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The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey [Paperback]

Spencer Wells , Mark Read
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)

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Book Description

31 Oct 2002
150,000 years ago, a human being, identical to us in all important respects, walked the soil of Africa. Every modern human being is descended from this one woman. How did she come to be mother to all of us - a real-life Eve? What happened to the descendants of other "Eves"? And why do we come in such a huge variety of sizes, shapes, types and races if we have just one prehistoric ancestor? In this book Spencer Wells shows how the truth about our ancestors is hidden in our genetic code, and reveals how developments in the cutting-edge science of population genetics has made it possible not just to discover where our ancestors lived (and who they fought, loved, learned from and influenced) but to create a family tree for the whole of humanity. Informed by this new science, "The Journey of Man" is packed with astonishing information: that there was a real Adam and Eve -but that Eve came first by some 90,000 years; that the San Bushmen of the Kalahari have some of the oldest genetic markers now found; how the male Y-chromosome has been used to accurately trace the spread of humanity from Africa to Eurasia; how mountain ranges literally split populations in half, resulting in different racial types; that Neanderthals have been shown once and for all not to be our ancestors but an evolutionary dead-end; and that the entire genetic diversity of Native Americans can be accounted for by just ten individuals. It is an enthralling, epic tour through the history and development of early humankind - relying not on archaeological or historical speculation but on analysis of human genetics to provide definitive answers to questions we have asked for centuries. Questions which, in an age obsessed by our biological inheritance, are more compelling than ever.

Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane, The Penguin Press; 1st edition (31 Oct 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0713996250
  • ISBN-13: 978-0713996258
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.8 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 848,985 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

The Journey of Man is not just some old fashioned sexist travelogue about a bloke in shorts and sandals wandering the byways of the world. As the subtitle explains, it is "a genetic odyssey" of men rather than women. We have heard a lot about the matriarchal "African Eve". As Spencer Wells says, we all have an African foremother who lived approximately 150,000 years ago. She handed down her genetic mitochondrial "handbag" specifically to her daughter and on over the generations and millennia. But what about the male contribution to today's human genome?

Luckily for the male ego and population geneticists it turns out that blokes also have some unique chromosomal hand baggage hidden away in the non-recombining part of the Y chromosome. Like female mitochondrial DNA it is passed solely between father and son and is particularly useful for studying human diversity. This is because it is so big--much bigger than mitochondrial DNA--and accumulates mutations at particular sites that can be relatively easily identified. By sampling the Y chromosome from men around the world the modern human diaspora can be mapped out both geographically and chronologically.

Spencer Wells is an American geneticist with impeccable credentials from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford universities and certainly knows his subject. Fortunately, he is also very good at explaining the science, which can be somewhat complicated at times. This fascinating and often surprising story originated as a television film and has benefited from being thoroughly worked out through first-hand experience around the world.

Accompanied by 24 pages of brilliant photos by Mark Read, an excellent list of further reading and an index, The Journey of Man is well worth getting to grips with. As Wells points out, each of us carries a unique chapter locked away inside our genome, and we owe it to ourselves and our descendants to discover what it is. Come on boys, this is our story and we ought to know the gist of it. Douglas Palmer


"The Journey of Man is fascinating and oozes charm. . . . [It] is packed with important insights into our history and our relationships with each other. . . . Who needs literature when science is this much fun?"--Chris Lavers, The Guardian

"Fortunately for the lay reader, Wells has a knack for clear descriptions and clever analogies to help explain the intricacies of the science involved. Both entertaining and enlightening."--Library Journal

"Wells does an excellent job of making complex scientific data accessible and weaves a tapestry of physical anthropology and archaeology as well as linguistics and, of course, genetics to piece together the rise of the agricultural society, the interrelations between far-flung languages, and the eventual settlement of humans into virtually every corner of the globe."--Elise Proulx, East Bay Express

"Spencer Wells chronicles the history of genetic population studies, starting with Darwin's puzzlement over the diversity of humanity he saw first-hand from the deck of the Beagle, and ending with the various attempts to classify human variation on the basis of different political and social agendas. . . . Wells has an insider's knowledge of the science and its excitement."--Rebecca Cann, Nature

"The Journey of Man is the best account available of the story of human origins and dispersals. . . . This is a first-class account of a whole new approach to the human story that allows human population history to be reconstructed in an unexpected and convincing way."--Colin Renfrew, The Times Higher Education Supplement

"The Journey of Man is a book that should be read, for undeniably the story Wells reveals will transform our understanding of ourselves."--Tim Flannery, New York Review of Books --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Y" is the answer - not the question 1 April 2004
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME
A few years ago a furor arose over the announcement that a calculation of mitochondrial DNA mutation rate formulated an "African Eve". Since then other genetic ancestral studies have been undertaken. Most notable of these was the determination that Neanderthal was not a direct ancestor of modern humans. Spencer Wells provides an enthralling overview of the research tracking changes in the Y [male] chromosome. The studies verify again that our origins are African. Somewhere, around 60 000 years ago, lived one man, a flesh and blood individual, from whom we've all descended. His progeny, in an amazingly short span, scattered around the globe. The scattering isn't news, but the verification of the paths and chronology is lucid and vividly outlined in this book.
The key to the tracking, as Wells makes abundantly clear, are various polymorphisms [changes] in the Y chromosome. These mutations are reflected in today's populations and the rate of their diversity indicates the approximate age of the various regional groups. These changes, nearly all prefixed "M" [male?] are used as ingredients in recipes Wells offers as illustrative metaphor. It's a clever ploy, so long as you remember ingredients may only be added, never removed nor replaced. That's how genetics works, he reminds us. He portrays the build-up of recipe ingredients with maps and diagrams. The diagrams are almost redundant as the clarity of his prose enables you to envision them.
Following the paths of migration, Wells shows how some archaeological finds offer support for the patterns he sees. Fossils are rare, elusive and sometimes misunderstood. Genetics, buried deep in our cells, are unequivocal in providing their evidence. Dating methods are briefly described and their shortcomings mercilessly paraded.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good starter 29 Jan 2010
If you're interested in learning about how humans spread out of Africa, this is one of the books for you. It is well written and generally clear, though there were a few occasions when I had to reread passage to understand them. It is vtal though that you read the "Seven Daughters of Eve" to see another side of the coin. The two stories give different points of view about a sometimes controversial topic. Maybe Spencer Wells could have been said a little more about the margins of error involved in many of the calculations but, all in all, a good read, pitched at the mass popular science market.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Shading light to the dark 30 May 2009
This book is fantastic genetic research on human history. Answering many questions and shading light to the darkness of general knowledg of physical differences.
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Anyone who reads this book will receive a clear simple story of the most exciting discovery about Human Beings ever told. Spencer Wells is a very important genealogist who like many of them were first concerned with desease which is passed on by our genes; and then with Cavalli Sforza, who studied blood groups and genes and many others! This is told like a story with some more technical parts which one can leave out or not, but those do not distract from the main story of humans which is really thrilling, as it is about you and where you came from and some of the journeys that your ancesters made, some of the tragic natural holocausts your ancesters would have encountered, and what they invented. Ice ages, tsunamis; the sun getting hotter; the world becoming wetter, hotter, colder and drier, have all played their part in shaping humankind
I recommend "Deep Ancestry inside the GENOGRAPHIC project" as it it is a valuable reference book and has a section which describes EACH main Haplogroup, (which is the section out of your genes, which connects you to all the other modern human beings in the world today and from the past); from the start of the Modern Human story to the present, & this is neatly done.
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By BrianB
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have several DVDs on this subject, and this is the best. The information contained is cutting edge and presented in a logical, understandable way.
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