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Who We Are and How We Got Here

Written by: David Reich
Narrated by: John Lescault
Length: 10 hrs and 50 mins
4.5 out of 5 stars (26 ratings)
Price: CDN$ 30.67
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Publisher's Summary

A groundbreaking book about how ancient DNA has profoundly changed our understanding of human history

Geneticists like David Reich have made astounding advances in the field of genomics, which is proving to be as important as archaeology, linguistics, and written records as a means to understand our ancestry. 

In Who We Are and How We Got Here, Reich allows listeners to discover how the human genome provides not only all the information a human embryo needs to develop but also the hidden story of our species. Reich delves into how the genomic revolution is transforming our understanding of modern humans and how DNA studies reveal deep inequalities among different populations, between the sexes, and among individuals. Provocatively, Reich's book suggests that there might very well be biological differences among human populations but that these differences are unlikely to conform to common stereotypes.

Drawing upon revolutionary findings and unparalleled scientific studies, Who We Are and How We Got Here is a captivating glimpse into humankind - where we came from and what that says about our lives today.

A New York Times best-seller in Science Books. A #1 Amazon.com bestseller in the Biochemistry List.

©2018 David Reich (P)2018 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Great narrator, easy to digest and great prose.

This was a great listen. Easy to follow and the natrator was good to listen to.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Jane W.
  • 2018-07-15

Great Book, No Maps Available thru Audible

I loved this book. Just what I’m interested in. I did return the Audible version because Audible does not provide access to the illustrations and maps in the book. The maps especially are important for tracing human migrations.

33 of 33 people found this review helpful

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  • Anthony Gaetano Biagio Pape
  • 2018-07-16

Great information in a very academic format.

Information is great in this book. Really makes you feel like we are about to explode into an entirely new world of understanding about our past and human genetic differences and similarities. Makes the world seem more interesting instead of everyone is the same narrative.
The issues with the book are the style and the audio presenter.
The book feels like an academic journal article. The info is great but sometimes I wish the author would have entered more of the academic info in footnotes instead of in long drawn out pages of how they did such and such etc.
The reader is also an issue. I really wasn’t sure at times if this book wasn’t read by some kind of computer program. Not easy to listen to an academic text book read by a computer. Otherwise a very good book on the new knowledge being discovered everyday.

11 of 11 people found this review helpful

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  • ultrunner
  • 2018-09-17

Excellent book, awful reading

The book is one of the best I've listened to in a long time. Unfortunately, the reading, somehow computer-generated, is the worst I've come across. The story makes it worth to endure.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Andy G.
  • 2018-11-02

Great but the narration lacks

I think the narrator does very well considering what is asked, and the content is fascinating and convincing. But it is not easy to listen to.

I am comparing this to a few "Great Courses" audio courses where the professors are the ones narrating. The narration of the professors is much more interesting, not because they gave other information, but because you could hear them emphasizing what points were most important in any sentence or chapter. They were passionate about it and it made a lot of difference.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • D. Jinkerson
  • 2018-08-14

Great book, not the best narration

I enjoyed this book but the narrator was very monotone and halting. I decided to continue anyway since I found the content interesting.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
  • sean m davis
  • temple, pa United States
  • 2018-08-10

awesome!!!

I learned a lot about ancient DNA and the migratiion of populations over time. I highly recommend this publication.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Hampus
  • 2018-08-05

Amazing

I have read somewhere around 10 books around the theme of human evolution, DNA and ancient humans. This is by far the best I have read. I never write reviews but feel I have to in this case. David Reich is very good at explaining the resent years’ phenomenal progress in his field. Very rewarding reading experience. Balanced and inspiring. Highly recommend it. I feel enlightened.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Maxine
  • 2019-04-08

Not What I Expected

First, this is a brilliant book, and I certainly recommend it! However, be warned that it gets pretty technical and (at least for me) difficult to follow at times. Also, I would argue that it doesn't quite address what one might expect from the title. It is a rather comprehensive survey of the state of the science of genetic history, giving a picture of relationships of archaic and ancient human populations and their likely distributions over time. How any of this relates to human nature (as I interpret the meaning of the "who were are" question) is impossible to tell without understanding of the nature of those populations or how such nature might propagate. But if you're at all interested in how sequencing DNA of current and ancient humans has shed light on the migrations and interbreeding of human populations, definitely read this! Although later in the book, the author speculates some on what certain traits might have a genetic basis and how we may discover it, this book's value does not lie in interpretations of genetic traits. It's beauty is in the unapologetic unveiling of what we know so far about our ancient ancestry.

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  • Marian
  • 2019-03-29

Just because you CAN do something, should you?

After watching a Harvard provided YouTube featuring the author, I ordered this book eagerly. I have not finished the book yet, but I am outraged by the pridefulness and the myopia. Ironically, hubris and its demise in four ways was the formula used by Reich on his YouTube book promotion. Yes, he admits some theoretical errors along the way, but the flaws and issues around paleogenomics are bigger than whether or not there was two way traffic on the Bering Land Bridge of old.

Reich shows his personal ethnocentrism and narcissism in regards to feeling entitled to test the DNA of INDIVIDUALS who consent to research even if their group, such as the Navajo Nation, makes an otherwise total abstention from research. Individualism is a cultural construct, a very "American" value. Group opinions matter very much in this field where one or two samples can seemingly inform conclusions for the collective.

Informed consent is, by design, to "protect" the researcher and a sponsoring body; it is not designed and written by the studied peoples, past and present and future. Individuals can be coerced to agree to tissue harvesting because of intimidation, politeness, misunderstanding, ignorance, psychological issues, or so many more reasons. Groups can also be coerced. Outing the Navajo Nation as a dissenting group also is a psychologically affecting action.

