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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 1 March 2011
The book summarizes the state of knowledge of the genetic makeup of Scotland. Beyond that, it is actually a very welcome new summary of what is known of the DNA of the British Isles in general. Nice concise survey of Neanderthal DNA and the modern human out-of-Africa bottleneck, and then descriptions of the various waves of migration to Scotland, the rest of Britain, and Ireland. Very up-to-date too. Skilfully written, weaving together genetics, archaeology, history, and topics of interest like red hair. No footnotes, and just a short bibliography. Those familiar with this field will already be familiar with the academic sources of some of the findings. But if not, as a note in the bibliography suggests, the Internet is a vast source of information on this subject. Use of non-glossy paper and a limited number of colour photographs (about 23) has kept the price down, which is also greatly appreciated. I spotted only about three typos in the book, one of which was important: p.65, "mtDNA 2a1" should read (I think) "mtDNA J2a1." I would definitely recommend this as the book for anyone who wants a very readable overview of the DNA of the British Isles.
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on 9 July 2012
The authors places a great deal of emphasis on the earliest peoples to inhabit the British isles after giving a brief introduction to the science of genetics. The earliest genes are the most tell tale genetically and so the reader is treated to stories and speculation regarding the prehistoric peoples that inhabited Britain before and after the last ice age. There is, of course, a chapter on the Vikings and their alleged contribution to the Scottish gene pool and even a brief chapter on the multi-ethnic Scotland of today and what that might mean for the future of "Scottish" genes.

All of that is fine and good and there are some interesting stories and anecdotes along the way, but this is not STRICTLY a genetic history of Scotland. This reads more like a history of Scotland, offered in various threads that do not always tie so well to one another, with genetics as something of an afterthought appended to the discussion of the various peoples and invasions that led up to the creation of medieval Scotland. The Viking invasions - in light of genetics - are described as recent events. The problem is that the book fails as a clear, coherent history of Scotland and it is certainly not a serious genetic history either. Compared to much more serious, yet highly readable works like Cavalli Sforza's "The Great Human Diasporas" this book falls short of the mark vis a vis genetic history. There are not enough maps and charts of Scottish genes for this to be considered a serious resource for those interested in the genetic make up of the Scottish people.

That said, if you are unfamiliar with the history of Scotland and new to the emerging science of genetics or are proud of your Scottish ancestry you might come away satisfied with the tales the authors have to tell.
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on 21 August 2012
I found this book in a charity bookshop - and thank goodness I did not pay full price as it is pretty awful. I studied molecular genetics at university so have some knowledge of the field. Moffat makes wild assertions, which may sound convincing and impressive if you know nothing of the field, but those assertions are not backed up with relevant information (e.g. references). There really is too few samples as yet to make the broad claims that he does. I gave up about 1/3 of way through. The geneticist's name rang a bell and then it dawned on me - he had made the programme "Blood of the Vikings" with archaeologist Julian Richards where they purported to assess the percentage of Norse influence on the genetic inheritance in Scotland. They took a small number of samples from 5 places, 4 of these being sites of Norse settlement. They then extrapolated the results onto the whole of Scotland. This is BAD BAD science!! Apart from the small sample size, of course if you take samples from sites of Norse settlement you are more likely to get a higher Norse genetic register - but you CAN NOT extrapolate that to the whole population. Similar is being done here wild assertions from limited sampling. And guess what? Moffat and Wilson have set up a DNA testing unit where you too can send in your DNA sample and a nice cheque!!!! Wilson should be ashamed of himself in being part of such bad "science"!!!

Anyone reading this, take what it says with a very big pinch of salt. The numbers of samples we have are far too small as yet to make much of a broad picture maybe in the future - but not now!! And don't be bamboozled by the seemingly fancy science it is not - it is throwing a few mutations in and making wild claims.

It is badly written, badly referenced and bad science. Probably best thing I can do - or maybe worst thing - with my copy is to give it back to the charity shop.

And by careful were you are sending your cheques to!!!!

Moffat is not an historian nor a scientist yet he seems to cast himself in the roles, with this and his previous books. Yes, write on the subjects but don't try to make yourself out to be either if you aren't!!
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on 18 April 2011
Absolutely fascinating and captivating. I'm sure that what's on offer here genetically speaking, applies to much of the population of the British Isles but the focus is affectionately on Scotland which, if you're a Scot, makes it all the more enjoyable and intriguing. A subject like this could be turgid and dry but it's an entertaining and enjoyable read, tantalising you with asides and examples which seem in themselves worthy of investigation, so much so that I've had the laptop handy throughout, hitting Wikipedia and other sources to expand my understanding. Of course, this might mean that i'll take me six months to finish the book - and I do hope so because it's a very enjoyable place to be.
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on 5 September 2011
I thought this book would analyze Scottish DNA profiles (Y and mitochondrial DNA) and bring us up to date on the latest that they tell us about the history of Scotland. I was quite disappointed. The book is really a very general summary of Homo sapiens' prehistory with a Scottish angle thrown in now and then.

While the book does mention Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA a good deal, it stays at a very superficial level and never goes into much detail. When it refers to Y-DNA haplogroups, it does so almost exclusively by the name of the SNP mutation, and almost never by the more widely known haplogroup names. Nor is there a table keying SNPs to haplogroups anywhere in the book. This is a big omission given that the book is designed for those with an amateur interest in population genetics and genealogy.

