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It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree

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New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically , A.J. Jacobs undergoes a hilarious, heartfelt quest to understand what constitutes family—where it begins and how far it goes—and attempts to untangle the true meaning of the “Family of Humankind.”

A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the strangest: “You don’t know me, but I’m your eighth cousin. And we have over 80,000 relatives of yours in our database.”

That’s enough family members to fill Madison Square Garden four times over. Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them? So began Jacobs’s three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history.

Jacobs’s journey would take him to all seven continents. He drank beer with a US president, found himself singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and unearthed genetic links to Hollywood actresses and real-life scoundrels. After all, we can choose our friends, but not our family.

“Whether he’s posing as a celebrity, outsourcing his chores, or adhering strictly to the Bible, we love reading about the wacky lifestyle experiments of author A.J. Jacobs” ( Entertainment Weekly ). Now Jacobs upends, in ways both meaningful and hilarious, our understanding of genetics and genealogy, tradition and tribalism, identity and connection. It’s All Relative is a fascinating look at the bonds that connect us all.

336 pages, Hardcover

First published November 7, 2017

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A.J. Jacobs

37 books1,836 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 744 reviews
Profile Image for Melki.
5,788 reviews2,340 followers
June 26, 2018
This is one I picked up solely because of the author. I have no real interest in genealogy, but I'm ALWAYS interested in a new book by A.J. Jacobs. His books are packed with fascinating facts and tidbits. This one, however, is on a more personal level, and much of the information is about A.J.'s relatives. He has some fun tales to tell, but I'm willing to bet most of us have stories of immigrants and wartime heroes hovering in our backgrounds just waiting to be discovered.

And that, I suppose, is the point of all this - encouraging readers to delve into their own pasts to see what sort of knotholes and nuts populate our own family trees. His appendix (okay - the book's appendix, NOT A.J.'s) offers hints for getting started on your own genealogical quest. I was mildly curious, so I thought I might give it a try. One of the best methods is, of course, talking to living relatives. I'm pretty much out of luck when it comes to that - I've got one elderly aunt and eight cousins . . . none of whom I'd consider friends. So, I headed to one of the free sites - familysearch.org. I only tried my father's side of the family, as I was curious to see the origins of my last name. Alas, the list only went back as far as my great, great grandfather - Elias Barrick. However . . . Elias's mother's line went the whole way back to Clement Zahn in 1485 Germany and, okay . . . I can see how people get hooked on genealogy. The weirdest thing was after I found this out yesterday, I was inexplicably, absurdly happy, as if I had suddenly just proven my own existence.

You know, I might just reach out to my cousin Frances; she's a genealogy buff, and she might know the name of Elias's father. How do you like that? I could get to know one of my actual living relatives thanks to this book.

But, I'm still only giving it three stars. Sorry, A.J. You set the bar pretty high with your other books, and this one just doesn't measure up. But when your next one comes out, you'd better believe I'll buy it. That's what cousins do, right?
Profile Image for Angel Hench.
483 reviews9 followers
August 24, 2017
This book was interesting and amusing in some places, but I didn't get the sense that this was an A.J. Jacobs' usual in-depth ultra-obsessed project book. This felt more like A.J. Jacobs-lite. It did get me looking into my family history, which I'm thankful for. I've learned that my great-grandmother's second marriage was to a man almost 15 years her junior (go, grandma!) and my maternal grandmother's family was probably Amish. So, if you are interested in genealogy at all, you will enjoy this book. If not, you will probably just give it a huge shoulder-shrug.

(A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.)
Profile Image for Wanda Pedersen.
1,860 reviews370 followers
January 11, 2018
I would call this a book about genealogy for people who aren’t really all that interested in the subject. It is genealogy lite. Which is not to say that it isn’t a good book or that I didn’t like it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

I’ve been doing genealogy since I was a teenager and discovered our family Bible, with my great-grandfather’s handwritten records of the family in it. It’s huge & heavy and he bought it from someone in a California train station for 25 cents back in the day. He was a lumberman and his family lived in New Brunswick (and he got migraines—he’s who I blame my headaches on!).

