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The Origins of the British: A Genetic Detective Story

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  295 ratings  ·  30 reviews
History has long maintained that the Anglo-Saxon overtaking of the Iron Age Celts was the origin of the British people. Celtic Britain reconstructs the peopling of Britain — through a study of genetics, climatology, archaeology, language, culture, and history — and overturns that myth and others. The Anglo-Saxons, who supposedly conquered the Celts, contributed only five ...more
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 7th 2006 by Basic Books (first published September 11th 2006)
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Wow, where to begin? I picked up Origins of the British firstly because I’m British and interested in learning more about my own ancient ancestry, but also on the strength of the author’s previous work. Out of Eden, Oppenheimer’s previous book, used population genetics as well as archaeology to trace the expansion of Homo sapiens out of Africa and the routes they took to eventually spread across the planet. Though it was a challenging read, Oppenheimer considerately sought to explain difficult
Tim Pendry

Although now over a decade old, this rethinking of the origins of the inhabitants of the British Isles deserves to be widely read. I am not sure its radical shattering of the standard view of our history has percolated far enough into the general public's vision of its own history.

It was so radical that initially I thought I might have picked up something closer to Bauval and Hancock but, no, this gets endorsements from luminaries such as Renfrew and Gamble and it is clear that the author has
Jaakko J.
Feb 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The book "The Origins of the British" by Stephen Oppenheimer is not a light read. At 628 pages, it is not a book man would read just to amuse himself. It is a book that one reads to to gain new insight into the history. Book is filled with detailed descriptions of the genetic methods used. It is very scholarly work that is aimed squarely at the class of professional historians.
However, even if I am not a professional historian, I did quite enjoy this book. It is fun to watch when old established
Sep 05, 2010 rated it it was ok
This was interesting but old news to people of British descent who've already had ancestral DNA testing. It was written before the human genome project became so popular. Cheap and accurate, the DNA genome test requires only a cheek swab. Three weeks later you can track your ancestry back 6,000+ years.
I share, though, people's sorrow at the Celts being forced to surrender the title "indigenous population." How many tragic frat boy tattoos were inked in honor of that tribe (so beloved by white
Oct 30, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Fascinating read and very informative. My only criticism is that it sits somewhere between popular reading and academic research, the level of detail is off-putting at times.
May 10, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The early peoples of the British Isles spread north along the Atlantic coast and then eastwards. Other settlers and invaders crossed the North Sea into eastern Great Britain and spread westwards. None of this is controversial and the various tribes were documented by Greek and Roman historians, but there is uncertainty about exactly where they came from, when they arrived, what languages they spoke, who they really were.
The author has looked at sources, evidence from the oldest texts, trading
Jul 02, 2009 rated it did not like it
Shelves: ill
I gave up about 200 pages in, finding the level of detail so excruciatingly tedious that I could not even bring myself to find and read the summary sections.
Laurel Bradshaw
Two stars because I have a high interest in the topic and actually managed to read the whole thing, including the notes. But having just read Barry Cunliffe's Britain Begins, I found this to be almost unreadable. Pages and pages of passages like this: "There was some later regional re-expansion and spread during the Mesolithic in several other Rox clusters (see also Chapter 4); so cluster R1b-4 features in Scotland and north Wales, being absent from Ireland, while R1b-6 expanded in eastern ...more
Philip Alzira-Rolt
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Stephen Oppenheimer starts at a popular science level but this soon deepens as his knowledge of the subject matter far surpasses his ability to bring it down to layman terms.
The books is interesting and I stuck with it but the details of the science involved is way beyond that of a popular science read.
What do we learn from the book? (Spoiler alert.) Some of the invaders and settlers information we learnt at school was wrong. The Anglo Saxon invaders didn't wipe out the indigenous population and
Julie Hendricks
May 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fasvinating. Provides thorough data to support his arguments and layman-level explanations for those of us who are not experts in genetic sciences. (Appendix A was very helpful to me!) He has provided a compelling, logical case for a major rewrite of British migrations.
Mar 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
My only complaint about this book is the rather sudden and abrupt ending, which happened in the middle of the book. The second half was an explanation for the processes used to come to the conclusions that he did
This was both more interesting and more satisfying than I expected. I had anticipated a good, but mostly satisfies-idle-curiosity-about-{subject} type of book, but Oppenheimer did far more than a geneticist's gazeeter guide to prehistory and early British history. If you happened to read Cunliffe's Facing the Ocean, and wanted more on how genetics affects the story, then Oppenheimer's book is for you.

