Sunday, December 14, 2014

Book Review: The Invisible History of the Human Race

Wow -- what a great book!  I just finished reading The Invisible History of the Human Race by Christine Kenneally.

It's kind of hard to explain what the book is about, exactly.  Kenneally approaches the idea of genetics by starting with an overview of human ideas about inheritance, ancestry, race and genealogy.  In some of her early chapters, genealogists help the bad guys, and an in some of the chapters, genealogists help the good guys.  She looks at situations where an obsession with bloodlines leads to genocide, and she also looks at situations where the denial of ancestral information is used as punishment.  I learned some very interesting and disturbing things about the eugenic movement.

Then she moves into history of DNA testing, and the expansion of what can be tested, who is tested, and what kinds of things can be learned.  There's a lot of good background in here about the differences between deep history and recent generations, between Y, mtDNA, and atDNA, and between medical testing and genealogical testing.

One thing I appreciated was that each chapter explores one self-contained idea, while fitting nicely into the overall structure.  This makes it good for bed-time reading, and for making a topic this complex digestible.  I also appreciated the mix of personal anecdotes and scholarly research.

This is not, repeat not, a book that will tell you what DNA test to take or how to interpret your results.  It is, however, a good book for getting a sense of the forest of genetic testing before you start losing yourself in the trees of centimorgans and IBD vs IBS.

Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely, and highly recommend it.  And not just for genealogists.

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