Tissue harvesting is a terribly abused arena needing urgent and firm regulation. If a doctor cuts a mole off my body, some researcher, like Reich, can end up studying it without any knowledge on my part. It is a "legal" bit and piece. Informed consent for my tissue's fate is not required. Other people can buy and sell my mole piece however they want. I disagree with this tradition. People have a right to their bits and pieces. Who stands up for the people at rest in the earth, buried long ago, who have their cochleas turned to dust to satisfy paleogenomic researchers millenia after they died? Are researchers deaf to human rights? You profit from it, even if all you get is a pay check. Where is the informed consent for my bits and pieces? Lucy may not consent, too. Where's Lucy's consent? Kennewick Man? His consent? The Denisova girl? Her consent? Spirit, the numinous, culture, and respect for the past and the unknown are trashed by tissue harvesters and researchers like Reich. Modern ethics and human rights are further trashed by our "medical" system and researchers on blood, skin, moles, biopsies of all sorts, embryos, and tissues of all sorts.

Informed consent is a societal and contemporaneous construct. What if future researchers want to take a few genes from my mole and create a new cyborg or something we cannot imagine. Even informed consent has cultural and in situ limitations.

There is also the standard of practice I would hold Reich to consider. This is my own bias. The Golden Rule is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Totally egocentric. How about the Platinum Rule: "Do unto others as they want to have done to them." If you don't know someone's wishes, you may violate this by researching on them. Living or dead. If I choose cremation, I expect to be dust. If I choose to be scattered in the ocean, good luck finding my DNA. But, maybe some dude will come along and rebuild my DNA from ocean dust. If I choose burial, I wouldn't expect that some dude could come along and dig me up as a "find!" later on. Grave robbing. DNA robbing.

Reich leads us to the devil's research. Curious minds love to know, but do we have a right to know? Is the sex life of our leader or movie star our business or our right to know? We can spy on our rock and movie stars, but should we? Such information is typically marketable as are the fruits on Reich's tree.

Reich, you feed yourself and live your life on giving us the results of lots of DNA theft. You are a profiteer. You are stealing something that we only understand from a partial place. The DNA stretches you think are junk may well have more than you imagine. Soul dust is not of any concern to you.

Darn you, Reich, for the sexy findings you provide and promise. Yet, fraud, myopia, and human error must be expected! Reich, you drop to a county fair huckster when you say your research findings are fact. The manipulation of DNA segments happens; you boast that your team put bar codes on DNA segments to identify them and prevent errors. Even if it was purposeful, adding a bar code DNA segment to the Neanderthal DNA strand means that all DNA research can be tagged or altered. The tagging is so smart in one way, but the tagging also shows how vulnerable your present and future bedrock is to cleavage. What we do not know we do not know and can always affect outcomes and interpretations. Additionally, your "I am a fact based person" stance early in the book lulls the reader into trusting your opinions more than they should. And, yes, you have lots of opinions and statements that may not be anything more than skeletons wearing flesh from lab grown cattle muscle. Even if you can transplant DNA specific tissues onto the skeletons of the past, are you able to transplant the souls of those who left their skeletons in particular places? You cannot give your creations back the same tools, the same dialect, the same memories. Henrietta Lack's biopsies taken before her death cannot produce the lost mother, lost sister, lost wife.

Just as you choose to not practice Anthropology without a license by playing with the species and subspecies categories, you should not make conclusions for the rest of us (living and dead) on ethics, culture or other fields. Where are we going? The title of the book says it all: you need a good hubris monitor. Can paleogenomic researchers make mistakes? Fall into greed? Be human?

The cultures that restrict access to their genomes should not be said to have been "missing out" on the revolution of genomic research. China and Japan are CONSERVATIVE about sharing genetic resources. You are too LIBERAL and are making assumptions that everyone wants to work for a naive view to help us find our common identity and to find the stories of forgotten peoples. The opportunities, dangers, pitfalls for DNA biowarfare, genocides, and more are not giving you pause. Might the Code Talkers of the Navajo from World War 2 be the Code Warfare survivors of World War 3?

Perhaps this was a poor vehicle for a very intelligent man to attempt to drive into every human culture and academic discipline a mix of his opinions and research. Just because you can research human genomic history, should you? Can you anticipate potential future uses and abuses? Reich, you are on a bullet train, not a bicycle. Don't derail, and be sure to let passengers off if they prefer to be on bicycles. Your hastiness in publication lowers what I thought would be a five star book. I am of a mixed and unsettled opinion about the thoughtfulness given to the research as a whole. I will finish your book and likely re-read it, but your lab and your approach are part of larger personal and societal problems.

Perhaps I am not fully clear and cognizant on all of the issues, and I do applaud some aspects, but these are my strong emotions and opinions that I felt compelled to express; I am an ethical contrarian efforting to not indulge in hedonistic knowledge feasts. It pains me terribly to be so brutal as so much of what you say is incredibly satisfying food.

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  • Wesley J Wieland
  • 2019-03-16

Dense, informative, worth the time...

Written almost like a memoir. This is dense stuff as compared to a book like 'The Twisted Tree'. That said, it is fascinating and informative, pointing out the developing relationship between various disciplines relative to the exploration of genetic evidence. I take this all with a grain of salt, as there are too many variables, both known and unknown regarding the title of the book. However, the author is clearly expert in his field.

The narration is well done. The pace is good, voice modulation pleasant, and diction very good.

I would recommend this for anyone interested in how advances in genetic sciences are being applied and the effects thereof.