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DNA USA: A Genetic Portrait of America 1st Edition

3.8 out of 5 stars 74 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0871404121
ISBN-10: 0871404125
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Editorial Reviews


Starred review. Human genetics energetically elucidated, entertaining travel writing, the fascinating personal stories of DNA volunteers, and Sykes’ candid musings on his awakening to the complex emotional and social implications of hidden biological inheritances make for a milestone book guaranteed to ignite spirited discussion. (Donna Seaman - Booklist)

Starred review. Sykes combines history, science, travel and memoir in one grand exposition of what it means to be an “American.” In a graceful text, the author delivers rich images of the American landscape, conversations with strangers, and historic asides on the waves of immigration, the Indian diasporas and the various federal laws that shaped the movements of people across the continent. ...Sykes should also be applauded for his skills as a storyteller, science expositor, travel companion and compassionate human being. (Kirkus Reviews)

An authority on ancient DNA analysis, Sykes provides a nontechnical introduction to how Y chromosomes and mitochondrial DNA may be used to reveal ancestral heritage. Combining in-depth interviews with volunteers along with these genetic techniques, he attempts to create a biological portrait of the United States. Using a travel diary approach to describe his three-month coast-to-coast journey, he introduces the people he meets and reflects on how ancestry and heredity play into our culture, customs, and beliefs. While Sykes acknowledges that the sample is too small to draw significant conclusions, the results provide interesting perspectives on life in early America… These DNA portraits illustrate the complexity of human inheritance and how difficult it is to assign individuals to distinct groups. (Library Journal)

As the author of The Seven Daughters of Eve and other books, Sykes is an old hand at writing about genetics for the general public. His experience shows as he deftly introduces highly technical information in reader-friendly ways… During his journey, Sykes encounters people who embrace DNA testing as a way to clear up messy genealogical records. He also meets skeptics, who see the technology as a way to discredit their cultural heritage. Sykes doesn’t shy away from these criticisms, presenting a well-balanced view of the disparate attitudes. (Tina Hesman Saey - ScienceNews)

It may seem odd for the author of a book on human genetics and heredity to thank his travel agent in the acknowledgments, but in the case of this hybrid work of science and cross-country reportage it’s a fitting gesture… Sykes writes lucidly, creating his own unique mixture in a book that might be described as Travels With Charley meets The Double Helix. (Abigail Meisel - New York Times Book Review)

About the Author

Bryan Sykes, professor of human genetics at Oxford University, pioneered the use of DNA in exploring the human past. He is also the founder and chairman of Oxford Ancestors (oxfordancestors.com), which helps individuals explore their genetic roots using DNA. He is the author of Saxons, Vikings, and Celts; The Seven Daughters of Eve, a New York Times bestseller; and Adam’s Curse.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Liveright; 1 edition (May 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0871404125
  • ISBN-13: 978-0871404121
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.3 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (74 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #529,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Book Shark TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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