Who We Are and How We Got Here Book Summary - Who We Are and How We Got Here Book explained in key points
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Who We Are and How We Got Here summary

David Reich

Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past

4.4 (168 ratings)
28 mins

Brief summary

Who We Are and How We Got Here by David Reich is a fascinating exploration of human genetics and the origins of our species. It examines the history of our migration, interbreeding, and the implications of genetic research on our understanding of ancestry.

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    Who We Are and How We Got Here
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    Scientific advances in genetics give us unique insights into early human history and development.

    DNA analysis is a wonder of modern science. It means scientists can get to the root of understanding who we are and from where our species comes. But it can be tricky to get your head around.

    A good metaphor would be a grenade that’s exploded in a room. The effort required to gather the scattered shrapnel and work out an exact picture of where each bit came from is a not dissimilar task to DNA analysis.

    But what exactly is DNA? Well, DNA molecules make up the human genome, the genetic code that each of us inherits from our parents. DNA consists of twin chains of molecules called nucleotides made from the chemicals adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G) and thymine (T). Each chain is about three billion chemical blocks in length.

    In contrast, genes are fragments of these chains, generally around a thousand nucleotides long. Each gene is an instruction that tells us something about how the body is built.

    Random variations in these inherited sequences are called mutations. These occur roughly once every thousand nucleotides. Mutations are what make us individual, and they are also the means by which individual ancestry can be determined. If you compare two people’s mutations, the more differences you find between their genes, the further they are away from sharing a common ancestor.

    One big impact of DNA study is that it has changed our views on evolution.

    Scientists used to think that subsets of the human species evolved in parallel to each other on different continents. For instance, that European humans evolved in Europe or Indian humans evolved in India.

    However mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited through the maternal line, has revised scientists’ opinions. All humans today are descended from a single female ancestor. She is known as “Mitochondrial Eve,” and she lived in Africa no more than 200,000 years ago.

    If the old multi-regional theory held true, then any shared ancestor we had would be close to an incredible two million years old and part of the dispersal of Homo erectus globally around 1.8 million years ago.

    However, when Mitochondrial Eve is seen as our shared ancestor, then modern humans must have evolved in Africa and only spread across the world 50,000 years ago.

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    What is Who We Are and How We Got Here about?

    Who We Are and How We Got Here (2018) takes readers on a journey through the world’s anthropological history, demonstrating that people have continually migrated and mixed over time. Recent scientific advances are allowing scientists to study human DNA from the distant past and compare it to that of those alive today. The insights about humans’ origins are both fascinating and revealing.

    Who We Are and How We Got Here Review

    Who We Are and How We Got Here (2018) is a fascinating exploration of our genetic roots and the complex journey of our ancestors. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It sheds light on the revolutionary advances in DNA sequencing that have transformed our understanding of human history.
    • Blending science, archaeology, and the author's personal experiences, it paints a vivid picture of our shared ancestry and the diverse origins of our species.
    • By examining the genetic evidence from ancient human remains, this book unravels the mysteries of our past and challenges long-held beliefs, keeping readers captivated until the very end.

    Best quote from Who We Are and How We Got Here

    Neanderthals were first discovered in the Neander Valley in Germany – tal being German for valley.

    —David Reich
    example alt text

    Who should read Who We Are and How We Got Here?

    • Scientists with burgeoning interests in anthropology and languages
    • Ethno-nationalists looking to have their views challenged
    • Genealogists looking for the bigger picture

    About the Author

    David Reich is a professor of genetics at Harvard University and a leading expert on ancient DNA. He was commended in 2015 for his role in the ancient DNA revolution and received the Dan David Prize for Archaeological and Natural Sciences in 2017 thanks to his work uncovering the interbreeding between Neanderthals and the ancestors of modern humans.

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    Who We Are and How We Got Here FAQs 

    What is the main message of Who We Are and How We Got Here?

    Discover the secrets of our ancient ancestry and how it shaped us today.

    How long does it take to read Who We Are and How We Got Here?

    The reading time for Who We Are and How We Got Here varies, but it can be read in a few hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Who We Are and How We Got Here a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Who We Are and How We Got Here provides fascinating insights into our genetic heritage. It's definitely worth a read!

    Who is the author of Who We Are and How We Got Here?

    David Reich is the author of Who We Are and How We Got Here.

    What to read after Who We Are and How We Got Here?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Who We Are and How We Got Here, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin
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