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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. _Journey_ has good diagrams, but a map showing the flow of different Y chromosome linkages around the world can be regarded with awe, for the history it shows and for the scientific advances that have made such a diagram possible.
Our current way of living has wrought changes in plenty of the subjects in this book. The trail of languages in many ways parallels the trail of genes around the world, but as we develop a global culture, languages are dying out at a faster rate than ever before. Also, there is greater mixing of genes from different cultures now that easy travel makes possible the meeting of members of tribes that would never have met before. It could be that we have passed the heyday for the sort of research reported here, as populations swap genes in unprecedented ways. Nonetheless, Wells's book is full of enthusiasm for basic research, and the results described here are fascinating. We can look back at our origins with new respect for how long and how strange a journey it has been, and with the increasing realization that that our one species has one shared history.
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VINE VOICEon March 11, 2003
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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on December 9, 2004
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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on February 1, 2005
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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VINE VOICEon November 28, 2003
I first heard the author speak at the Smithsonian on the genetic odyssey of mankind, in the best talk I've ever heard, and I go to many talks every year. Then I read the book and watched the two-hour PBS presentation by the same title. The author does a great service by summarizing much scholarship in genetics, archaeology, and linguistics, to paint a family portrait of the human race based on analysis of the Y chromosomes of peoples all over the world--an intriguing story, well told and accessible to the non-specialist, if not the general reader with a minimal background in college biology and biochemistry. The author's sense of humor adds to the delightful tale of mankind's journey. This is the most interesting book I've read since Jared Diamond's best seller, "Guns, Germs, and Steel," and encourages me to read more books in this area. Dr. Wells, who refers to himself in the PBS show as a "lab rat," has done a great service both to his field and to the public by sharing the results of detailed and laborious scientific research with the larger human race whose ancestors are the subject of this fascinating history.
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HALL OF FAMEon September 21, 2003
A few years ago a furor arose over the announcement that a calculation of mitochondrial DNA mutation rate formulated an "African Eve". Since then other genetic ancestral studies have been undertaken. Most notable of these was the determination that Neanderthal was not a direct ancestor of modern humans. Spencer Wells provides an enthralling overview of the research tracking changes in the Y [male] chromosome. The studies verify again that our origins are African. Somewhere, around 60 000 years ago, lived one man, a flesh and blood individual, from whom we've all descended. His progeny, in an amazingly short span, scattered around the globe. The scattering isn't news, but the verification of the paths and chronology is lucid and vividly outlined in this book.
The key to the tracking, as Wells makes abundantly clear, are various polymorphisms [changes] in the Y chromosome. These mutations are reflected in today's populations and the rate of their diversity indicates the approximate age of the various regional groups. These changes, nearly all prefixed "M" [male?] are used as ingredients in recipes Wells offers as illustrative metaphor. It's a clever ploy, so long as you remember ingredients may only be added, never removed nor replaced. That's how genetics works, he reminds us. He portrays the build-up of recipe ingredients with maps and diagrams. The diagrams are almost redundant as the clarity of his prose enables you to envision them.
Following the paths of migration, Wells shows how some archaeological finds offer support for the patterns he sees. Fossils are rare, elusive and sometimes misunderstood. Genetics, buried deep in our cells, are unequivocal in providing their evidence. Dating methods are briefly described and their shortcomings mercilessly paraded. Wells doesn't give the paleoanthropologists much voice. His story needs telling and the reader may go elsewhere for countering information. Yet he acknowledges the importance of confirming information from various digs around the world.
Wells firmly addresses a great anomaly - if modern humans arose from the evolutionary bouillabaisse about 60 millennia ago, how did the Aborigines arrive in Australia at nearly the same time? His answer is that the track followed shore routes, not inland ones. Hunter-gatherer groups, subject to the whims of climate, food resources and population pressure took the softest trail. Africa to Australia during ice ages was a gentle, if lengthy, stroll.
Nit-picking department: Wells' opening gun is turned on the racial "expert" Carleton Coon, who asserted the human races each followed a separate evolutionary path. Coon has been refuted in so many ways by so many researchers, Wells' effort seems superfluous. There are more competent scientists adhering to the "Multiregional" thesis. Some of these researchers might have been given a small voice in an annotated bibliography. While Wells offers a reading list for each chapter, a full bibliography would be an enhancement. Many of his references are remote. That doesn't tarnish the value of this book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on March 14, 2003
I read "The Journey of Man" by Spencer Wells because I saw his documentary on PBS a few weeks earlier. I immediately followed up by reading "The Seven Daughrters of Eve" by Bryan Sykes (2001) because the web site called my attention to it. I'm glad I read Wells first. He covers the direct-male-line of the human race as traced by the Y-chromosome, constructing a family tree of the whole world outside of sub-Saharan Africa. Sykes makes more sense with Wells's study in mind because he traces only a European family tree based on mytochondrial DNA, which shows the direct-female-line of descent. He devotes only a brief chapter at the end to fill out the family tree of the rest of the human race, including sub-Saharan Africa. It's clear from a page in Sykes's book that there has been some animosity between the two schools of thought (the authors have opposite links to Luca Cavalli-Sforza). Yet it's easy to fit Sykes's argument into Wells's thinking if you read Wells first; the opposite works less well. The two books are complementary; one does not refute the other. Both authors agree that more genetic sampling is needed to complete the picture; the work has just begun.
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on April 13, 2005
I first came across Spencer's `Journey of Man' via the PBS presentation of it and I was so taken by the implications and answers to such long standing and heretofore, speculated on questions such as: how long have we been humans?, where and what did we originate from?, what are our true historical migration patterns, and very importantly- that our DNA links us directly to every other human on the planet and traces our shared origins back to Africa. We are truly one human family.

