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Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past Paperback – Illustrated, February 5, 2019
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—Jared Diamond, The New York Times Book Review
"The work in [Reich's] lab has reshaped our understanding of human prehistory. . . . He and his colleagues have shed light on the peopling of the planet and the spread of agriculture, among other momentous events."
—Carl Zimmer, The New York Times
"Reich documents an extraordinary moment in the history of science. . . . A potential political bombshell."
—The Wall Street Journal
"In Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, David Reich . . . introduces us to the 21st-century Rosetta Stone: ancient DNA, which will do more for our understanding of prehistory than radiocarbon dating did. . . . Who We Are and How We Got Here is less than 300 pages of text, but it is packed with startling facts and novel revelations that overturn the conventional expectations of both science and common sense.”
—The National Review
“An excerpt from David Reich's new book, Who We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past, recently touched off a media and cultural firestorm in the United States. Appearing as an op-ed in The New York Times, ‘How Genetics is Changing Our Understanding of “Race”’, it had Reich stating that he is ‘worried that well-meaning people who deny the possibility of substantial biological differences among human populations are digging themselves into an indefensible position, one that will not survive the onslaught of science.’ This was not unlike tossing a grenade into the public square. But perched at Harvard, as one of his generation's most eminent human population geneticists, Reich will move forward unscathed. The reason is simple: Who We Are . . . is mostly not a controversial book, but a wondrous one. It sheds light on the nascent field of ancient DNA, paleogenetics, which is exposing the human past by tracing population histories. Give a paleogeneticist a single genome, and they will unfurl the history of whole peoples.”
"Ancient DNA is rewriting human (and Neanderthal) history. The genomes of the long dead are turning up all sorts of unexpected and controversial findings. Who We Are and How We Got Here, charts the myriad ways the study of ancient DNA is lobbing bombs into the halls of established wisdom."
"A thrilling account of mapping humans through time and place. . . . Genomics and statistics have drawn back the curtain on the sort of sex and power struggles you’d expect in Game of Thrones. . . . We do need a non-loaded way to talk about genetic diversity and similarities in populations. This book goes some way to starting that conversation."
“In this comprehensive and provocative book, David Reich exhumes and examines fundamental questions about our origin and future using powerful evidence from human genetics. What does ‘race’ mean in 2018? How alike and how unlike are we? What does identity mean? Reich’s book is sobering and clear-eyed, and, in equal parts, thrilling and thought provoking. There were times that I had to stand up and clear my thoughts to continue reading this astonishing and important book.”
—Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies
“Reich’s book reads like notes from the frontline of the 'Ancient DNA Revolution' with all the spellbinding drama and intrigue that come with such a huge transformation in our understanding of human history."
—Anne Wojcicki, CEO and Co-Founder of 23andMe
“In just five years, the study of ancient DNA has transformed our understanding of world prehistory. The geneticist David Reich, one of the pioneers in this field, here gives the brilliantly lucid first account of the resulting new view of human origins and of the later dispersals that went on to shape the modern world.”
—Colin Renfrew, Disney Professor of Archeology Emeritus, University of Cambridge
“Reich’s magisterial book gives a riveting account of human prehistory and history through the new lens provided by ancient DNA data. The story of human populations, as he shows, is ever one of widespread and repeated mixing, debunking the fiction of ‘pure’ populations.”
—Molly Przeworski, Professor of Biological Sciences, Columbia University
“This breathtaking book dramatically revises our understanding of the deep history of our species in our African homeland and beyond. Beautifully written, it reads like a detective novel and demonstrates a hard truth that often makes many of us uncomfortable: not only are all human beings mixed, but our intuitive understanding of the evolution of the population structure of the world around us is not to be trusted.”
—Henry Louis Gates Jr., University Professor, Harvard University, and Executive Producer of Finding Your Roots
“This absorbing book will blow you away with its rich and astounding account of where we came from and why that matters. Reich tells the surprising story of how humans got to every corner of the planet, which was revealed only after he and other scientists unlocked the secrets of ancient DNA. The courageous, compassionate, and highly personal climax will transform how you think about the meaning of ancestry and race.”
—Daniel E. Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University, and author of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease
“Powerful writing and extraordinary insights animate this endlessly fascinating account, by a world scientific leader, of who we modern humans are and how our ancestors arrived in the diverse corners of the world. I could not put the book down.”
