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102 of 112 people found the following review helpful
DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America by Bryan Sykes

"DNA USA" is the ambitious but overall disappointing book about the genetic makeup of America. Bryan Sykes, author of the successful book, "The Seven Daughters of Eve and Saxons, Vikings, and Celt" and professor of human genetics at the University of Oxford and founder of Oxford Ancestors, takes the reader on a literal three-month journey through America as he collects DNA and assembles a genetic portrait. The author though engaging and making the book accessible for the masses fails at reaching his ultimate goal of providing a thorough or compelling portrait of America. This 384-page book is broken out into three sections called movements.

1. An engaging, conversational prose that is accessible to the masses.
2. Effective overall format. Keep the highly technical aspects of genetics in a separate appendix thus allowing the body of the book to have a smooth narrative.
3. Does a good job of going over the basics of DNA. In particular, the differences between DNA and mDNA which is fundamental in this book.
4. A brief history of genetics and its progress.
5. A wonderful look at the history of various Native Americans populations of America.
6. A brief look at American history with a focus on the early colonies.
7. The beauty of modern genetics, unraveling ancestry.
8. Sykes does a great job of establishing what genetics can do and its limitations.
9. Many genetic misconceptions debunked, "Many people naturally think that increasing accuracy will come by increasing the number of markers tested. It will not."
10. Some chapters are much better than others...chapter 8. The Jews and chapter 9. The Africans were among my favorites.
11. Fascinating look at genetics and diseases and the complexity of pinpointing diseases through genetics.
12. A look at slavery and its impact to America. Some mind-blowing numbers and facts.
13. A look at inheriting it works. Enlightening.
14. DNA tests to the public...its importance.
15. A look at the Human Genome Project and its impact.
16. A look at why some populations have an understandable indignation over cooperating in genetic projects.
17. Some interesting personal stories regarding the people who provided their DNA. Even the author provides some interesting insights into his own ancestry.
18. An enlightening look at why a third of African American men carry a European Y chromosome.
19. Good use of pop culture (movies) to engage the reader.
20. Does a good job of wrapping up his overall work.
21. Interesting overall findings.
22. Links worked great.

1. The expression "You have bitten more than you can chew" comes to mind with this book. It's a fantastic idea for a book that came up way too short. The author recognizes early on in his travels that he wasn't going to get all the cooperation he needed to reach all his goals.
2. The book is uneven, that is, some chapters are so much better than others.
3. Some chapters are laborious to read; even the author acknowledges that unless you are of that population group it will get tedious to get through.
4. Overall the author comes across as an engaging person you want you to sit down with but some of the comments were shall I say off putting. The comment regarding a Mexican named Jesus who left his violent hometown and implying that he didn't have the guts to him ask a question because he just recently watched the movie; "No Country for Old Men" is uncalled for.
5. As a person with Spanish roots I was hoping to get a little more than Puerto Ricans are more susceptible to asthma than Mexicans.
6. Overall I was disappointed; I was expecting a more comprehensive genetic portrayal of America. Many parts of the country were left out.
7. No formal bibliography.

In summary, I have mixed feelings about this book. The topic is fascinating, the goal too ambitious and the execution was overall disappointing. Professor Sykes deserves credit for taking on such an ambitious project but early on he knew he wasn't going to be able to deliver the goods. He didn't get all the cooperation he required to be able to end up with a comprehensive genetic-portrayal of America. The author also made some questionable sensitive remarks that I thought were off putting but you be the judge of that. All that being said, some of the chapters are truly fascinating and provides valuable insight. Read with reservations noted.

Further suggestions: "The Universe Inside You: The Extreme Science of the Human Body From Quantum Theory to the Mysteries of the Brain" by Brian Clegg, "The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution" by Gregory Cochran, "Relics of Eden: The Powerful Evidence of Evolution in Human DNA" by Daniel J. Fairbanks, "Deep Ancestry: Inside The Genographic Project" by Spencer Wells "Why Evolution Is True" by Jerry A. Coyne, "The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution" by Sean B. Carroll, "Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (Vintage)" by Neil Shubin, "Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors" by Nicholas Wade and "A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present" by Howard Zinn.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2012
I'm a fan of Bryan Sykes and own all his other books. I was quite excited to see a "genetic portrait of America" on a level with the work he'd done in the British Isles and writtena about in "Saxons, Vikings, and Celts". I understand that the U.S. is a much larger country with a much larger population, but I still had high expectations based on Sykes's previous books. "DNA USA" does not even remotely attempt to paint the genetic portrait of America that is promised on the cover. There is some very good, very interesting information about Native American DNA, the science of chromosome painting, and population movements that had the genetics buff in me riveted. Unfortunately, white America is primarily represented by a handful of WASP types in New England and an occasional individual from another part of the country. Sykes actually only tested 25 individuals total for his "genetic portrait". Had the book not included a lot of info from other people's research, I'd have been quite disappointed indeed. I found the first half of the book extremely interesting, but unfortunately Sykes dedicates a significant portion of the book to his travels through the country, so that much of it reads like a memoir, with no science at all. I do recommend the book to anyone with an interest in this sort of genetic research; there are certainly sections that should not be missed. I do truly wish that the entire book had been on that level, and that more research had actually been done, as it had for the other books. 25 DNA samples to represent a country as large and diverse as this one? Not what I'd expected.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 4, 2013
I have to say I was very disappointed after buying, and reading, the hardcover of this book. I expected so much more after reading Sykes' other books, "The Seven Daughters of Eve" and "Saxons, Vikings, and Celts."

