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Book Review: A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes

Reviewed by Abdur Rub, Ph.D

Cover design of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

Rating: 4 / 5

About the Author

Adam David Rutherford is a British geneticist, author, and broadcaster. He was an audio-visual content editor for the journal Nature for a decade, and is a frequent contributor to the newspaper The Guardian. He hosts the BBC Radio 4 programme Inside Science, has produced several science documentaries and has published books related to genetics and the origin of life.


Adam weaves a fascinating story of human history from its origins to its present- through wars, plagues, kings and queens, families, dynasties, murders, diseases, migrations and plenty of deviant sex (sic).

In this book, Adam tells the story of us: Who we are (in part I) and how we came to be (in Part II). A story not only unique to the individual, but also shared collectively with our species.

The first half is about making sense of the past by putting pieces together from history, archeology, rocks and bones, legends, chronicles and family history. People who are into ancestry will thoroughly enjoy this part.

The second half of this book is about who we are today- about family, health, race and where we might be headed. 

This book, as titled, is a braided tale of genetics and history. It contains several storylines drawing from history, archeology, and culture underlined with genetics. Adam uses several examples to illustrate genetic concepts and uses simple language to describe biological effects, which makes for a very good read for beginners and mid level readers in genetics and biology.

Historical accounts of kings and families with genetic conditions are liberally used to elucidate the impact genetic mutations have had on our history (genes shaping our history!).

The author passionately argues that there is no genetic basis to such a thing as race, seamlessly weaving in genetics with his personal stories of growing up as a child with mixed genetic heritage 

Adam is a geneticist by training and wears the scientists’ hat throughout this book, which is evident in his generous use of skepticism when using genetic studies to make his point and strictly drawing from them only what is deserved and nothing more. He is acutely conscious of the sensationalism of science in general media.

Overall, this book is a fantastic read. At some places, it comes across as a bit disjointed which is forgivable given the complexity of dealing with multiple and diverse subject matters and having to pull these together in just the right amounts in the right places to carry the narrative.  

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