Author: Adam Rutherford
|A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived (2016) is a brilliant, groundbreaking history of all of us – human beings – told through the lens of one of the most exciting scientific discoveries in recent years: the human genome. Using little-known fossils, DNA discoveries, and archaeological evidence, Rutherford brilliantly illuminates humanity’s past as never before, showing how much recent advances in genomics have changed what we know about where we came from—and where we are going next.|
We can learn so much from humanity’s genetic past. As a species, we have been on this planet for a long time. The total number of people who have ever lived is over 108 billion. As our DNA evolves over generations, there are no doubt variants that lead to differences in life expectancy, intelligence, and other traits. A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived is one of the decade’s most important books.
Written by an American geneticist named Adam Rutherford, the book describes his visit to a lab where scientists study ancient DNA. He realized he could use the same information to create his family tree, connecting us back to a small group of people alive around 200,000 years ago.
Using this genetic makeup, he has found that we are all very similar and even more alike than we would have thought. We all come from the same people. The book is organized with short chapters discussing significant events in our history, such as agriculture, and cultural and linguistic similarities that keep popping up worldwide, even among people who have never met.
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived Key Points
The ancestry of every human on earth is genetically connected
DNA has made it possible to reconstruct people’s family trees and determine who is related to whom. DNA proves that our ancestors were interrelated, despite the tribalism and racism we have used to justify our separate identities. We can trace our ancestry to our great-great-great-grandparents, who lived in the 1800s and 1825. The genomes of these people contain one-one-twentieth of our DNA.
But to trace your royal heritage, you need to return to your family tree. Rather than researching your direct line, you need to extend the family tree and look for marriages. Even if you think you don’t have royal blood in your family tree, you may have a royal ancestor whose marriages were documented by the courts. Ideally, you’ll want to go back to at least the 17th century. In addition to marriage records, you can search for the wills of gentlemen and farmers. These wills often have references to their extended families.
The ancestry of every human on earth is genetically connected as people migrate from continent to continent. It is not uncommon for all people living on Earth to have a common ancestor a few thousand years ago. That means that the latest common ancestor of all six billion people today lived just a couple thousand years ago. Considering that, it is not too surprising to think that most of the people who lived on Earth were direct ancestors of the majority of people alive today.
It is not surprising that royal families have ancestors with many connections. The royal family of James Pierpont, for example, had many descendants that contributed to the development of our societies.
Our understanding of the biology of humans is still not much better than it was back in the 70s
This new understanding of the human genome has revolutionized medicine and healthcare in ways we could never have imagined. We learned that each of us carries genetic predispositions to different diseases, ranging from Alzheimer’s to manic depression and even to predisposition to alcohol and nicotine addiction. We also learned that we can pass down specific genes to our children or that certain genes can be silenced by certain stimuli — like how junk food intake can silence a gene that makes us resistant to diseases like cancer.
Now, almost two decades later, we’re barely using any knowledge we’ve gained from this discovery. Our understanding of the biology of the human mind has advanced, but it’s still not much better than it was back in the 70s.
However, since then, it has been relatively quiet regarding advancements in genetics. In the 15 years that have followed, we’ve made only minor advances in using this information to improve human health and prevent disease. The problem is that we don’t have enough information about our genomes to make any conclusions about changes that need to be made to our lifestyles or habits. But now, an organization called Helix is seeking a revolution in genomics. Rutherford has used the genome to shed light on everything in, A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, from how humanity first left Africa to why some of us are lactose intolerant. The information is out there, but it’s not always easy to access—or easy to understand.
Cultural changes can affect gene frequencies within communities
Researchers believe it happened gradually. In the 1800s, milk was a luxury, so the gene stayed in the population. Fast forward to today, where milk is now a staple food. Almost all European adults are lactose intolerant. It’s believed that over time, people who could digest milk were more likely to survive and pass on their genes compared to those who couldn’t. We see this all the time with other foods and traits, too. For example, as blue eyes became more desirable over time, women with blue eyes were more likely to reproduce. Research has even shown that cultural changes can affect gene frequencies within communities.
Our society has changed a lot from how it was, say, 10,000 years ago. Back then, most of us were hunters and gatherers. Our ancient ancestors’ diets were high in meat and fish and low in carbohydrates, which meant humans did not need the gene to break down lactose – the sugar in milk products.
Genes are passed down from generation to generation. And as you grow up, your genes also evolve. When you were a child, they were like two-way radios: they sent and received information to and from the rest of your body. They were also a little less picky. They could take in new information without complaining too much. Then came puberty, when your genes slammed the door on their radios and stopped listening so much to what the rest of your body was saying.
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived Quotes
“Alas, we are no more or less evolved than any creature. Uniqueness is overrated.” –Adam Rutherford
“Evolution, blind and slow, has not inched along over billions of years with any intention that it should be decipherable to one or any of its billions of children.” -Adam Rutherford
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived to Review
A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived explores the stories our DNA can tell us about where we came from and how we got here. Author Adam Rutherford uses his background in genetics and biology to give us an entertaining and informative introduction to history. Highly Recommended.
To whom would I recommend A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived Summary?
- Anyone interested in biology
- Anyone who is in the field of genetics.
- Anyone having an interest in evolution.