I am a student of genetics, DNA and history with a 17-year hobby of genealogy. I thought this book would be tailor-made for my interests, but I was wrong. There was very little new in the book, and basically, it could have been a pamphlet with the color charts at the end being the most interesting part.

I love a good travel narrative and have quite a collection of them myself, but this was no interesting travelogue. It was self-indulgent and had details that no one would have been interested in, save Sykes and his own family. I kept thinking, where was his editor? Fully half the book could have been left out, and I wish it would have because it made me irritated to buy a book, allegedly about DNA, that was merely an excuse for Sykes to tell us about a trip with his son, and later his wife, to the US.

The book couldn't decide whether it wanted to be personal, or scholarly, and it failed at both. Having learned so much from Sykes' other books, I felt cheated when I got to the end, except for the above-mentioned color charts. I also felt that Sykes' DNA samples of US population were extremely too small for the population. Only 25 people were sampled in a nation of 313 million! That small of a context wouldn't even pass muster as a senior thesis in most universities.

I thought Sykes would probably delve more into the history of the US to show the genetic population shifts and how they have created the America we have today, but he was more concerned with his own story than the story of the US. If Sykes writes another book, I will wait until the paperback published, or even check it out at the library. Once burned, twice shy, and I do not intend to waste money on a hardcover with so little to show for it.
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24 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on May 14, 2012
A great deconstruction of preconceptions surrounding our genetic origins, DNA USA posits some provocative, if not downright iconoclastic, theses about our ancestry.

Mr. Sykes writes about material that's extremely complex with a colloquial accessibility; the book also benefits from Sykes' use of his team's physical journey as a means of grounding the conceptual shifts their investigation charts; the book also integrates an innovative use of graphs and charts wonderfully.

Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on March 22, 2013
Mr Sykes book is as much a documentation of his travels through the USA as it is a work of science. He arrives at some general conclusions with only a very few DNA samples used. I bought this thinking it was a comprehensive sampling of the country and was disappointed that it was more of a commentary and his opinions on slavery and Native American mistreatment.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on June 24, 2012
I've been reading parts of this book and several other books by this author. I appreciate his ability to clearly communicate such a difficult scientific topic. But I was also bothered by one detail that had me scratching my head.

In all of his books, he refers to neanderthals as an extinct species. He claims that there was no interbreeding and therefore modern humans don't carry any of their genetics. Recent research has proven the opposite to be true.

Is the author unaware of this research? If so, he isn't much of an expert. Or is there a reason he is dismissing this research? As far as I can tell, he never discusses this research despite this book just being published this year.

When I noticed his discussion of neanderthals, I was expecting to learn something new about how neanderthal genetics have contributed to the evolution of modern humans. As I recall, people with European descent have 2 to 4 percent of neanderthal genetics. That is a surprisingly high percentage. Considering that certain populations have no neanderthal genetics, such a contributing factor would be important in a discussion about regional differences in genetic inheritance.

I was really disappointed by this glaring omission. The author discusses neanderthals in some detail in his books and yet ignores or is unaware of the most interesting recent research. This is why I give only 3 stars.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2012
This long-awaited account of the genetic make-up of America comes from the Oxford genetics professor who came up with the memorable "Seven Daughters of Eve", the book that put a human face to mitochondrial genetics, and demonstrated the surname links of Y chromosome variants. In his book on the genetic make-up of Britain and Ireland ("Blood of the Isles" in the UK, "Saxons, Vikings and Celts" in the USA), he continued his use of Oxford Ancestors-based analysis of mitochondrial DNA and Y-chromosomes, as in his words they represent the solo instruments of the genetic orchestra, playing a recognizable, clear tune down the generations, unsullied by the sorts of confusing effects of recombination shown by autosomes. In turning to the immense canvas of North America, he has chosen to incorporate the information provided by those autosomes, because it not only has much greater potential on this scale, but also because the new "chromosome painting" methods of analysing the data, pioneered by 23andme, have brought qualitative improvements to our ability to interpret the jumbled sounds of the genetic symphony orchestra.