Maybe not the most exciting of stories, but you find all kinds of interesting tales when you start investigating. I haven’t made time for this pursuit for years, but reading this book has encouraged me to get thinking about it again.

I had read in a genealogy book that if you have European heritage, the very furthest apart you can be related to others with similar ties is 10th cousin. Jacobs’ research takes things a step farther: the farthest apart you can be related to anyone on Earth is 70th cousins. Start singing Kumbaya, folks, because we really do belong to the Family of Humankind.

The strange thing is, we do have a bias for treating our family just a little better than others—cutting them some slack when they do things that we don’t understand, for example. What better way is there to increase the kindness quotient in the world than to realize that we are all relatives and all deserve that kind of treatment.

Pie in the sky, I know, but both the author & I wish that it could come true.

Read for the PopSugar reading challenge to fill the “Book tied to your ancestry” choice.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,821 reviews284 followers
September 16, 2017
I have loved everything A. J. Jacobs has written so far, and I'm happy to say that I loved his new book, It's All Relative, too. Jacobs takes on huge personal projects in his writing. This time, he takes on genealogy. He does all the DNA tests, and researches his family members from the past, and decides to put on a huge family reunion. Everything he does makes me laugh, and laugh out loud, and it takes something good to have me laughing out loud. It's All Relative is something good.
Profile Image for Beth Jusino.
Author 8 books60 followers
December 7, 2017

This would have been better if it spent more time exploring genetics, family trees, and human connections, and less time complaining about party planning.
Profile Image for Scottsdale Public Library.
3,221 reviews209 followers
March 13, 2021
Happy Genealogy Day!
A.J. relates (pun totally intended!) his journey of finding his and the worlds’ proverbial and literal, shallow and deep family roots in It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree.

An Israeli dairy farmer sends an e-mail to A.J. stating how he is a distant relative. Concerns only slightly aside, A.J. does some of his notoriously in depth research (Did you know that you and I are at most seventieth cousins?! … Probably. ) to find out more about how to begin a genealogy search and connect family trees to fulfill a sense of belonging. This naturally leads to the planning and hosting a massive Global Family Reunion, inviting cousins and cousin’s cousins and not even related to you cousins, to hopefully break a Guinness World Record and demonstrate global, communal and familial unity.

As a self-professed genealogy nerd, I adored A.J.’s wit, research and depiction of his journey toward finding his ancestors and attempt to create an obscenely large event without the mention of anti-anxiety medication. - Sara S.
Profile Image for britt_brooke.
1,288 reviews96 followers
January 29, 2018
I love AJ Jacobs but this wasn’t quite as strong as his other experimental ventures. I thought the idea of a global family reunion was pretty ridiculous, but the genealogy bits were interesting, and as always, his writing was very witty and fun. I know next to nothing about my family history so this might just inspire me to do some research.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
789 reviews1,180 followers
September 12, 2018
Disclaimer: I first need to say that the fact the author and I are cousins in no way influenced me to give this book a good review. (If you don't believe we're related, read the book and find out!)

I don't care what anyone says, it can be good to judge a book by its cover. I opened this book thinking it was predominately a book about evolutionary biology and how all living things are connected; that's what I surmised from the cover. However, if I'd known it was instead predominately an accounting of one man's decision to learn more about genealogy and also to host the world's biggest family reunion, I highly doubt I would have read it. Therefore, I'm quite pleased I judged a book merely by what I saw on its cover, that I didn't open to the inner jacket and read the blurb to get more information before deciding whether or not to read it. I think we should strive to not judge other people by appearances, but I for one usually do judge books by their covers. Maybe that's good; maybe that's bad. Whatever the case, it's what I often do. (Note to publishers: Ditch the ugly, unappealing covers. You lose readers that way, at least when it comes to physical format books.)

