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Deep Ancestry: Inside The Genographic Project Paperback – November 20, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this concise and well-written work, Wells (The Journey of Man) provides an accessible introduction to genetic anthropology, the study of human history using genetic evidence. Wells is the director of the Genographic Project, which collects DNA samples from a wide array of world populations to better understand human history over the last 200,000 years. Wells does a fantastic job distilling both genetics and genetic anthropology into straightforward topics, presenting sophisticated material accessibly without oversimplification. He gives the reader the basic concepts (Y chromosomes, mtDNA, haplogroups, genetic markers) and then proceeds to step through genographic research from its 19th-century origins to the present day. In so doing, he takes the reader back to the 170,000-year-old female genetic ancestor of every person alive today: the so-called African Eve. It is a remarkable journey that will appeal to readers of all backgrounds interested in exploring the science and research behind human evolution, although those with more experience in the sciences may find some of the material elementary.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

The study of human prehistory has been revolutionized by genetic evidence. Here a leading researcher in genetic anthropology surveys the specialty. He warns that its promise could go unrealized because contemporary mobility is reshuffling the human genome, obscuring the DNA details by which experts can trace the geographic ancestry of contemporary ethnic groups. To rescue genetic information, Wells heads National Geographic Society's Genographic Project, which collects and analyzes DNA from volunteers to create a database of the human genome as it was before the Industrial Revolution. He relays the personal stories and ethnic lineage of five such volunteers while explaining both the DNA markers and the logic by which he and his colleagues can reliably place and date a person's ancestry. Even at this early stage, genomic discoveries about ancient migrations are astounding, and the potential of the NGS project to continue them is apparent from the open questions Wells poses in his epilogue. An informative and exciting picture of science in the making. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic; Reprint edition (November 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1426201184
  • ISBN-13: 978-1426201189
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #204,820 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Spencer Wells is an Explorer-in-Residence at the National Geographic Society and Frank H. T. Rhodes Class of '56 Professor at Cornell University. He leads the Genographic Project, which is collecting and analyzing hundreds of thousands of DNA samples from people around the world in order to decipher how our ancestors populated the planet. Wells received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and conducted postdoctoral work at Stanford and Oxford. He has written three books, The Journey of Man, Deep Ancestry, and Pandora's Seed. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife, a documentary filmmaker.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

180 of 184 people found the following review helpful By Emil B on December 23, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
What a marvellous little book! I was taken by surprise so many times during my reading, whenever I thought I knew what the author is about at the beginning of many of his stories. In a way, this is like a crime fiction book written by a clever writer that catches you off guard and it reveals the killer only at the last page. The writing style is deceivingly simple; Spencer gets over the scientific details of genetics in a few paragraphs where he tells you in plain English everything you need to know to understand this book. The book then flows smoothly and he managed to make it so easy for you to follow the main ideas and try to decipher what is probably the greatest puzzle of all: the origins of human race. You will have a few surprises.

You might have seen the National Geographic documentary "The Journey of Man". Its author is none other than same Spence Wells. He is only 37 years old, and very, very bright. I have to emphasize again the writing style: very simple, yet it explains clearly complex concepts. He talks science, yet he is humorous and light. He uses sometimes numbers and probabilities, but the book is in general built around stories of five people chosen to represent the main haplogroups (families or a clans of people that share the same genetic properties transmitted over many generations) in the history of mankind. Spencer Wells is currently a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and the director of Genographic Project. It is a great and fascinating role he is playing. The goal of this project is to collect about 100,000 genetic samples from people around the world that live in still pristine conditions: that is they live in the same area their families lived for a long time.
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91 of 95 people found the following review helpful By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME on January 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
The human diaspora from Africa that populated the world has been the subject of several recent studies. At first, these books were bulwarks against the tide of "Multi-regionalism" - the idea that an early version of our ancestral species evolved into Homo sapiens at different times and places. Genetic research, including that of the author, has shown that we're all descended from a small African population. Placing our origins on one continent simplifies the task of analysis of tracking our movements. In this book, Wells explains how the examination works and what it reveals of our ancestry.

The tool is "markers" on the genome. For females it was the DNA in mitochondria, the cell's "powerhouse". For males, it is changes on the Y chromosome, that molecular structure triggering a shift from the default embryo condition. The author demonstrates how these indicators are detected and how they allow us to track our ancestry back in time. The markers designate genetic "borders" between groups of people who share a common ancestor in the deep past. The groups are called "haplotypes" - for which Wells, at least in the case of Europe, uses the term "clan". There are seven of these clans - designated by letter labels such as "R", "J" or "N" - descended from male originators. The approach is reminiscent of Bryan Sykes "Seven Daughters of Eve" [2001], except Wells follows the male lineage where Sykes used mitochondrial DNA to source female origins. Both authors focus on the European records as being more complete and readily available. Wells also finds but five female lines as opposed to Sykes' seven.

Wells discusses how genetic "clocks" can postulate a rate of mutation over a long span of time to roughly determine the age of the haplogroup.
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83 of 86 people found the following review helpful By Keith McCormick on August 7, 2007
Format: Hardcover
If you have read The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey, you may find this book a bit of a let down. It is not that it is badly written, nor is the story uninteresting. It is just that the narrative has not advanced enough since the last book. There are some interesting additions, but a lot of repeat information. I would start with the DVD Journey of Man. After that you could read either book, but I recall enjoying Journey of Man better. Having said that, I will be looking for the next one because the research is fascinating.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By John L Murphy TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 5, 2007
Format: Hardcover
Compared to Wells' earlier "Journey of Man" and Bryan Sykes' "Seven Daughters of Eve" and "Saxons, Vikings & Celts," (all three also reviewed by me on Amazon), this is considerably briefer, compressing the genetic information of both mDNA (female-transmitted) and Y-chromosome (male markers) lineages into 250 pp. including a long appendix listing all of the major profiles. Contrasted to the colorfully organized information on the National Geographic Society's "Genographic Project" online site, these appendices largely duplicate the same material in somber typeface. But, having it in book form combined with the previous 175 pp. of text, this makes a concise primer for public and home libraries that, even in our web-dependent age (as you and I know as we read this post!), still need print backup and expansion of material that on the web, as on the NGS site, must be too diffused and remains a bit unwieldy for easy cross-referencing and browsing.

The maps here tend to comment silently upon the material Wells discusses. Unfortunately, Wells more often than not fails to tie his sober, but not altogether dry, text tightly enough to the graphics. You look at the charts and can figure them out, sure, but if the author had taken greater effort in being more explicit, e.g. "see figure 6, where the so-and-so can be seen ranging across the this-and-that at such-and-such a rate," the integration of print and visuals would have enhanced the combined presentation of what can be challenging material for the layperson.

Wells, identified in the author's endnote as a "child prodigy," is ideally placed to write such an introduction to our "encapsulated history," but this efficiently summarized book does feel (as another reviewer commented) as a work in progress.
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