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The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey [Paperback]

Spencer Wells
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 17 2004
Around 60,000 years ago, a man—genetically identical to us—lived in Africa. Every person alive today is descended from him. How did this real-life Adam wind up as the father of us all? What happened to the descendants of other men who lived at the same time? And why, if modern humans share a single prehistoric ancestor, do we come in so many sizes, shapes, and races?

Examining the hidden secrets of human evolution in our genetic code, Spencer Wells reveals how developments in the revolutionary science of population genetics have made it possible to create a family tree for the whole of humanity. Replete with marvelous anecdotes and remarkable information, from the truth about the real Adam and Eve to the way differing racial types emerged, The Journey of Man is an enthralling, epic tour through the history and development of early humankind.

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The Journey of Man is not just some old fashioned sexist travelogue about a bloke in shorts and sandals wandering the byways of the world. As the subtitle explains, it is "a genetic odyssey" of men rather than women. We have heard a lot about the matriarchal "African Eve". As Spencer Wells says, we all have an African foremother who lived approximately 150,000 years ago. She handed down her genetic mitochondrial "handbag" specifically to her daughter and on over the generations and millennia. But what about the male contribution to today's human genome?

Luckily for the male ego and population geneticists it turns out that blokes also have some unique chromosomal hand baggage hidden away in the non-recombining part of the Y chromosome. Like female mitochondrial DNA it is passed solely between father and son and is particularly useful for studying human diversity. This is because it is so big--much bigger than mitochondrial DNA--and accumulates mutations at particular sites that can be relatively easily identified. By sampling the Y chromosome from men around the world the modern human diaspora can be mapped out both geographically and chronologically.

Spencer Wells is an American geneticist with impeccable credentials from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford universities and certainly knows his subject. Fortunately, he is also very good at explaining the science, which can be somewhat complicated at times. This fascinating and often surprising story originated as a television film and has benefited from being thoroughly worked out through first-hand experience around the world.

Accompanied by 24 pages of brilliant photos by Mark Read, an excellent list of further reading and an index, The Journey of Man is well worth getting to grips with. As Wells points out, each of us carries a unique chapter locked away inside our genome, and we owe it to ourselves and our descendants to discover what it is. Come on boys, this is our story and we ought to know the gist of it. Douglas Palmer --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