A J Jacobs is such a fun and funny writer that I quickly devoured the book. No, there's not quite as many scientific facts as I'd expected, but that's OK because it was still highly entertaining, and I did learn a few things. For instance, a recent analysis by an MIT computer scientist showed that every person on earth is no further away on our family tree than 70th cousin! Now this kind of information I love! It's partly what endeared me to Mr. Jacobs; his goal is to bring the world closer together, let us see that we're all related and should drop the "Us vs. Them" tribal mentality that so many people still have. We're all human beings and we're all family, so let's just stop killing each other and ostracisizing each other. Let's try to get along for once in our history.

Much of the book concerns the author's closest family and ancestors and thus I would have thought I'd find it a bit tedious. This was not the case, however, as he is so full of wit that he had me laughing much of the time. It's a fun and different sort of book to read and I recommend it especially to anyone interested in genealogy.
Profile Image for Benjamin Thomas.
1,953 reviews271 followers
October 26, 2017
For those readers like me who have experienced an AJ Jacobs book before, we know that he has a seriously curious mind. And he doesn’t think small. This time around, he has been thinking of his own ancestors and the concept of the World Family Tree (i.e. that we are all, in essence “cousins” descended from a scientific Adam and Eve known as the “Y-Chromosomal Adam” and the “Mitochondrial Eve”). And, of course, Mr. Jacobs dreams up a project to dwarf anything a rational human being might think of: coordinating a family reunion that breaks the Guinness World Record for most attendees. It would be a project that would take over a year to pull off and would become known as the Global Family Reunion.

That’s the setup, but as always, AJ Jacobs provides us with far more insightful observations on human nature and in this case, the very nature of what constitutes a “family”. The author counts down the weeks until the big reunion by sharing numerous anecdotes from his own family and others who he encounters during his search along the branches of the tree. He examines such topics as family feuds, immigrants to the US, our Neanderthal cousins, and the many forms of genealogy. He does not shy away from the controversial aspects of genealogy, such as privacy, and presents all sides fairly.

I’m afraid I’m making this sound like a textbook of some kind but nothing could be further from the truth. While I certainly learned a lot about the inter-relationships of human beings, this is a really fun book to read. AJ Jacobs is a humorist and his prose is downright funny. He is a sort of everyman who is very observant and also humble when it comes to his own charm. What he achieved with his Global Family Reunion (with the help of hundreds of assistants) was pretty amazing but the truths about ourselves which he discovers and relates along the way are truly inspiring.

This book comes along at a great time. We humans seem to be more divided than ever into our little cliques and tribes based on our differences and often, it is our leadership that is throwing fuel on the fire. To read a book wherein we can take pride in our individual cultural histories but realize just how similar we all are is to find hope for the future.
Profile Image for J.
907 reviews
February 2, 2018
Couldn't finish this one. Stopped at Chapter 10: Should Families Be Abolished. In this chapter, the author discusses the idea that instead of being building blocks of society, families are actually bad because they encourage an us-versus-them mentality. All people of goodwill should denounce their mothers, fathers and ancestors and embrace the Universe as your light-giving force. Or you might as well be a full fledged warlord. Okay, I exaggerate in the style of the author, but that seemed to be where he was headed.

The author's main premise seemed to be that everyone in the world is basically related and if we embraced each other as relatives the world would be a more peaceful place. He supports the idea of a "world family tree" where all genealogy is accessible, so we can see how we are related to each other and no family information is private. He doesn't seem to understand or appreciate the value of privacy in this Facebook-driven, the-only-bad-publicity-is-no-publicity, me-centered world.

He talks numerous times about valuing all people and ideas and yet he is stuck in a deeply liberal worldview. The pointed language he utilizes and specific moral values he espouses heavy handedly leave little doubt about his political and social orientations. He gets high marks for self-awareness as he references his own bias/shortcomings numerous times but zero points for self-discipline because he doesn't seem to make any serious efforts to better himself in these areas.