As always with Sykes, dry genetics is enlivened and socialized by liberal doses of human interest; from the respectable matrons of New England, to the poignant remnants of Native America, he weaves their story in the form of a picaresque novel. His sensitivity to those who wish to preserve their ancestral mythologies, and to others who embrace previously unsuspected inter-ethnic roots, is remarkable. He's like a Michael Palin of the genome! For anyone with an open mind and an interest in multicultural America, this book is a must-read.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2012
This non-technical survey of the diversity of the peoples of the United States is filled with interesting (and sometimes unexpected) information that paints a picture of the diverse heritage of its citizens. The author's tour across America is at once entertaining and informative. A few of the place names in the west are misidentified or misspelled, which should have been corrected. However, the overall findings, and the accompanying color charts and descriptions of the technical aspects of the research are very engaging. For those interested in geneology, human migrations and genetics, this is a fascinating journey into the diversity and complexity of the peoples of the United States.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2012
For any reader expecting a breakdown of American population similar to that done for the British Isles in Sykes' book Saxons, Vikings and Celts, this is not the book for you. However, there are other interesting points of discussion included in this book. Findings about the origins and genes of Native Americans is one interesting topic, and is accompanied by a discussion of moral and ethical questions that have arisen about these findings since they ago against the traditional beliefs and religious practices of the tribes. There have even been court cases in which Native Americans have sued to stop further excavations of sites and DNA analyses of remains. Sykes also describes his journey from New England to San Francisco with stops in Chicago among other places. He seemed truly amazed at the vastness of the US. During this journey he meets with researchers at various genetic analyses companies. Since Sykes has an informal and entertaining writing style, the book makes for engaging and at times thought provoking reading. I especially appreciated the discussion of genetic research and its application to medicine and treatment of hereditary diseases.

As for the DNA results of Americans discussed in the book, it's limited to a number of New England Brahmins who are members of a prestigious historical society and descendents of pre-1700 colonists along with a few other American of various types, mostly a few whites, a few African Americans and a few Native Americans that Sykes more or less met by happenstance. Hardly a scientific sampling. However, the results or the chromosome portraits drawn from these results are truly eyebrow raising as far as they go. The New Englanders are "true blue" literally since as pure Europeans they show no African or Native American ancestry. Not so everyone else, including the handful of whites, three from the South. The African Americans wanted more Native American genes in their lineage and were disappointed that they had more European. The Southern whites were more perplexed by the evidence of some African American mix (they too were hoping for Native American), except one tagged as "Rhett Butler" who was more amused and evidently couldn`t wait to let his racist brother-in-law know. When one considers the history of the early frontier, especially in the South, and the relationships among Europeans, African Americans, and the Native Indians (in this case, the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminoles), it wouldn't be surprising if more Americans, however they classify themselves, with Southern roots do have a combination of the blue, green and orange colors in their chromosome portrait. Many whites who are descended from settlers who came in the 17th and early 18th century and lived on the then frontier have realized that when they are working on their family trees all to often they will have to write in "Unknown" for some ancestors, usually a wife and mother. That unknown ancestress could be of any race. African Americans also know all to well that their European ancestry usually comes from white males.

Given the size and heterogeneous nature of the US population, plus continuing migration and social mobility, is a really possible to do a complete DNA portrait of the citizens? Wouldn`t such a study involve designated areas and sample populations? It would be a very expensive undertaking. And perhaps the outcome would be that most of us are a mix which makes us truly American.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 12, 2013
Did you ever wonder where America's genetic heritage came from? I remember years ago asking a representative of an Indian organization if anyone know just what proportion of America's ancestry Indians provided. She did not know but "DNA USA" gives us a hint at the answer to this and other questions.

Author Bryan Sykes explains the science of DNA, as to how it is tested, what it can tell and some interesting facts regarding how we came to be who we are. That ground work having been laid, Sykes takes us through his investigations of various regional ethnic groups, including Indians, white New Englanders, white Southerners and African-Americans, testing their paternal, maternal and composite genetic maps.

The author arrives at some interesting conclusions. Many people have diverse backgrounds. Many Indians find that they have more African and European DNA than Indian. Most African-Americans have some European DNA and among American whites, African DNA is most commonly found among Southerners and least often among the descendents of New England colonialists. The ultimate conclusion is that group identities are really fictions imposed on people of generally diverse genetic backgrounds.

I find the topic of the book to be very interesting although at times the science gets a bit hard to follow. Sykes raises questions about the use of DNA both for possible social purposes and for medical treatment, particularly that fine tuned to presumed racial variables. If you wish to delve into this new frontier in scientific/social research "DNA USA" is a good place to start.
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