73 of 75 people found the following review helpful
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. Wells doesn't give the paleoanthropologists much voice. His story needs telling and the reader may go elsewhere for countering information. Yet he acknowledges the importance of confirming information from various digs around the world.
Wells firmly addresses a great anomaly - if modern humans arose from the evolutionary bouillabaisse about 60 millennia ago, how did the Aborigines arrive in Australia at nearly the same time? His answer is that the track followed shore routes, not inland ones. Hunter-gatherer groups, subject to the whims of climate, food resources and population pressure took the softest trail. Africa to Australia during ice ages was a gentle, if lengthy, stroll.
Nit-picking department: Wells' opening gun is turned on the racial "expert" Carleton Coon, who asserted the human races each followed a separate evolutionary path. Coon has been refuted in so many ways by so many researchers, Wells' effort seems superfluous. There are more competent scientists adhering to the "Multiregional" thesis. Some of these researchers might have been given a small voice in an annotated bibliography. While Wells offers a reading list for each chapter, a full bibliography would be an enhancement. Many of his references are remote. That doesn't tarnish the value of this book. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 29 January 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.
on 21 April 2014
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.