A great example of this is found in the Introduction: Up until recently I figured humans were marching slowly but surely along a rational path (toward my desired end goals). I figured we'd eventually shed primitive tribalism and join forces to try to solve the world's big problems (i.e. breaking the bonds of traditional morality and good/bad paradigms). Instead, we seem to be more tribal than ever. (Read: We lost the election. Some people disagree with my worldview and refuse to bow to my judgement.) We're obsessed with us-versus-them thinking. (I hate them). Blue states versus red states. Americans versus foreigners. (And you know I'm on the righteous side of that issue.) Believers versus atheists. Black versus white. Patriot fans versus everyone else. (Token obvious humor thrown in so that if anyone is offend by something else, I can claim it too was joke and shouldn't be taken seriously.) I see this trait in myself too and it disturbs me. I try to be all noble and teach my kids to be good homo sapiens. (Subtext: I believe in rational and logical things like science.) Over dinner, I'll tell them not to dehumanize anyone. Don't fall for hate. Be respectful and rational. And then ten minutes into the meal (and throughout my writing) I'll find myself ranting about the issues of the day - gun control, isolationism - and slamming the other side as drooling, brain-dead idiots. (Yep.)

I picked this book up because I have a genuine interest in genealogy. However, the author doesn't share much insight or knowledge about how to uncover your own family history. He apparently was handed substantial genealogical information from older relatives on a silver platter (which incidentally link him to famous and important people - a fact he says doesn't matter because all people are equally important but nevertheless makes a point to mention repeatedly).

More about his political worldview than actual genealogy. Disappointing.
Profile Image for Caryn.
840 reviews65 followers
November 1, 2017
I became a fan of AJ Jacobs after finishing his first book, The Know-it-All. He expertly is able to combine humor with factual info and make a subject you wouldn’t expect to find entertaining, well, entertaining.

His newest book starts with the idea that we are all related. It’s so timely, given the popularity of sites like Ancestry.com and mail-in DNA kits.

This book gives us some examples of his family history, but it also covers genealogical connections to presidents, celebrities, and scientists. Aside from his own family, we get snippets of how the family tree works in other families, in some cases surprising and fascinating. I was often quoting snippets out loud to my husband as I was reading. It’s Jacobs’ humor that propels the narrative and makes you want to keep reading.

I look forward to the subject matter he chooses to explore next. My thanks to the publisher for a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Daniel Chaikin.
594 reviews56 followers
April 14, 2018
18. It's All Relative : Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree (audio) by A. J. Jacobs
read by the author
published: 2017
format: 8:07 overdrive audiobook (~225 pages, 336 pages in hardcover)
acquired: Library
listened: Apr 3-11
rating: 2½

Not much to this. This is my first book by Jacobs, and he's charming and reads really nicely on audio and can make almost anything interesting, no matter how thin. And this is really really thin. In sum, we are all related, we are all cousins at some level and you can probably connect yourself to anyone else if you find the right database. And maybe that can impact how we all treat each other. But, outside a mostly failed event he planned around this idea, that's about the whole book.
Profile Image for Randee.
824 reviews32 followers
November 19, 2017
Did you know that we share an estimated 99.9% of DNA with each other? Did you know that most homo sapiens have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA? Or an atom of Beethoven's? How about that we share 88% of the same DNA with mice?

If information like this fascinates you, you'll like the writings of A.J. Jacobs. I read his first book 'Know It All' when it came out. It was his account of reading his way through the encyclopedia. I have never read an entire encyclopedia, but I have picked one up many times and browsed for hours. I also read 'The Year of Living Biblically" and although I would not want to even try it for a day, I found it interesting to read about the challenges he faced.