He deals with the archaeology and historical evidence for the subject, synthesizing them with
May 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: History Buffs, Genealogists
This may be the first true history of the origins of the British people. Oppenheimer bases his finding on genetic evidence taken from living populations of the longest settled villages, as well as from remains taken from ancient burial sites unearthed during archeological digs. He also relies upon the confirmatory evidence left through artifacts and the early languages inscribed upon ancient monuments, to unfold the story of the earliest migrations into the British isles.

Oppenheimer's main
David Cheshire
Jan 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This amazing re-writing of prehistory is derived from an astounding new methodology, genetic tracking of tiny, periodic mutations of parts of our DNA. Study of the "genetic flow" allows migrations to be quantified, dated and located. Oppenheimer gives due respect to other disciplines and urges a multi-disciplinary approach. But his revisions are astounding. The stories we've grown up with of Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon and Viking invasions are turned upside down. These are not esoteric matters. ...more
Linda Trionfo
Mar 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
I liked this book as I was wanting to connect places with family stories from long ago. It was very technical and wordy at times so I had to skip around a little to stay focused. But over all great education on where I came from and what it may have been like for my family, mostly in Scotland and Ireland in the 1400's through 1700. Worth the read.Some reviews have said this is all old news...well I never knew much about it, so its new to me and I loved learning about it! That's what books are ...more
Aug 31, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
With this book, I continue delving into my current obsession with genetics and deep ancestry. It uses genetics, archeology, linguistics, and classical sources to argue that most Brits are descended from people who arrived in the British Isles a long, long time ago -- basically right after the ice receded -- and that the traditional division between Celt and Anglo-Saxon does not go as deep as generally believed. The good part about this book is that the subject matter is interesting; the bad part ...more
Matt Root
Mar 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
While I have no means to judge the validity of Oppenheimer's specific claims, this was a fascinating and engaging read and he makes a fairly convincing case -- based on not only his own genetic research but also archaeology, linguistics and ancient literature -- that the history of the peoples of the British Isles is likely far different from the "received" traditional history.
Russell Ince
Jan 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

A very interesting book, the gist of it being that 75% of British ancestors came from Spain beginning some 15,000 years ago. This book seriously undermines assumptions of Anglo-Saxon ethnicity. Very well written.

If I had to make a criticism: the book doesn't know whether to be a popular science book or an academic text and could do with a little more brevity.
Peter Levi
Mar 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
A fascinating look at the genetic history of the British Isles, in particularly debunking the accepted history I grew up with which was of successive waves of settlers killing off the inhabitants they found there. I can't give it five stars however as the text is very dense and it's not an easy read.
David Willem
Jul 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
A revolutionary idea - that the cultural, genetic and linguistic differences between the West and East of Britain precede any Celtic v Anglo-Saxon split, going right back to the end of the Ice Age. The genetic-frequency maps are amazing. You can actually see the contours cross the Channel and the North Sea, showing the way the first settlers came when everything was dry land.
Comprehensive analysis refuting the historical argument that the Anglo-Saxon invasions eradicated the 'native' people of England. Oppenheimer uses genetics, archeology, linguistics, and literature to buttress his argument. A very informative and persuasive. Book. Highly recommend for history buffs like me.
Catherine Kesseler
Sep 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Mr. Oppenheimer makes his case using linguistics, ancient writings, archeology, and genetics. A really intresting book. It did tend to bog down in a lot of details. The charts and graphs were in black and white and difficult to read.
Mar 16, 2008 rated it really liked it
Facinating! I could not put it down. My family is mainly from England & Scotland (except for the German part) and I was facinated with the premise. Although I do not agree with the author's theories, I nevertheless found in very interesting.
Paula  Obermeier McCarty
A fascinating look at ancient British history.
Apr 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recomme3nd this very highly
May 15, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somewhat dry but it does have a lot of new information. Quite fascinating to me as I am obsessed with most things British.
Peter Ellwood
Not always easy reading as it tends to read more like a PhD thesis (perhaps it was) - but its story of the genetic roots of the British is really interesting.
Aug 02, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Bit long-winded, but good at debunking myths and definitely filling a gap in my knowledge of prehistory
Simon Marriott
Aug 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've read it three or four times. To me it was a magical read that makes sense of all the bits that didnt make sense in my current history understanding.
Sergio Porto
Apr 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It did not get a five-star rating because of the lack of plates found on the paper version of the book.
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