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The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey Paperback – February 17, 2004

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Editorial Reviews Review

Spencer Wells traces human evolution back to our very first ancestor in The Journey of Man. Along the way, he sums up the explosive effect of new techniques in genetics on the field of evolutionary biology and all available evidence from the fossil record. Wells's seemingly sexist title is purposeful: he argues that the Y chromosome gives us a unique opportunity to follow our migratory heritage back to a sort of Adam, just as earlier work in mitochondrial DNA allowed the identification of Eve, mother of all Homo sapiens. While his descriptions of the advances made by such luminary scientists as Richard Lewontin and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza can be dry, Wells comes through with sparkling metaphors when it counts, as when he compares genetic drift to a bouillabaisse recipe handed down through a village's generations. Though finding our primal male is an exciting prospect, the real revolution Wells describes is racial. Or rather, nonracial, as he reiterates the scientific truth that our notions of what makes us different from each other are purely cultural, not based in biology. The case for an "out of Africa" scenario of human migration is solid in this book, though Wells makes it clear when he is hypothesizing anything controversial. Readers interested in a fairly technical, but not overwhelming, summary of the remarkable conclusions of 21st-century human evolutionary biology will find The Journey of Man a perfect primer. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In this surprisingly accessible book, British geneticist Wells sets out to answer long-standing anthropological questions of where humans came from, how we migrated and when we arrived in such places as Europe and North America. To trace the migration of human beings from our earliest homes in Africa to the farthest reaches of the globe, Wells calls on recent DNA research for support. Clues in the blood of present groups such as eastern Russia's Chukchi, as well as the biological remnants of long-extinct human clans, allow Wells to follow the Y chromosome as a relatively unaltered marker of human heritage. Eventually, working backward through time, he finds that the earliest common "ingredient" in males' genetic soup was found in a man Wells calls the "Eurasian Adam," who lived in Africa between 31,000 and 79,000 years ago. Each subsequent population, isolated from its fellows, gained new genetic markers, creating a map in time and space. Wells writes that the first modern humans "left Africa only 2,000 generations ago" and quickly fanned out across Asia, into Europe, and across the then-extant land bridge into the Americas. Using the same markers, he debunks the notion that Neanderthals were our ancestors, finds odd links between faraway peoples, and-most startlingly-discovers that all Native Americans can be traced to a group of perhaps a dozen people. By explaining his terminology and methods throughout the book, instead of in a chunk, Wells makes following the branches of the human tree seem easy. 44 color photos, 54 halftones and 3 maps.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks (February 17, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0812971469
  • ISBN-13: 978-0812971460
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (140 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,550 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

149 of 156 people found the following review helpful By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on February 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Archeologists dig all over the earth to find the history of people who existed too early to leave a written history. There is a new sort of archeology, however, that is changing our long-range view of human pre-history. Scientists are digging into cells, into the genes that everyone knows make us what we are. The details from this new research have given revolutionary insight into where humans came from, how they spread, and the origin and superficiality of races. In _The Journey of Man_ (Princeton University Press), Spencer Wells, a population geneticist, has written a wonderfully clear book of origins, drawing upon not just genes but history, geography, archeology, and linguistics.
In part, the book is a summary of refutations against the ideas of anthropologists who maintained that different races were subspecies that arose in different regions at different times. No such hypotheses could be tested in the time they were issued, and now they can. DNA in the cells from mitochondria, and the DNA in the male Y chromosome do not shuffle the way ordinary chromosomes do, and thus are very stable from one generation to the next. Mutations happen, and accumulate, and may be used to see how closely related humans from different regions of the world are. The genetic results of both mitochondrial and Y chromosome research confirm each other, and are unambiguous. We are all out of Africa. We stayed in Africa as humans for generations, and almost all the genetic variation we were going to get was within us at that time. Then around 40,000 years ago, propelled perhaps because of weather changes, we started our travels.
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95 of 101 people found the following review helpful By rctnyc VINE VOICE on March 11, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This book will blow you away. In clear, easy-to-follow language, with helpful analogies, Wells describes a scientific and geographical journey wherein, by means of DNA analysis, he and his fellow scientists tracked the contemporary "Y" chromosome from two common ancestors in Africa to the DNA of every living human being. Unbelievably, there really was one "Adam" and one "Eve" -- although they lived more than 100,000 years apart -- whose descendants left Africa about 40,000 years ago and, over 2000 subsequent generations, were the origin of us all. The understanding that we are all related -- cousins many thousands of times removed, if you will -- may not have any immediate effect on politics and social relations, but it does put our human conflicts into a different context, as well as blast away most genetically-based theories of race. Although cultures may differ in many respects, and human beings may subscribe to different value and belief systems, we really are, genetically, one human family. I read this book cover-to-cover in one day, and found it fascinating, astonishing and inspiring. Kudos to Wells and his crew. Also, those of you who have kids who may be too young to follow the science in this book should try the video.
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80 of 85 people found the following review helpful By A Movie Buff on December 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
I enjoyed reading in this book how scientists worked out the migration patterns of prehistoric humans through the dissection of Y-chromosome (and the ladies' mtDNA too) genetic markers. The author's analogies to explain the various genetic theories are fairly good at explaining the concepts.

My problem with the paperback edition (I have not seen the hardcover)is that the maps are horrendous. They look like they were photocopied from color originals with a really old machine. I cannot read the text on the arrows of the Big Summary Map at all, and have been writing in the genetic markers on the map in the book as I go along to see if I can figure it out for myself. And I never, never, never write in my books. This is very frustrating and the publisher should ensure that the maps are recreated with gray-scale halftones in the next edition.

I recommend looking into whether the hardcover edition maps are any better and get that if they are.
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39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Michael Valdivielso on February 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
I saw Spencer Wells on Book TV talking about his book and TV special, so when I found the book in paperback I snapped it up. And I am very happy I did. I knew a lot of the history he went over to explain why and how the Y-chromosome could be used to trace human evolution and how humans spread over the world. The reason I enjoyed it so much is that I have many of the books he used as sources and it allowed me to read without those full halts that sometimes happens when you hide an idea or fact you never heard of before.

But even people who have no knowledge how DNA works or have no idea how our prehistoric forefathers lived will find the book interesting and easy to absorb.

The Y-chromosome not only helps us trace the male DNA back to Africa, it is also shown to help answer once and all questions about language families and even how the knowledge of farming spread.

The language used in the book is easy to understand and Mr. Wells knows how to explain even complex issues with humor and clarity.

Some information about Homo erectus/ergaster in Asia MIGHT be out-dated with the discovery of Homo floresiensis (Hobbits), but the data about Homo sapiens is still sound.
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