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A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes

4.06  ·  Rating details ·  3,923 ratings  ·  480 reviews
This is a story about you.

It is the history of who you are and how you came to be. It is unique to you, as it is to each of the 100 billion modern humans who have ever drawn breath. But it is also our collective story, because in every one of our genomes we each carry the history of our species - births, deaths, disease, war, famine, migration and a lot of sex.

Since scient
Hardcover, 419 pages
Published September 8th 2016 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
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Sieglinde The author is not religious but does not address the idea of God as being right or wrong. He like many rational people including many if not most…moreThe author is not religious but does not address the idea of God as being right or wrong. He like many rational people including many if not most Christians believes that Creationism is nonsense and that evolution answers the question of the existence of humanity better than any other theory.(less)

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4.06  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,923 ratings  ·  480 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Oct 29, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: science
It’s hard to find a modern book on race which will tell you what is the current scientific thinking, given the remarkable progress of genetics and the unravelling of the human genome and all that. There are a thousand books on racism, but hardly any on race. Isn’t that curious? I believe that may be because scientists realise it’s a hornet’s nest and they prefer not to stick their heads in.

I recently heard of Nicholas Wade’s A Troubling Inheritance (2014) but before I got to that one I found thi
Lois Bujold
Jul 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers interested in DNA stuff
That should be 3 1/2, really.

Well, hm. That was very... British.

In the sense that its assumed core audience was Brit, and a lot of the references and examples aimed at them. I watch enough PBS and read enough Britlit not to be wholly at sea, but I noticed in a way that might be invisible to the intended audience. The writer almost always corrects the casual assumption that his reader will be male, but he misses a few subtle spots. (Dear lord English desperately needs a generally accepted, unclum
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audible
The stories of our genes have been all over publishing right now and this is one of the best examples of how scientists can make complex subjects interesting, relevant, and fun. Adam Rutherford reads his own work, something I particularly love as it enables the author to convey the passion and enthusiasm they hold for their subject in a way that no narrator can match. And he's funny with it too. It's one of those listening experiences where you end up feeling like you've learnt something but had ...more
Michael Perkins
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“What genes are and what they tell us about people are very closely related, but not, in almost all cases, definitive. This is a seam that will run throughout this book, confronting and dispelling the culturally ubiquitous idea that genes are fate, and a certain type of any one gene will determine exactly what an individual is like. That this is a fallacy is universally known among geneticists, yet it is still an idea that carries a lot of cultural significance, fueled frequently by the media an ...more
Atila Iamarino
Um ótimo review sobre a evolução humana, desta vez pelo lado molecular da coisa. Compila os últimos achados de sequenciamento de genomas humanos e de humanos extintos (Neandertais e Denisovanos), falando sobre como caiu o conceito de raça, o que descobrimos sobre cor da pele, nossa fala, nosso cérebro e mais um mundo de coisas. O último livro que li nessa linha foi a biografia do Svante Pääbo, mas o Pääbo fica muito em torno dos neandertais só (especialidade dele). Enquanto este trata de humanos ...more
Mar 21, 2018 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
'For every complicated problem there is a solution that is simple, direct, understandable, and wrong.' (H.L. Mencken)

And Biology is complex.

I see that it took nearly three months for me to read this. My sincere apologies to Adam Rutherford, for that length of time might constitute a reflection on his ability to engage, entertain, inform and delight. Not so, not so. I'm not sure why this stayed on my currently reading table for quite so long, because it is actually utterly fascinating. And not d
May 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: uk, s-m
Verdi, lisci, gialli, rugosi: gli Antenati
E’ un libro divulgativo sulla genetica, scritto in modo abbastanza accattivante, cioè veicolando le informazioni con esempi accessibili e di interesse generale. L’autore umanizza l’argomento entrando in prima persona col suo corredo genetico, un po’ inglese di origini scandinave e un po’ indiano: risultato, aspetto spagnolo o italiano. A me è piaciuto, ho aumentato la mia conoscenza sull’argomento che trovo affascinante dal tempo dei piselli verdi e lisc
Jan 02, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
It is really difficult for me to articulate my feelings after I had read this book. I found this book fascinating in the first half which focused on what genes can tell us about the origin of our species, especially the bits discussing the evidence found in the genome of ancient remains. The tone was very humorous and quite sarcastic and it was just a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the second half focusing on race and where the actual science is heading in relation to the study of the human genome, ...more
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
National Book Critics Circle Award Longlist for Nonfiction 2017. It has been roughly 15 years since the Human Genome Project determined that humans have about 20,000 genes. Surprisingly, this is less than either the roundworm or even a grain of rice. Everyone associated with the Project predicted thousands more—but they were wrong. Rutherford reports on the limits of what genes can tell us about ourselves. While they have helped us to understand the causes of some diseases; they have not helped ...more
Tanja Berg
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book explores the latest discoveries made from are genes. The human genome was first laid bare in 2003 or so, and since then a lot has happened. However, this books makes abundantly clear that complex human behavior cannot be explained by genes alone. It is not "nature versus nurture" but "nature via nurture".

