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The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures

The Invisible History of the Human Race: How DNA and History Shape Our Identities and Our Futures - Christine Kenneally I got a copy of this book from the giveaways program on Goodreads.

When I received this book, I jumped right into it, looking forward to it, and then struggled through the first 100 pages or so. I kept putting it down. The first section is a defense of geneology, as if the author wants to defend her interest in the subject against many nameless critics who said that the field is only for ego-maniacs and Nazis. It was tiresome. She was defending her right to study something that her readers inevitably already want her to study. We picked this book up -- we're on board. Don't defend yourself before you've said anything.

But after that, the book finally got going. She pulled a combination of DNA results, historic population patterns, and geneology to put together an interesting case for what we can know about our pasts and futures. She's from Australia and lives in the UK, so examples from those areas were common, but her point was not to be all-inclusive. Her point was that it's amazing what we can learn about ourselves and to give some concrete examples. The current distribution of DNA in rural UK lines up with centuries-long histories of conquering peoples. The rural population of the UK tends to stay in the same place, not moving from region to region, so they still mirror the population distribution of 1600 or so. You can pick out from that map of today's DNA where the Romans and then Saxons invaded. That's pretty awesome.

She also made some interesting points about our values and economies. She highlighted one researchers theory that the regions in western Africa that lost the highest population to slavery have a history of distrust (it's not clear whether it came from the slave trade or predated it, in which case it fostered the slave trade) and are also the regions that are doing the worst in today's economy. Okay, that's not enough to convince me of true causality, but it's a correlation that's terribly interesting. She compared pogroms against Jews during the Black Death in the region that eventually become Germany to the pattern of enforcement of the Nazi laws against Jews during WWII -- those that did terribly things to Jews in the Middle Ages were terrible to them in the 1940s, and leniency in the 1940s can be traced to a lack of pogroms in the Middle ages. Prejudices and history of violence are more important than we think, over far longer time scales than we previously imagined.

So after the first 100 pages, this became really amazing to me. She pointed out connections I hadn't heard before. She pointed out how useful surnames were in filling out DNA profiles. She made her point how important it is to pull from several different academic fields to piece our history together, and made a startling good case that our history affects us more today than we think. Or than I think. So it was a successful, interesting book.