—Robert Weinberg, Professor of Biology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
"David Reich uses the power of modern genome analysis to show the fascinating complexity of human migration and history. By letting the data lead him, he treads a narrow path between racists and xenophobes on one side and left-wing ideologues on the other. Although many of his conclusions will be controversial, he starts a necessary conversation about what modern genome analysis can tell us about the variability of human populations."
—Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel Laureate and President of the Royal Society, London
[Praise from the UK]:
"Remarkable. . . . Spectacular. . . . In making constant new discoveries about humanity, Reich and his Harvard team are now plunging into uncharted academic waters. . . . Reich’s influence in this field has been immense and the output of his department monumental. . . . Thrilling in its clarity and its scope."
"David Reich of Harvard Medical School is one of the leading lights in the field of ancient DNA. His team's work has cast a new perspective on human history, reconstructing the epic migrations and genetic exchanges that shaped the people of different regions worldwide."
"This is a compendious book . . . its importance cannot be overstated and neither can some of its best stories."
"Who We Are and How We Got Here provides a marvellous synthesis of the field."
About the Author
- Publisher : Vintage; Illustrated edition (February 5, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 368 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1101873469
- ISBN-13 : 978-1101873465
- Item Weight : 12 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.16 x 0.75 x 7.95 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #48,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Top reviews from the United States
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Another significant point about the e-book.... The Kindle version of this book is the _first_ that I have personally seen where the e-book is noticeably _better_ than the paper. In particular, charts and images that are often produced terribly badly in e-books are particularly good here.
Beginning around the time of the French and American revolutions, archaeology started to assist in explaining the distant past. Ancient languages were deciphered, literatures were compared and scholars were able to speculate on the nature of human cultures both before and after the invention of writing.
However, the technologies which allow ancient human genomes to reveal the origins and migrations of peoples are, as Dr. Reich describes, comparable to the invention of the microscope in the amount of light that can be shed on human history and prehistory. While still in its infancy as a science, the genomic research performed by Dr. Reich and his colleagues has already upended theories of human origins from Europe to India with scientifically grounded accounts.
The emphasis here is on scientific, in that, unlike debates over literary composition of ancient texts, the accounts of history derived from the genome are falsifiable. One could always sequence the genome of another ancient human and provide evidence that, say, Dr. Reich’s account of a population from the Eurasian steppe invading India around the time of the Vedic writings is not supported.
One can read this book simply for its insights into prehistory as it supplies theories, some provisional, to account for all the major peoples of the world: European, South Asian, East Asian, Polynesian, African and Native Americans from North and South America.
But one can also read the book for the excitement at the birth of a new science that promises to be as revelatory as the observations from satellites scanning distant galaxies for the origins of dark matter. Not since reading The Double Helix by James Watson, one of the discovers of DNA, have I been so captivated by the story of a new branch of knowledge coming into being.
The book is written with a minimum of jargon and is accessible to the scientific laymen. Because of its captivating story and style I would strongly recommend this book to all mature readers. Just as understanding Darwinian evolution is essential to understanding human nature, so too understanding the prehistory of humanity as revealed by our genome will become an essential part of our global modern civilization’s self understanding.
For this former anthropology student, the discussion of the populating of Europe and the Americas was particularly fascinating. That process was far more complex than could be taught a generation ago. Genomics is providing levels of detail that simply weren't available to earlier researchers. The author sketches the roles played by various populations of modern humans, Neanderthals, and Denisovans, and their sometimes surprising contributions to the current populations of those regions. The maps and charts are particularly helpful in illustrating the discussion, which can get a little dense.
In later chapters, the author "goes there" and warns that future study may reveal differences in human populations that go beyond physical appearance. He is properly nervous about the impact of that information and how it might be misused, but determined to embrace the progress in science. Highly recommended to the general reader.
For example, they can not only tell us that European hunters and gathers were invaded by farmers from Antolia around 9000 ybp, but can also tell us that these early hunters/gathers and farmers were themselves wiped out by later pastorial migrants from the caucaus who spoke endo-european. This isn't speculation, as we are used to in history texts, but based on facts generated by new techniques that let us analyze the genomes of modern and ancient bones. Many fascinating historical questions that I would have thought could never be answered and now answered.
This is a must read book for anyone interested in early human history. It's well written and reasonably clear as to techniques involved, etc. For moe detail you would need to read scientific papers being published.
