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

Viking. Oct. 2014. 320p. notes. index. ISBN 9780670025558. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698176294. SCI
According to science, language, and culture journalist Kenneally (The First Word), heredity can explain heritage, predict health, and chart human interrelatedness and deep history. In vignettes starring outstanding individuals, Kenneally explains how DNA traces mass migrations; the cultural wound of slavery bleeds across generations; and big genealogical data restores branches to family trees. The author refreshingly elucidates DNA and genetic recombination with metaphor rather than scientific jargon. Sadly, however, Kenneally falters when discussing gene frequency without using mathematics. She blames consanguinity for recessive lethal conditions rather than explaining that extremely large numbers of matings eventually, inevitably produce offspring with two copies of a defective gene. Worse yet, the author overlooks 21st-century eugenics, which shows up in the selection of ideal gamete donors; China's one-child policy; and possibly in efforts at genetic enhancement.
VERDICT Those interested in learning basic human genetics or seeking a more accurate story of eugenics might prefer Ricki Lewis's Human Genetics: The Basics or Paul A. Lombardo's A Century of Eugenics in America. For appreciating genealogy and family history in a new light, Kenneally's work shines.
Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing