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

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  7,758 ratings  ·  863 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 scie

Kindle Edition, 432 pages
Published September 8th 2016 by Weidenfeld & Nicolson
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Michael I assume you meant "Dawkins"? Richard Dawkins is a world-renowned evolutionary biologist and award-winning scientific researcher at Oxford. Whether or…moreI assume you meant "Dawkins"? Richard Dawkins is a world-renowned evolutionary biologist and award-winning scientific researcher at Oxford. Whether or not his views on religion align with your own, his opinion on a book primarily about human evolution is clearly relevant. (less)
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Paul Bryant
Oct 29, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Michael Perkins
Jul 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The unwelcome revival of ‘race science’.....


“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 s
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Trevor (I no longer get notified of comments)
This is a nice wee book. It is also a reasonably quick read and is even readable: two nice things for a book on such a complex topic to be if it possibly can manage it. I’ve reviewed his other book on how to argue with a racist – so will keep to things here that aren’t covered there – although, there really is lots of overlap.

One of the things that we mere mortals – that is, people who do not have a degree in genetics – can tend to assume is that our genes are basically like a series of switche
Jul 12, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an entertaining book about what genetics tells us about ourselves, and what it does not tell. For example, genetics tells us that a certain small percentage of our genes comes from Neanderthals. It cannot tell us if you descended from a particular tribe of Native Americans. DNA analyses tell us about tendencies, but does not tell you that you are violent, or prone to Alzheimer's disease, or what "race" you belong to. In fact, genetics cannot distinguish among races--it is a social classi ...more
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 David 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
Genetic research has boomed in the last 30 years. A provisional highlight was the description of the human genome (an overview of the genetic code of our species) in 2003. But naturally science has not stood still since then. Nowadays, not a day goes by without spectacular discoveries or breakthroughs reported by geneticists in their research, for instance on diseases.

This book by Adam Rutherford, a publicist with a background in evolutionary genetics, gives a comprehensive state of affairs at
'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
Jan 02, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Brian Clegg
Sep 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
"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. ...more
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
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.
Sense of History
The title of this book is a bit misleading: in the first part Rutherford does indeed give a good overview of the evolutionary history of the human species ("a history of everyone who ever lived"), but thereafter he mainly gives a state of the art of genetic research in general, with everything what is involved. The first part was the main reason why I read this book, so in this review I will only go into that part.

Classic archeology has ruled the domain of earliest human history for over 150 yea
Albert Norton
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
Aug 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Oct 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
‘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
A lot of interesting information, but a bit of a slog due to repetition. He's covering a huge swath of time & geography. That's difficult & he managed to break it up fairly well as is shown in the table of contents below. It is a credible effort, but it had problems throughout. Well narrated & I can cautiously recommend reading this, but I've certainly read better books on genes & human history. 3.5 stars rounded down because his bias is just too obvious.

He bent the facts to fit his agenda a bit
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
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
'The key idea that Rutherford unveils in this riveting volume is that human genomics—the study of our DNA—is radically altering our understanding of our own past.....

But the desire to understand heritage, Rutherford reminds us, is an ancient desire—and twisted into that desire are our concerns about identity and relationships, and our sense of self.....

As Rutherford concludes, we cannot investigate “heritage” simply by studying DNA; we also need to understand the social and political history of
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Feb 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
[10 Jul 2020]
I enjoyed this book but was also frustrated by it. I couldn't quite figure out what the main point of the book was. Maybe that genetics/genomics is totally misunderstood by the general public. "Are we slaves or masters of our genes? We are neither, and it’s a dumb, simplistic question."

Still the author has an engaging, almost conversational style, with occasional dry humor, and he provides much interesting information. Everyone of European descent is descended from Charlemagne. Ever
Nancy Mills
May 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Listened to the audio book, enjoyably read by the author. This charming book covers a lot of ground, and painlessly so. I recommend it for anyone interested in genetics and evolution. The fact that it is so easy to follow makes it a perfect audiobook. Many science books require math, charts, or mental gymnastics and happily this one, while not for simpletons by any means, was not hard for me to follow, as some audio books are.
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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.

News & Interviews

When author TJ Klune was growing up, he never saw queer characters in books in a way that felt true to his experience.  “They were the...
260 likes · 15 comments
“We look to statistics 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.” 8 likes
“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
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