Top reviews from other countries
This book contains good explanations of which techniques are used to analyze population genetics. Why these methods work and what their limitations are is discussed. Of course, the most important topic is the findings of these methods. DNA analysis has in many cases confirmed things we already knew from other types of evidence; archeology and fossil evidence and such. However, in many cases, the science of DNA analysis has forced us to reinterpret what we thought we knew. This is the power of genetics; it can be analyzed to get us one step closer to understanding what humans are.
Genetics has a controversial history, obviously. Yet, I still find his need for 'justifying' doing research in genetics a pity. As people of science, we should know what's true whether we like the truth or not. He agrees, but unfortunately in his desire to appear non-racist he throws good scientists under the bus. Some are bad and his harsh criticism is justified, sure, but some of the people criticized simply had totally reasonable scientific questions. This is my only substantial criticism of the book.
The science and technology of DNA analysis is progressing at an amazing rate. It will help us answer all kinds of questions. It will be used in medicine, to understand psychological differences between humans, and much, much more. As the science progresses, many things we think we know will be questioned.
Despite my one criticism, the book in general is amazing. This is simply *the* book to read if you're interested in human origins, human differences and similarities, or simply if you're interested in where you come from. This book gives the current best scientific understanding of Who We Are and Where We Come From.
The book presents novel findings but it is also a work in progress in that it is anticipated that in the coming decade more ancient genomes will be sequenced but also more sophisticated statistic techniques will be developed and employed.
The determination of ancient genomes became possible because since the sequencing of the human genome project in 2006, the methods became thousands of times more efficient and thousands of times less expensive. Whole genomes provide much more information than the previously used sequencing of the male (Y) chromosome DNA and mitochondrial DNA which is exclusively inherited by the females.
Comparisons of genomes, ancient and modern is based on the determination of mutations over time while their rate is constant in time. Particularly important are single letter mutations known as Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) of which there are literally thousand in the genome.
The study of ancient genomes revealed that there was interbreeding of both Neanderthals and Denisovans with modern human populations.
Even before reading the book, I had known that there is no genetic basis for racism in that the genetic variation within Africa is higher than between a non -African and an African.
On the other hand, I obtained interesting information on inequality, not inequality between male and female but the inequality of access of a privileged male individual or group to females. In this regard the result of genomic studies of interbreeding between Americans of West European and West African origin revealed the dominance of American males of West European origin breeding with American females of Wets African origin.
On a similar vein was the study of Y chromosomes which suggested that one single male who lived around the time of the Mongols left many millions of direct male-line descendants across the territory that the Mongols occupied. The evidence is that about 8 percent of males in the lands that the Mongol Empire once occupied share a characteristic Y-chromosome sequence or one differing just a few mutations. This Y-chromosome was called 'Star Cluster'to reflect the idea of a single ancestor with many descendants; and estimated the date of the founder of this lineage to be thirteen hundred to seven hundred years ago based on the estimated rate of accumulation of mutations on the Y chromosome. The date coincides with that of Genghis Khan, suggesting that this single successful Y chromosome may have been his.
The inbreeding of Ashkenazi Jews to which the author belongs is a well known fact. What was new and surprising to me was that endogamy is widely practiced in India, a nation in excess of one billion inhabitants. This is due to the caste system numbering thousands of sub-groups in which endogamy is practiced. The study of such groups is important for the cure and prevention of genetic diseases emanating from inbreeding.
Ancient human genomes are often contaminated by genomes of pathogens which renders the identification of human genomes difficult. On the other hand the identification of the genomes of these pathogens sheds light on the diseases with which these people were afflicted. Particularly important in this regard was the identification of 'Yersinia pestis', the bacterium responsible for the black death, estimated to have wiped out one-third of the population of Europe, India and China seven hundred years ago.
Also, the book turned out to be rather unnecessarily ruminating over philosophical aspects of various findings, while the same ground had been covered by Yuval Noah Harari and Carl Zimmer in their astonishing works in a far more interesting and dramatic manner. It seems that top-notch scientists, even while talking about their own findings and implications, tend to be somewhat conservative and boring.
Last but not the least, while devoting chapter after chapter on Europe and Neanderthals or their absence, the book exhausts India in thirty odd pages. In that single chapter it tries to capture the issues of caste, genetics, movements within the sub-continent and sundry others, while glossing over key issues like:
1. Who were Harappans?
2. What might have happened to them?
These issues have considerably dampened my enthusiasm in this area. It seems, as mentioned by that old saying, I would have to keep searching for a better, more reliable and focused book on the study of ancient DNA and its findings.