A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived ~ by Adam Rutherford

Although I wasn’t too sure about this book at first, I came to really enjoy and appreciate it. I read this for the AllNonfiction group for March but we had just read The Tangled Tree (link to my review on this site) by David Quammen in January. That’s why I wasn’t sure about my interest – I enjoyed that book quite a lot but I like to switch around.

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived
By Adam Rutherford
2017 / 420 pages
Read by Adam Rutherford – 12h 13m
Rating: 9 – genetics

(both read and listened)

But Rutherford’s book goes in a different direction than Quammen’s. Where The Tangled Tree delves into how the “tree of life” branches to the point not being really recognizable as a “tree,” Rutherford’s book looks at recent DNA findings in humans.

This makes for fascinating reading after you get into it a bit because he touches on the origins and spread of humanity including the Bering Land Bridge, the Americas and South Pacific Islands. Then he getting back to Europe and how DNA of Charlemagne, Genghis Khan and other powerful genetic sources. Part II gets into specific hereditable and non-heritable aspects of human make-up like race, intelligence, criminal behavior, and fate, etc. as well as the place of environment and nurture plus possible futures.

There is an abundance of moderately well organized source material plus side comments. Both are valuable. There are also graphs and mapsl and these are provided as a PDF file from Audible.

The thing about Rutherford is that he writes well and the narrative varies between rather difficult and chatty, fun. Actually, the book goes right to the tip of my ability to comprehend, but then lowers that demand to being quite down-to-earth. An added bonus, he reads it very, very well.

This entry was posted in 2023 Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived ~ by Adam Rutherford

  1. jameswharris says:

    I’m reading this for my local face-to-face book club this month and for our online book club next month. There’s lots of interesting information in it. For instance, there’s no DNA evidence for the concept of race. And it’s discouraged me from paying to have my DNA analyzed.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve not had mine done yet but both of my kids have. They are about 1/2 Irish so my Scandinavian ancestry is not specified as much. DNA by itself can’t tell “race” from any one gene or marker but it can tell which continent your people were from. No one gene determines race – it’s the same with intelligence. I don’t know why I’ve been putting it off – I know where my family came from but I am curious if more on my Finnish dad’s side would show up – like were they Roma or something – black hair in my dad (but in my maternal grandmother, too). I wonder about Viking or Laplander stuff on her side. Who knows?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This sounds interesting! Do you think the science would be hard to concentrate on by listening, as opposed to reading? I’m listening to most of my books these days and really prefer it, but sometimes it’s easier for complicated concepts to get by me while listening. What was your experience?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just like me – I listen more than I actually read, Sue. But sometimes when I’m listening to nonfiction or really good fiction I have to have the printed text, too. With this book I both read and listened and enjoyed the listen alone in many places but I often had to check the Kindle copy for spelling or to reread a portion to “get it.” Rutherford does a very nicer job with his own material, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Sue – A lot of Finns changed their names and sometimes a lot of their ways when the Swedes ruled Finland. My dad’s father’s side’ did, they were from the Aland Islands close to Sweden. His mom’s side didn’t, they were up near Pori which is close but not so close. Some families went back to their historic names after Finland went with Russia or later, when they proclaimed their independence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s interesting. Probably something like that happened with my grandmother’s family. She thought they were Swedish, but she was “put out to work” (given to another family by her parents to be sort of a servant — unimaginable by today’s standards) when she was just a little girl, and lost contact with her family of origin. So she never had a chance to look more deeply into her ancestry or revise what she was told when very young. She was from Duluth, Minnesota, and I think I’ve read that a lot of Finns moved to that area.


      • Yes, lots of Finns in the Duluth area of Minnesota including my dad’s family who landed in the tiny town of Jacobson, not too far from Grand Rapids. There is a lot of farming and mining up there. Finns were hired in the iron ore mines, very volatile. My grandparents were farmers and very religious. Many had immigrated because the Russians were conscripting them to serve in WWI. They endured some VERY hard times in Finland – trying to eat tree bark soup and such what.

        In the US it was thought the Finns were “Mongolian” heritage (not European) and so were exempted from WWI. Now it’s thought they were very early European, but developed a mutation in a gene during a long period of isolation. They’re really more interesting than Norwegians or Swedes. lol –


      • This is fascinating! I’m going to have to do some reading. My grandmother’s original family name was Jacobson. Interesting about the genetic mutation!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. The field of genetics is changing so rapidly these days that what I read only a few years ago might not be what they think now.

    And there’s more – follow the links to Nat’l Geographic and so on.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s