The books also picks apart our definition of race, the ones that are based on how we look. It is fairly meaningless since there are more differences in the genes within "racial" group
My thanks go out to NetGalley and The Experiment for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Marvellous book, and I couldn't get enough of it! The author does a great job rounding up exactly what makes us, humans, unique and at the same time homogeneous. My favourite sections were of course on our relation to other species of Hominids and the failed attempts by some scientists to show correlation between genetics and predisposal to criminal behaviour. Written in an
Don Lundman
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was ok
"A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived" was a disappointment. The book is at least two drafts away from being ready for publication. It reads as if dictated by a busy, distracted, garrulous man bent on clearing his calendar for a more interesting and important project. Disorganized. Poorly edited. Thin. Thoughts are introduced but never elaborated fully. A title in search of content. I can't think why it has become so popular.
Mal Warwick
Dec 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
There is no gene for evil. Black people have no genetic predisposition to excel at sports. Tay-Sachs is not a Jewish disease. Native Americans are not genetically predisposed to alcoholism. And, of course, there is no such thing as a “race” in genetics. These are a few of the many axes Adam Rutherford grinds in his ambitious new book, A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes.

Rutherford's book consists of two parts. Part One, “How We Came to Be,” lives
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Mini review in English / Reseña completa en español

It must not be easy to write about the story in our genes, the genes of humankind, in a very accesible, highly gripping way, full of delightful (british) humour (and nerdy references!).

Yet in A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, Adam Rutherford achieves it, and makes you feel passionate about it. Along a very ingenious drawn narration, from the beginning to the present, he touches such sensible topics as endogamy, racism (really impres
Brian Clegg
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Science books can sometimes be rather stuffy or prissy - but no one can accuse Adam Rutherford of this. In his exploration of 'the stories in our genes' that word 'stories' is foremost - and Rutherford proves himself time and again to be an accomplished storyteller. His style is sometimes extremely colloquial (and very British) - so at one point, when referring to the way some people react to the smell of a particular steroid he says 'to many it honks like stale urine' and rather than say 'what ...more
A very interesting read on genetics and the common mistakes that people make when thinking about DNA and its role in human life. Filled with fun trivia information about the subject and weaved together with historical backgrounds on big personalities in the sciences or areas of research that we should all be familiar with. Worth the read.
May 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
There is a considerable amount of relatively recent research clearly presented in A Brief History ... the science of genetics is a rapidly evolving field of knowledge. However, because my interest was primarily focused on the genetics of the populating of the Americas, I skimmed the majority of this book. While I would recommend it to genetics science oriented readers, it isn't a book I'd add permanently to my size limited collection.


First half of book had informational nuggets new or differe
Jul 19, 2018 rated it it was ok
76th book for 2018.

I hate it when books don't deliver on their titles. I was expecting a brief history of everyone who lived. Spoiler: Didn't happen. Various chapters are devoted to the authors own pet peeves like how genetics is misrepresented in the media.

A much better book, which at least lives up to it's title, is Robert Reich's "Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the new science of the human past". Topics about genetics and behavior and the effects of environment on gene expre
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
‘A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived’ (2016) by Adam Rutherford – is a fascinating and largely compelling popular science introduction to the world and history of human genetics and genomics. Rutherford takes us on a journey – one which is all about our shared human history, as viewed through the lens of genetics and which Rutherford split into two parts:

1. How we came to be
2. Who we are now

‘Brief History’ is an amazing journey whichever way it’s viewed and takes us from the very origins
Albert Norton
Jan 07, 2018 rated it it was ok
I picked up this book because I had in mind to get current (as a layman) on the state of DNA research, after hearing so much hoopla about mapping of the human genome some years ago.

The epiphanies I hoped for never arrived. That's not entirely Rutherford's fault. As he points out in the book, it's a complex subject, and ancestry-mapping is not the main point, there are bigger fish to fry, like treating or curing inherited disease.