After viewing the PBS presentation (available on DVD and VHS), I immediately got this companion book which has more info, details and technical data, but is very understandable to a general audience. The book has several color plates of people from various cultures around the world along with graphs and illustrations of DNA and migration maps detailing our distribution from our starting point in Africa thousands of years ago- an excellent migration map is on pages 182-183.

My heartfelt thanks to Dr. Spencer Wells and his staff for this outstanding and immensely important project!

Today, April 13, 2005, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times: "Gene Project To Trace Migration" which reports that Dr. Wells has teamed up with National Geographic to launch a world-wide DNA analysis project to get an even more exacting map of human migration patterns. Those who would like to participate in this project can go to [...] and purchase a DNA sampling kit. There is also a notice about the DNA project in the May, 2005 N.G. Magazine on the "Behind the Scenes" page (GENOGRAPHIC PROJECT) along with 4 photos of people from different cultures and a world map illustrating human migration out of Africa, circa 200,000 years ago.
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on December 25, 2004
This is one book that I think everyone should read. What eye-opening insights it provides into our human ancestry. As rapidly as scientific knowledge is expanding today the race to keep abreast of what we think we know about ourselves and our civilization is an ongoing battle. I'll admit that I was astonished to learn that all living humans today can be traced back to a single African female (circa 200,000 years ago) and a single African male (circa 60,000 years ago). After all, none of this was ever taught to me in high school or college. But I was more fascinated to learn how recently science has been able to utilize mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome to create the roadmap back to these origins. And I was equally fascinated by Spencer Wells' explanation as to how man subsequently migrated out of Africa, populated our known world and evolved into today's distinct cultures.

How accurate is The Journey of Man? I couldn't say since I am neither schooled in the study of genetics nor scientifically inclined. But I can appreciate that Spencer Wells wrote this book in a manner that is easily understandable to the layperson like me. And in doing so, he stimulated my interest and made me want to read more about this subject. And any book that has this effect has to rate 5-stars.
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on July 1, 2005
Written for the general layperson, it has a technical side that ought not to overwhelm anyone. The author is both a good scientist and a decent popularizer, as well as a clear concise author. It is a straight forward presentation of his research in using genetics to trace the major migrations of human beings out of Africa. He talks about the places he has seen and what he did there, thus introducing a little bit of human interest and travelogue. But mostly it is about following the genetic trail in both female mitochrondria and male Y-chromosomes to find that first Eve and first Adam as it is commonly labelled.

Ought to be one of the first books recommended to anyone with a interest in early mankind and how we got around the earth. Short easy read held my interest just fine, a decent book.
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