Remember reading the Old Testament and seeing the list of “begats” that seemed to last forever?  This book examines human history as recorded in our DNA.  It’s full of fascinating lore: recently geneticists and statisticians have proved that African countries where the slave trade was rampant  have not only a much higher sense of distrust toward friends and strangers, but also have much poorer economies today over a hundred fifty years later.

And Genghis Khan really did father thousands of children, yet at the same time he lived up to his name as the Destroyer. During the two centuries of the Mongol raids that he initiated, 40 million people died. So many that much of the inhabited earth became reforested. This was the only time in recorded history that the CO2 in the atmosphere actually dropped enough to measure.

Genghis Khan also lives on for his particular Y chromosome. Not only did he pass this on to countless sons, but he and his armies killed so many men with different Y chromosomes that his became the predominant one in many parts of Asia.

Other historical events that occurred over 600 years in small villages in Europe that ran pogroms against Jews (because of an irrational fear that they caused the Black Plague) had ramifications in the 1930s. Officials in these villages sent more people to the death camps than in places that had not killed Jews centuries before.   

In this incredibly well-researched book, Kenneally shows how websites such as are changing the way we look at the world, as well as affecting the way governments keep and control our records. Do we want our biological histories owned by private companies? An issue to think about especially in an era when we know that many medical conditions and diseases can be traced by inheritance.

The many odd and obscure facts in this book make it riveting; for example, in Britain, the inheritance of various groups can be firmly traced yet still questions remain.  How did certain members of a different ethnicity end up in Newcastle in the northeast? Coal mining. They came from Devon, an area in the south that had mining and were obviously pulled north to use their skills. Yet while in Newcastle, this group of imported miners kept to themselves and onlyrmarried their own, so their genetic inheritance cannow be traced to Devon.

Likewise, a reported shipwreck in the Orkney Islands introduced some Spanish genes into the fair-haired population causing the odd dark-haired baby centuries later.

Geneticists and other scientists have also discovered that cultural differences such as birthrate, family size, and hours a week worked by women in certain US communities looks very similar today to that of their grandmothers in the old country. Particularly in closed communities that do not marry outside their culture.

Kenneally also looks at Nazism and its evils, but she also shows how people in the early years of the 20th century in many countries were fascinated with the field of eugenics and approved of many draconian measures to keep the race so-called “pure.”

If you are interested in where we as a people came from, and how genetic events can parallel historical ones, this fascinating book is for you.