Elodie's Reviews > The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry

The Seven Daughters of Eve by Bryan Sykes
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's review
Feb 20, 2011

it was ok
Read in February, 2011

I had to read this book for my book club, and I was less than enthusiastic when I started. Two friends from the book club told me how they had been quite disappointed with it, and as we often like the same literature I was expecting to not like it either... I started nonetheless, internally sighing... and found myself really engrossed with the story!
It did not start well however, as I found myself very annoyed at the author at the beginning of the book. I found him quite insufferable and pretentious, too engrossed with himself. I mean what do I care about him having an old car that leaked oil? This is coming back at several times in the book, for example when he gives himself a little pat on the back about being so good at discovering the Polynesian origin : it is clear in the book that archeologists had numerous evidence to prove this already and that the genetic proof is one other piece of evidence among others. Yes it is more irrefutable, but historians and archeologist can also be trusted to be doing their job properly and to collate relevant evidence to constructs/rebut theories.
However, I really loved the first part of the book (before he details the life of the 7 daughters) and found it a real page turner: to me this is science at its best: asking yourself a question out of sheer curiosity and finding your answer after research, experimentation. It is a real scientific/anthropological thriller, and my world was totally shaken when he proves that we did not evolve from Neanderthal but are all descendant of Cro-Magnon.. I mean wow!! So all the evolutionary drawings showing the evolution of men from ape to homo sapiens are wrong? Neanderthal got extinct! And I like also how he explains how they could have breed together but be infertile... I also liked the fact that without the initial question, there is no use for the technological progress: I mean you don’t need mitochondrial DNA if you are not asking yourself the relevant questions.
The second very strong point of this book to me, is the intellectual honesty of this man. You can like him or not, but you can’t deny him being a true scientist. I really appreciated him explaining how his genetic discovery about European ancestry created a scholarly earthquake, how is theory was put under attack and how he rebutted all critics point by points. Also, I am NOT a scientist AT ALL, and I really liked how he explained the science behind it all. I am not sure I could give a lecture quite yet, but I definitely have a much better understanding about genetics, mitochondrial DNA, chromosome, etc...
The last part of the book however annoyed me a bit... I did not really like the story of the 7 daughters, because they are too fictional for me. I know he can’t find the skeletons or retrace exactly their individual story, but as I am trained as a historian I don’t like him inventing these women at all. I was quite uncomfortable reading this part when I know he is a geneticist and not a Palaeontologist. I am sure he did his research, but I’d rather have that part written by a specialist, and could have dispensed with it altogether.In conclusion, I am really looking forward the next bookclub meeting!

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Emilie I totally agree with what you've said, in particular about the fictional bit. I was also very uncomfortable and it felt completely unnecessary.

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