Still, DNA research tells us a lot, but most of what Rutherford r
Elizabeth Theiss
Dec 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Where did you come from? Who are your ancestors? Is there a queen, a president, or a pirate in your past? Rutherford's answer to this last question is yes. In the end, we are all interrelated because our gene pool working backwards was rather small. For example, 23andMe tells me I am related to Marie Antoinette. Rutherford suggests holding off on claiming royal property and privilege because so are millions of other people.

Homo sapiens emerged from Africa at least years ago. Neanderthals, Deniso
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history, science
You might not be ready for some of the information in this book, but I think you should be be. One example

"By asking how recently the people of Europe would have a common ancestor, he constructed a mathematical model that incorporated the number of ancestors an individual is presumed to have had (each with two parents), and given the current population size, the point at which all those possible lines of ascent up the family trees would cross. The answer was merely 600 years ago. Sometime at the
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are two parts to this book. The first “How We Came to Be”, looks at the genetic evidence around human evolution. It touches on Neanderthals, Denisovans and Flores Man (DNA can’t be recovered from earlier species) before looking at the evolution of modern H. sapiens. It also covers the timescale under which an individual’s family history will intersect with those of everyone else, and it’s probably put me off ever trying to use one of those commercial companies who promise to reveal your an ...more
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was ok
The trouble with popular science books is that at some point they have to get down and dirty with real hard science, and however hard the author tries, and however skilled he is at making the difficult accessible, that’s one big stumbling block for the non-scientists out there. I so wanted to be more engaged with this book. Genetics is important, right? We need to understand the subject. It explains our past and informs out future. Adam Rutherford has no doubt done his best, but his best just is ...more
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
This was a slow but compelling read. (The slowness mostly arose from the fact that this book requires a certain amount of mental acuity; I couldn’t read it before bed, for example, and actually retain any of the information I read.)

Part of what’s compelling here is simply the science: the field of human genetics is advancing so quickly, in so many directions, that every month brings new and fascinating studies. And it’s such a widespread field that it’s hard to keep up with it unless that’s you
Feb 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-read-2017
Genetically you are unique.

However, there is nothing particularly special about being unique if everyone else is…

In your 23 base pairs of DNA there are around 20,000 human protein-coding genes. To put this in perspective, a banana has 36,000... The first complete draft of the sequence was published on February 12th 2001. Being able to read this code of T C G A’s is one thing; being able to understand it is another, and we are nowhere near being able to manipulate it yet either. This code is what
Angela Smith
Jul 14, 2016 rated it really liked it
I am interested in things like genetics and DNA, but what I knew about it I could have maybe fitted on a postage stamp. Reading this book I learned quite a lot of new things that I didn't know.

First and for most, it is scientific ( I am sure you are thinking well...duh...just look at the subject matter) but it is more than that. It also has a lot of history wrapped up in it as well, which for me made it a lot less dry than a regular science non fiction book.

There was much covered in this book a
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
4+ I recommend this warmly to anyone with even the slightest interest in genetics. The book is accessible without being painfully dumbed down, funny without ignoring difficult topics. I’m obsessed with the genetics of ancient humans and I also welcome any ammunition against ‘but race x is just genetically like this’ arguments. Rutherford delivers on both.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
I read this book. It's a mashup of very cool information about our genes. It covers all the interesting things we want to know....

I didn't understand all of it. The book is a wild mix of the vernacular and the scientific. Much was like this:

"Red hair appearing exclusively in beards in not uncommon, though we don't really know why. Forgive us; it's not really been a research priority over the last few decades."

Perfect. Intriguing. Readable. Quotable. I read on.

But chunks of it were like this:

Oct 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourite, science
Utterly fascinating. Very well written and witty to boot. 5+
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Adam David Rutherford (born 1975) is a British geneticist, author, and broadcaster. He was an audio-visual content editor for the journal Nature for a decade, is a frequent contributor to the newspaper The Guardian, hosts the BBC Radio 4 programme Inside Science, has produced several science documentaries and has published books related to genetics and the origin of life.
“And then there are huge chunks of DNA that are just repeated sections. And then there are huge chunks of DNA that are just repeated sections. And then there are huge chunks of DNA that are just repeated sections.” 7 likes
“We look to statistcs for reassurance in these types of situations. Here is one: 100% of mass shootings have been enabled by access to guns. I can guarantee that even if there were a genotype shared by the mass shooters, which there will not be, none of the killings would have happened if they didn't have guns.” 5 likes
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