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Face of Britain: How Our Genes Reveal the History of Britain [Hardcover]

Robin McKie
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Jan 2007
Written into our facial features is a story going back generations. It is the story of who we are and where we are from - the history of Britain through war and conquest, migration and racial integration. The Channel 4 series, Face of Britain, begins with the largest ever research project into the genetic make-up of the British public. The Welcome Trust has given a GBP2million grant to Oxford geneticist Sir Walter Bodmer to take DNA samples from hundreds of volunteers throughout Britain and find tell-tale fragments of DNA that reveal the biological traces of successive waves of colonisers - Celts, Saxons, Vikings, etc. - in various parts of Britain. These traces in part determine our facial features. In effect, this project will produce a genetic map of our islands revealing where today's Cornish or East Anglians originally came from. The project is unique in that it uses cutting edge technology to question our accepted notions of our history. Added to this, the series and the book will meld science, history and personal stories to investigate our linguistic history, our surnames and placenames and compare findings with the results of the Bodmer study.Face of Britain will be a launch pad to explore Britain's earliest history while investigating why we look the way we do.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd; hardcover edition (2 Jan 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743295293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743295291
  • Product Dimensions: 24.6 x 19.4 x 2.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 335,988 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyed it but was left confused 5 Oct 2007
Format:Hardcover
Overall, I enjoyed the book. I found the chapter on linking y-chromosome DNA to surnames particularly interesting.

However, there were a few areas that let the book down. As a previous reviewer has pointed out, basic mistakes (such as labelling the Welsh language as Gaelic) made me wonder what else the author had got wrong.

This book also left me confused as to who McKie was referring to when he was talking about the early Britons (who apparently provided modern Britain with most of its DNA). Who were the people who left the `red-hair' gene? I was never sure when he was referring to the ancient people who came to the Isles 10,000 or so years ago, or to the `Celtic' peoples who arrived later. He seemed to skip from 10,000 years ago straight to Anglo-Saxons, without making much distinction between the pre-Anglo-Saxon people.

Other than these two faults, the book overall was interesting and easy to read. I would recommend, but I will be reading other books in this genre first to try and clear up some of the areas that McKie left hanging.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The reviewers who complain about this enjoyable and enlightening book do not appear to have actually read it carefully enough. For example, the book discusses in detail the use of the terms Celtic and Gaelic and, in that context, the map that is referred to makes good sense.

And, as someone with a lay interest in the subject, I found that there is plenty that was new to me, for example the work of Sir Walter Bodmer on DNA and much of the material in the chapter about the significance of red hair.

I can strongly recommend the book as a readable explanation of where we in the British Isles come from that does question accepted ideas
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Milk-Drinking Adults with Red Flaming Hair 2 July 2014
By Nicholas Casley TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Written by Robin McKie, science editor of ‘The Observer’, this is the book of the TV series, and yet not the book of the TV series. Whilst relying on the results of the scientific programme covered in the series, the book’s arrangement of eight chapters and an epilogue takes a different and more involved route to reach the same destination. (I wondered if it would have been better if the series had followed McKie’s approach.) But Neil Oliver, who presented the series, contributes a foreword in which he expresses the excitement of discovering the extent of the genetic traces of Britain’s earliest post-Ice Age population, and Walter Bodmer provides an introduction emphasising the medical gains to be made in correlating genetic markers in different ancestries with those genes that cause illness.

I thought the TV series of sufficient interest to buy the DVD (see separate review), but the series was geographically specific whereas I wondered what a fuller national picture might tell. This book did not provide the answers, since it quickly became aware that Bodmer’s tests were themselves concentrated only in those localities featured on screen, although it is noted that his is only a pilot study: “further locations are scheduled to be added in future years.” So, alas, we have no samples from mainland Scotland, only one area in Wales, and a whole swathe of midland England is missing. But this does not mean that this book does not merit a wide readership. It certainly answered some of my questions, if not all.

In the first chapter, which is really a preface, McKie points out that “medicine was the prime motivating factor for the setting up of the project,” history and archaeology being beneficiaries riding piggyback.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended. 2 July 2014
Format:Hardcover
Highly recommended.

Sykes never fails to raise the bar. Others may jump but none jump higher.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting but flawed 8 May 2007
By Seán
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are a lot of good things in this book and it's nicely presented but there are also a few real howlers. Gaelic and Celtic are not synonymous and to talk about "Welsh Gaelic" is a terrible mistake in a work of this type (though Sykes does the same) - they even have a map of "Gaelic" languages with Welsh included as one of them! The figures for the number of Irish speakers also seem dodgy to me - it looks as though they haven't included Irish speakers in Northern Ireland, which is absurd. If you are interested in this subject, you'll find it worth reading but take it with a pinch of salt and check the facts carefully.
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21 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Oh dear, what a let down 10 Sep 2007
Format:Hardcover
Sorry people, but I felt this book was a waste of money. If you want to read it, borrow it from a library. I was so disappointed that a lot of the content was just repeated info of which everyone with any lay interest in the subject would have been well acquainted.

It lacked professionalism, there were lots of repeated bits of info, other areas seemed to have been added as padding and there were, as another reviewer has commented, some real howlers of mistakes. Oh dear!

In my opinion, poorly written, the images (which I had expected in far greater number and detail) were pretty useless as they morphed faces from one area to another. -There were no definitive descriptions of what sort of features we could discern as indications of OUR families' origins (and lets be frank, thats why most of us would want to read this book).

Sorry, I wouldnt bother.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A clear and interesting introduction to a fascinating subject
Not having seen the TV series that this book accompanied, I can’t judge how well it served as an accompaniment. Read more
Published 21 days ago by Sophie Newton
5.0 out of 5 stars Looks exciting!
This was bought as a gift for my brother. Am waiting to hear his comments but it looks really interesting. He's very into family history so this will be a new slant on the topic!
Published 18 months ago by Susie Q
1.0 out of 5 stars Populist Tripe
The entire premise for the 'Faces' aspect of this book and accompanying TV series is flawed from the off. Read more
Published on 8 Jun 2010 by Saes Maes
4.0 out of 5 stars An accessible introduction to a complex matter
Written to accompany the recent Channel Four TV series, this well-illustrated book provides an excellent introduction to a complex area of scientific study. Read more
Published on 9 Nov 2007 by AG PHILLIPS
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth every penny
After the channel four series of the same name revealed the use of technology in researching our ancestory and genetics I was interested to further my knowledge and understanding... Read more
Published on 11 Oct 2007 by Bethan Wykes
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book
I read the views below and bought this book any way. I though it was great and was glad I hadn't got it from the library as I fully intend to read it again. Read more
Published on 1 Oct 2007 by Scooby Doo
5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible genes!
Out of 3 million of information units in the DNA in each of us, less than 1% is what makes us unique! Read more
Published on 2 Jan 2007 by Othon Leon
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