This new book is about genealogy, his own and in general plus his year of planning a World Tree Family Reunion with thousands of his relatives. His conjecture is that if we all feel more connected to one another because we are related if you go back far enough, we will treat each other more kindly, etc. Every once in a while, I feel that I was born into the wrong species and planet, but in reality, it's only a matter of mathematics that if any one person goes back far enough, they will find relatives in common with virtually anyone. Knowing that I am marginally related to everyone on the planet is interesting, but I'm not sure that it makes me feel more inclusive. Nonetheless, I found the book to be entertaining and I shall try to remember the next time I feel like directing my vitriolic tongue at a person who has annoyed me, I shall remind myself they are a relative and will try to show some restraint.
Profile Image for Lynn.
861 reviews124 followers
October 9, 2019
3.5 stars.
In his latest personal adventure, A.J. Jacobs researches his family tree. He decides to try to break a world record for family reunions while he goes far afield to find relatives. His theme seems to be that we are all related in some way, and has photos of disparate people, including celebrities, holding up signs that say “I Am A Cousin”. Although the book is generally humorous, at times he seems to be trying too hard to be funny.

The book is an interesting delve into the world of genealogy, a subject about which I know very little. He has a lot of anecdotes about his ancestors as well as his immediate family. He describes the myriad ways you can do your own genealogy research, many of which he used.

I have enjoyed many of his books, although this one would not be my favorite. It’s still a fun, fast read, that does not require a lot of brain power. Sometimes that’s enough.
Profile Image for Alex O'Brien.
Author 2 books50 followers
December 3, 2017
An interesting and funny account of Jacobs' efforts to research his ancestors, prepare a global family tree, and stage the world's biggest reunion. The book is well-written and will serve as a good guide for budding genealogists, but it's not as deep in content as Jacobs' previous works and I found the ending-his description of the actual reunion-a bit of a let-down. Unfortunately, Jacobs only touches on this event which the whole book had been building up to.
Profile Image for Ann.
50 reviews
September 17, 2017
Funny, interesting and educational; I was sticking post it notes throughout the book. I'm excited to look further into my family tree.
Profile Image for Karyn.
204 reviews
January 12, 2018
At best, a very light introduction to genealogy and the world family tree.
Not recommended for anyone with experience in genealogy seeking any insight.
Profile Image for Papaphilly.
267 reviews68 followers
February 8, 2020
It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs is both very funny and very serious at the same time. A.J. Jacobs becomes interested in the idea that if the world can go back 70 generations, everyone in the world is related. The rest of the book is stuffed full of facts and tidbits of information on genealogy, his family history, and holding what he tries to make is that largest family gathering in the world. A.J. Jacobs turns his battle cry into "We are Cousins" to get his distantly related family to attend. Along the way he explores what it means to be family and how much of the rogues get hidden by history by choice. All great fun. There is plenty of information for the casual geneticist and genealogist, but the book does not become bogged down. This is not hard science, but there is enough there to pique ones interest. The true underlying theme is the more we learn about each other, the nicer we can be to each other.

It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree is enjoyable and well worth the time.
Profile Image for Linda.
676 reviews
November 16, 2017

Who could get me to read an entire book about genealogy, without holding me hostage and/or threatening bodily harm? The list is very short, and A.J. Jacobs’ name is right at the top.

He admits that it’s a topic he became interested in only after he had kids, and became old enough to start contemplating his own mortality. He also admits that it’s one of the most narcissistic pursuits ever. I like honesty in a person.

He outlines the ways that genealogy has been used for less than noble purposes, then starts planning the world’s largest family reunion, in hope that the event will bring people together. The theory is that we look more favorably upon people who are related to us, so if we think of everyone on earth as a cousin, then we’ll all be nicer to each other. Nice theory. Humans being what they are, it doesn’t work perfectly in practice.

There were many laugh out loud moments in the book: the chapter about a group advocating first cousin marriage (all together now: ewwwwwwww!), A. J. going to lunch with Barbara and George H.W. Bush, A. J. learning that not all the members of Sister Sledge will be performing “We are Family” at the reunion because some members are no longer speaking to others, A. J. opening for Donny Osmond… There’s also plenty of good information for anyone truly interested in genealogy. I had no idea the global tree movement had gained as much popularity as it has.

As little interest as I have in the subject, I admit that plugging my name in to a global tree website to see how distantly I’m related to the famous and infamous is intriguing. Recommended for anyone with an interest in the subject, or who enjoys a good laugh.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Ken Heard.
597 reviews10 followers
January 13, 2018
I'm not that interested in geneaology; I've often said I could hold a family reunion in a telephone booth because I have no living relatives and come from a tiny family tree (a sapling, so be it). I am the last branch on whatever family tree I'm involved in. That said, though, I will read anything A.J. Jacobs writes and I'm never disappointed.

The thing that works best with his writing is that he seems to really put his heart into it. He truly seems interested in what he's studying and he is able to explain complex issues (whether it's religion, reading the encyclopedia or genetics) and make it easily readable. He also is self-deprecating and funny.

Some reviewers said this would have worked better if it were a long article for, say, the New Yorker magazine. And they have a point. At times, some things did seem to drag a little. However, because it is Jacobs, it was still better than most. Jacobs' drag is much better than most other authors' best stuff, I think. Also, he adds the underlying conflict of organizing his huge family reunion event and the varying elements he wrote about add to that conflict. Can he get it all together for the reunion? I mean, he even schedules Sister Sledge to sing "We Are Family" and learns of conflict with the group.

Like I said, I have no interest in family tree stuff or genealogy, but Jacobs' writing made it worth my while to read about it.

Profile Image for Lena.
Author 1 book341 followers
May 26, 2019
I picked up this book after hearing AJ Jacobs discuss his attempt to create the world's largest family reunion in a podcast. As always, he is an amiable and highly readable chronicler of his misadventures as he shares what he learned about the boom in genealogy brought about by the fertile combination of the Internet and DNA testing and what he learned about his own family history through the process.

Jacobs' motive in attempting to create the world's largest family reunion is a noble one; after learning that we are all related if you go back far enough, he hoped to use our ultimate inter-relatedness to soften the hard edges of tribalism that seem to be the cause of so many of today's woes. As he moved through the project, however, he regularly caught himself favoring his own known family over his more distant unknown relations, and his meditations on these ingrained habits are insightful.

Part of the reason I picked up this book was because, in the podcast, Jacob discussed the current unreliability of the ethnic origin component of DNA testing. Having taken 3 tests with significantly varied results myself, I wanted to know more about this topic. Unfortunately, that subject is not addressed in the book. For those looking to learn more about genealogy research and the explosion of new tools available for that, however, I would definitely recommend this book.
Profile Image for Bob Andelman.
Author 26 books21 followers
January 23, 2018
TODAY’S GUEST: A.J. Jacobs, author, “It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree,” and his wife, Julie Jacobs

A.J. Jacobs is always a great guest because he is always getting himself into situations that most people would want to avoid.
You know, like that year he spend literally following the life instructions found in the Bible.

Or when he turned himself into a lab rat trying out all sorts of ways to get healthy.

And that time he outsourced his family obligations and job responsibilities as a writer for Esquire magazine… to India.

All this and he’s a pretty terrific writer.

This time around, A.J. committed himself to what might be the world’s largest genealogy project, the Global Family Reunion. Like all A.J. Jacobs’ book ideas, it began small – hey look, I’m a distant cousin of President George H.W. Bush! – and it went somewhat haywire when he discovered he was also cousins with his wife of 15 years, Julie.

And that was just the beginning.

Julie will join us midway to offer her perspective on husband/cousin A.J.’s latest endeavor.

A.J.’s latest book is It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree. It truly goes all over the map!

Profile Image for Liesl.
1,416 reviews
April 8, 2018
Very informative and humorous, which is par for the course from Jacobs. His latest social experiment is a deep dive into the world of genealogy, and I enjoyed learning about the various aspects of this field and following where Jacobs' curiosity-fueled quest about his family tree took him. The updates that count down the weeks to the family reunion are especially amusing; while not everything came together perfectly in the end, it sounds like a very memorable event for all involved. As usual, it was a treat to check in on Jacobs and his family, and I hope that the wait for his next book is not as long!

