one of the most remarkable studies of the transmission of ideas over time, the economists Nico Voigtländer and Hans-Joachim Voth found evidence that animosity endured generation after generation, for as long as six hundred years. Voigtländer” 0 likes
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