Cover of A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes

Loved this. It took me a while to get into the stride of it, but once I did it was pretty much unputdownable. One of those books I want to absorb so much of in order to have coherent evidence based arguments to throw at idiots (or the unenlightened at least, not everyone I argue with is an idiot after all, I can’t be bothered to waste time talking with the completely closed-minded.) I read this from the library but I’m pretty certain I’ll be buying the author’s next book(s) so I can keep them on hand if they look as useful and good as this one.

If I had to pick one argument to take away from this one and try to keep in my brain it would be the evidence that leads to the conclusion: “What is unequivocal is that the colloquial and traditional descriptions of race that are commonly used in the West are not accurately reflected in the underlying genetics”. Yes, we can all look at a person and describe them using racial terminology but the designations are all seen through our own cultural filters (though I think I have some mild version of face-blindness so I’m rubbish at guessing people’s heritage by anything other than which Pantone chip their skin matches), but genetically there’s no way to look at our genes and neatly classify people into any of the taxonomies that the racists would like.

After I finished the book I looked up human genetic clustering and found the maths of the attempts at genetic clustering all super interesting. Would you like two races? The boundaries could be drawn in any number of places, maybe we could say the native Americans, Australians, Asians are one race and everyone else is in the other. Or seven races? That makes the Kalash people of the Himalayas split out as their own race? Apparently the racists like to pick out the attempt at “five genetic clusters” which looks most like the ones they think exist a priori, but why is five the magic number? And none of these clusters look to split the white European people out into a race of their own which seems to be what the racists I see in the UK at least would like.

Anyway, if you want the cohesive argument on this, as well as a vast array of other interesting things that fall out of our genetics, then read the book, there’s a lot more to it than this. I’m just jotting things down to jog my own memory of an excellent book here.


More information about this book can be found on goodreads.