Note: my ARC did not contain several pictures or the entirety of the appendix, so I was happy to revisit the book in order to receive its full experience. There are many valuable resources and tips within the appendix for anyone who wants to embark on an exploration of their own genealogy. I would like to sincerely thank Jacobs and Alice J. Ramsay for clearly explaining the concepts of second cousins and cousins removed through both a brief description and a handy chart.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with an ARC of this title.
Profile Image for Jordan.
631 reviews2 followers
November 15, 2017
AJ Jacobs is always good for an entertaining read, and this latest book is no exception. If you've listened to AJ's podcast Twice Removed you'll already have an idea of what you will get in this book. (And if you haven't listened be sure to check it out. It was a short lived podcast, but kind of fun.) AJ is on a quest to show that everyone is all part of one big family.

There is a light narrative through the book in which AJ is organizing a (hopefully) record breaking family reunion. It seems like a disaster at every turn, but it's interesting to see his big plans unfold. Most of the rest of the book are a variety of genealogical stories. Who are AJ's ancestors? How does one go about researching a family tree? How exactly are we all related?

There are lots of laugh out loud moments in this book. AJ isn't afraid to share his embarrassing moments, struggles, and feuds (great and small). Lots of research has gone into this book, and it's appreciated by this reader. There are several current hot-button social issues hit upon in this book. I'm open to hearing those discussions (in moderation) but it wasn't what I was looking for in a light read about genealogy.
Profile Image for Jessica.
398 reviews50 followers
September 18, 2019
I believe Jacobs sold me on a lot of ideas because of his candor. His humor and ability to keep such a positive attitude was great and also refreshing. It kept me reading and enjoying his adventure. His idea of a world wide reunion to unify us is something I can get behind. I’m so incredibly tired of everyone focusing on how our identities set us apart. It’s exhausting. And it ends up leaving me angry. But this? This is something soul soothing. Focus on what we have in common. How are we connected even if we look different? I need more of that in my life.
Profile Image for Geldar.
292 reviews14 followers
January 4, 2021

A.J. Jacobs is a constant delight. As I recently mentioned in my spontaneous fan letter to him, he's able to represent himself so convincingly as this relatable everyman --- a good-natured, regular family guy who happens to be curious about a lot of things. Yet somehow he manages to turn that idle curiosity into an unlikely adventure, and then he manages to turn that adventure into a rousing yarn, as enlightening as it is entertaining. Despite his implicit assertions of normalcy, it's clear that he's a creative genius, but, as he demonstrates repeatedly throughout this book, a genius who believes in the equality and and kinship of all and is able to dispatch with pretension and ego. (He even responded to my fan mail.)

The premise of this particular work is that we all represent leaves on a shared family tree, that by studying genealogy we may better understand this fact, and that perhaps by coming to the realization that we are all related, we will learn to treat others with the care and respect they deserve as cousins. This is the story of his research, reflection, and attempt to create the world's largest "family reunion."

Profile Image for Anna (lion_reads).
402 reviews68 followers
May 15, 2020
A light, fluffy read for anyone vaguely interested in family trees. A.J. Jacobs tells a few stories from his own genealogical search and attempt to organize a Global Family Reunion. Jacobs spends some time talking about what it means to be connected. I think the book was not the in-depth discussion I was looking for, but Jacobs does introduce a few basic concepts and paradoxes of genealogy. I didn't enjoy the party planning updates or preoccupation with the event. Another quibble I have is that Jacobs makes genealogy sound easy, type in a few relatives and boom you are connected. Anyone who has actually started their tree from scratch knows it can take a long time to stumble on the colourful stories and plethora of information--that is if it's even available for you. I did like the concept of the global family tree though.

So a nice, fast read but wouldn't recommend to anyone with a well-developed interest in family history.
Profile Image for Jeimy.
4,539 reviews33 followers
January 15, 2018
A. J. Jacobs recounts how he brought another one of his over-the-top ideas to life. This time his interest in genealogy leads him to try to break the Guinness World Record for largest family reunion.
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