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Face of Britain: How Our Genes Reveal the History of Britain Hardcover – 2 Jan 2007

4.0 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd (2 Jan. 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743295293
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743295291
  • Product Dimensions: 19.6 x 1.4 x 25.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 341,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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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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Format: Hardcover
Written to accompany the recent Channel Four TV series, this well-illustrated book provides an excellent introduction to a complex area of scientific study. In it Robin McKie outlines recent genetic studies of Britain and Ireland, Sir Walter Bodmer, the man behind the most extensive - the People of the British Isles project - writing the book's introduction.

Sir Walter took DNA samples from people in various rural locations whose grandparents had lived locally. Working on an inspired hunch, he then compared the occurrence across the British Isles of the gene that can give rise to red hair - the MC1R or so-called `Celtic' gene. He found that it was most common in the Irish, with about half as much in the Cornish and very little or none in English regions sampled. Together with an earlier study that showed genetic similarities between English people and the Friesians of Northern Holland, this provides evidence to support the traditional model of the Anglo-Saxon conquest - that of invading pagan, illiterate barbarians forcing Celtic Christians to flee for their lives to the Atlantic seaboard of Britain. However, the book claims that most historians subscribe to another model - in this the Anglo-Saxons came in small numbers peacefully absorbing most Celts, their superior culture leading to their becoming the dominant race, the educated Celts leaving in a huff to head west and write a biased history.

History defines identity; if the Anglo-Saxons could be seen in a better light, it would permit their descendants to feel better about themselves. Perhaps this motivates some historians to disregard inconvenient evidence: that early historians, Celtic and Anglo-Saxon, are unanimous in following the first model; that DNA studies can now be said to support it too; that there are very few Celtic loan words in the English language to support the alternative one.

In matters of history, even the smartest people have can difficulty handling the truth...
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