In this surprisingly accessible book, British geneticist Wells sets out to answer long-standing anthropological questions of where humans came from, how we migrated and when we arrived in such places as Europe and North America. To trace the migration of human beings from our earliest homes in Africa to the farthest reaches of the globe, Wells calls on recent DNA research for support. Clues in the blood of present groups such as eastern Russia's Chukchi, as well as the biological remnants of long-extinct human clans, allow Wells to follow the Y chromosome as a relatively unaltered marker of human heritage. Eventually, working backward through time, he finds that the earliest common "ingredient" in males' genetic soup was found in a man Wells calls the "Eurasian Adam," who lived in Africa between 31,000 and 79,000 years ago. Each subsequent population, isolated from its fellows, gained new genetic markers, creating a map in time and space. Wells writes that the first modern humans "left Africa only 2,000 generations ago" and quickly fanned out across Asia, into Europe, and across the then-extant land bridge into the Americas. Using the same markers, he debunks the notion that Neanderthals were our ancestors, finds odd links between faraway peoples, and-most startlingly-discovers that all Native Americans can be traced to a group of perhaps a dozen people. By explaining his terminology and methods throughout the book, instead of in a chunk, Wells makes following the branches of the human tree seem easy. 44 color photos, 54 halftones and 3 maps.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Y" is the answer - not the question Sept. 21 2003
By Stephen A. Haines HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
A few years ago a furor arose over the announcement that a calculation of mitochondrial DNA mutation rate formulated an "African Eve". Since then other genetic ancestral studies have been undertaken. Most notable of these was the determination that Neanderthal was not a direct ancestor of modern humans. Spencer Wells provides an enthralling overview of the research tracking changes in the Y [male] chromosome. The studies verify again that our origins are African. Somewhere, around 60 000 years ago, lived one man, a flesh and blood individual, from whom we've all descended. His progeny, in an amazingly short span, scattered around the globe. The scattering isn't news, but the verification of the paths and chronology is lucid and vividly outlined in this book.
The key to the tracking, as Wells makes abundantly clear, are various polymorphisms [changes] in the Y chromosome. These mutations are reflected in today's populations and the rate of their diversity indicates the approximate age of the various regional groups. These changes, nearly all prefixed "M" [male?] are used as ingredients in recipes Wells offers as illustrative metaphor. It's a clever ploy, so long as you remember ingredients may only be added, never removed nor replaced. That's how genetics works, he reminds us. He portrays the build-up of recipe ingredients with maps and diagrams. The diagrams are almost redundant as the clarity of his prose enables you to envision them.
Following the paths of migration, Wells shows how some archaeological finds offer support for the patterns he sees. Fossils are rare, elusive and sometimes misunderstood. Genetics, buried deep in our cells, are unequivocal in providing their evidence.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars No photos in the paparback edition!!! June 3 2004
Format:Paperback
The paperback edition does not include any photographs. They are essential and included in the hardcover edition in a great number!!!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why I love this book! June 14 2004
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
I am Indian (with roots in the Indian subcontinent) and I like the way Spencer Wells touches upon our "aryan" Y-chromosome that (as he explains) we share with the eastern europeans. Take that Hitler. And yes I too feel this book beats Seven Daughter of Eve (by Bryan Sykes)by far.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best book of it's kind! May 22 2004
Format:Paperback
Spencer Wells, unlike Bryan Sykes who wrote Seven daughters of Eve, is not an egomaniac. Wells mostly sticks just to the facts. Included in JOM are some excellent bits on the Aryan YChromosome being present in Indians of India to Eastern Europeans. Plus, that India-Indians also often possess the Y chromosome of Neolithic Middle Eastern ancestry that nearly all European have in their bodies as well. Other good facts in JOM too. Thanks Spencer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
That's for sure. Author Spencer Wells doesn't blab endlessly about himself in it like like Bryan Sykes did about himself in SDOE. Wells just sticks more to Genetic science facts. This book also is the reverse of SDOE in that that book, when it wasn't about Sykes (which was rare), concerned the mitochondrial DNA inherited from mothers. This better book by Wells concerns the Y-chromosome inherited from fathers. There is info info on the Aryan dna y chromosome, which does scientifically exist. Also, Wells mentions rarely-known fact that Indians of India posses some aryan Y Chromosomes plus they (like nearly all europeans) have the Mid-East Y chromsome from the neolithics who left Syria around 10,000 years ago trekking to various part of the wortld. Great book all around (Wells's book that is, not Sykes's).
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How All of Us Got Here Feb. 6 2003
Format:Hardcover
Archeologists dig all over the earth to find the history of people who existed too early to leave a written history. There is a new sort of archeology, however, that is changing our long-range view of human pre-history. Scientists are digging into cells, into the genes that everyone knows make us what we are. The details from this new research have given revolutionary insight into where humans came from, how they spread, and the origin and superficiality of races. In _The Journey of Man_ (Princeton University Press), Spencer Wells, a population geneticist, has written a wonderfully clear book of origins, drawing upon not just genes but history, geography, archeology, and linguistics.
In part, the book is a summary of refutations against the ideas of anthropologists who maintained that different races were subspecies that arose in different regions at different times. No such hypotheses could be tested in the time they were issued, and now they can. DNA in the cells from mitochondria, and the DNA in the male Y chromosome do not shuffle the way ordinary chromosomes do, and thus are very stable from one generation to the next. Mutations happen, and accumulate, and may be used to see how closely related humans from different regions of the world are. The genetic results of both mitochondrial and Y chromosome research confirm each other, and are unambiguous. We are all out of Africa. We stayed in Africa as humans for generations, and almost all the genetic variation we were going to get was within us at that time. Then around 40,000 years ago, propelled perhaps because of weather changes, we started our travels.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book and Service
I loved to size of the book so much easier for an old lady who loves to read in bed. As always the book was here before I knew it. Amazon does a great job.
Published 8 months ago by JOANWW
2.0 out of 5 stars Impressively little content.
One doesn't learn a lot about evolutionary genetics from this book. When the author talks about how statisticians arrive at a result he does a really poor job of explaining the... Read more
Published on July 17 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars A load of fun to read.
I just had a blast reading this book. What a load of fun! The fact that we can divine the details of our origins and travels from the minute variations in our Y chromosomes and... Read more
Published on May 9 2004 by Robert C. Martin
4.0 out of 5 stars One family � sibling rivalry continues
Self proud humans with basic understanding of biology cannot even imagine that 50-60,000 yrs or up to 150,000 (or more) ago we all came from one man and one woman who mated, until... Read more
Published on March 29 2004 by guy performer
4.0 out of 5 stars Not science?
If you didn't think that there was much conclusive evidence in the study, maybe you should say so and you have every right to point it out. Read more
Published on Jan. 15 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating History of Mankind Revealed by Genetics
I first heard the author speak at the Smithsonian on the genetic odyssey of mankind, in the best talk I've ever heard, and I go to many talks every year. Read more
Published on Nov. 28 2003 by Q. Publius
5.0 out of 5 stars Interesting
I thought it was a good book- and being a molecular biologist who is familiar with the worlds advanced knowledge of genetics, I am quite comfortable with my African origins and the... Read more
Published on Nov. 3 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Not Science
First of all, one must clearly understand that the science of genetics is in its infancy, and is vastly more complicated than this author would lead you to believe. Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Death Blow for the Multiregionalists
After reading this book, I don't know how anyone can seriously entertain the theory of multiregionalism anymore. Read more
Published on Oct. 26 2003
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