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The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey Paperback – Feb 17 2004
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Spencer Wells traces human evolution back to our very first ancestor in The Journey of Man. Along the way, he sums up the explosive effect of new techniques in genetics on the field of evolutionary biology and all available evidence from the fossil record. Wells's seemingly sexist title is purposeful: he argues that the Y chromosome gives us a unique opportunity to follow our migratory heritage back to a sort of Adam, just as earlier work in mitochondrial DNA allowed the identification of Eve, mother of all Homo sapiens. While his descriptions of the advances made by such luminary scientists as Richard Lewontin and Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza can be dry, Wells comes through with sparkling metaphors when it counts, as when he compares genetic drift to a bouillabaisse recipe handed down through a village's generations. Though finding our primal male is an exciting prospect, the real revolution Wells describes is racial. Or rather, nonracial, as he reiterates the scientific truth that our notions of what makes us different from each other are purely cultural, not based in biology. The case for an "out of Africa" scenario of human migration is solid in this book, though Wells makes it clear when he is hypothesizing anything controversial. Readers interested in a fairly technical, but not overwhelming, summary of the remarkable conclusions of 21st-century human evolutionary biology will find The Journey of Man a perfect primer. --Therese Littleton --This text refers to the Hardcover 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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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
This author explains the scientific theory of genetic evolution in a language that is easily understandable. Read morePublished 5 months ago by george nightingale
Well written and explained by the author. If you never cared who your ancestors were before reading this, you will after. Read morePublished 22 months ago by Eilleen
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 on July 26 2013 by JOANWW
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 morePublished on July 17 2004
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 morePublished on May 9 2004 by Robert C. Martin
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 morePublished on March 28 2004 by guy performer
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 morePublished on Jan. 15 2004
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