The real emphasis on the book is on archaeological discoveries and what they tell us about humans' journey out of Africa and the settlement of Europe in between the varying Ice Ages. That's fine, but the book really should have a different title.

The book is decently written, but it's not a standout in terms of style or presentation. I got bogged down about halfway through by the unending recitation of archaeological finds and ultimately felt I wanted my money back.
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on 18 June 2011
The authors are experts in their field but have the gift of communicating complex biological material to the general reader. This is a great book and I'm so pleased to have come across it, after hearing Alistair Moffat interviewed on radio by James Naughtie-who was fortunate enough to have his own DNA analysed for the programme. The ability to read family lineage into 'Deep Time' takes tracing your family tree into a new dimension.
By using skillful writing techniques to reflect our current generation of Scots back through the Middle Ages and earlier, The Scots-A Genetic Journey, introduces the concept of the global human village. We are truly all Jock Tamson's bairns. Great read-looking forward to their next book which I understand is going to widen the net from Scottish ancestry to include British heritage as well.
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on 14 February 2014
First go at anything on what seems to be a long list of Moffat's "work", and a quick check of some others from checking in the local bookshops confirms worst fears. This is not an author, it's a rehasher. Lavish quotations from other sources (non scientific, non academic stuff, eg tv programmes and wild "spiritual" claims from what seems to be shamans and people suffering delusions) made this example as illuminating as a trawl through the Internet for free. Much of the work I saw - admittedly four books with this on top from the list - are similar and he quotes himself from book to book. It is shocking to see him recommended by chums rather than critics, but predictable.
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on 3 February 2012
At first I thought this 'book' was just poorly edited - but, in fact, it seems not to have been edited at all. The actual amount of genetic information about the Scots would (possibly) fill a 1,000 word essay. The rest is padding. The story of Scots is submerged by extracts from numerous other books on 'Out of Africa', History of Europe, History of the Romans etc etc.. Several times whole chunks of other writers' work are lumped in with the intro: "This is worth quoting in full". There are frequent repetitions and too many typos. I would guess the compilers are aiming to cash in on Scots family research, visits to the 'homeland' and forthcoming independence debates. Would like to get my money back - but caveat emptor. It's gone to the jumble. Save your money.
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on 17 April 2012
'The Scots: a Genetic Journey' is a well written and rich description of the ancestry of Scottish people through time.
Mainly a summary of ancient and modern history initially recorded by scholars, supported by archaeology and now, confirmed by genetic science.
Written for the layman, it easily summaries the developing environment,lifestyle, and behaviour of the people who to date, have ended up living in the British Isles, and Scotland in particular.
A 'must read' if one is interested in family history, Scottish history, genealogy, or in discovering more about one's own background. The Scots: A Genetic Journey
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on 9 July 2011
This is an interesting book and I'd certainly recommend it to anyone interested in Scottish history and to historical interpretations through DNA. The book starts in prehistoric times and considers a wider area than Scotland or even Europe. Given the fact that many of the roots of DNA in the British Isles are believed to go back to prehistoric times, this is justifiable and a welcome contrast with books which concentrate on events in the last few hundred years. The book proceeds through Roman times and the misty formative centuries thereafter when different genetic elements fought and coalesced. At one time at least six languages - Gaelic, Pictish, Old Welsh, Anglian/English, Norwegian and Latin - were spoken in Scotland. The book proceeds through historical times till today.

It is clearly a very well researched book and genetically up to date. The history is related to genetic markers, specifically the slow moving but definitive SNP markers. The only problem here is that when people are genetically tested, they are usually tested initially on the faster mutating STR markers. So even someone like myself, an enthusiastic student of genetic genealogy, found it difficult to relate to the various SNP markers referred to, some of which must have been discovered quite recently . Mind you the authors, Wilson on the genetic side and Moffat on the historical side, have done an excellent professional job in interpreting the genetic data which Wilson must have had access to.

I believe the book could have benefitted from an introductory chapter on genetic genealogy and markers. Markers are introduced suddenly in the text with little explanation. A genetic tree or trees from ISOGG (International School of Genetic Genealogy) might have been useful. There are a few maps and diagrams in the book but the first one 'The peopling of Eurasia...' is more or less incomprehensible without further explanation.

Actually, generally I would have preferred more technical details. One reviewer has pointed out the dearth of references. Another says he has had to consult the internet frequently. This should not be necessary. Perhaps in a subsequent edition Wilson should be allowed greater licence to put in such references.

It is interesting to compare the book with others on British genealogy, ie those by Stephen Oppenheimer and by Bryan Sykes. These suffer from exactly the same weakness, namely a poorly documented genetic trail where conclusions are 'pulled out of a hat'.

One minor irritation, to me, is the 'trendy' but uninformative chapter headings, eg 'Harvest Home' and 'Of mice and men'. Please!

There is a lot of overlap amongst Moffat's various other books, but I didn't really notice it here. It's a well written book. Indeed, I look forward to reading similar books about the history of the Welsh, the English and the Irish. If the authors, or others, do go ahead with such a project, I hope they'll give more facts and figures next time, together with the detailed technical arguments, or at least references, which led to their conclusions.

However, in summary this is an excellent history book.
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