Who We Are and How We Got Here

Who We Are coverWho We Are and How We Got Here: Ancient DNA and the New Science of the Human Past
David Reich
Vintage (March 27, 2018), 356 pages
Kindle edition $7.99, Amazon paperback $13.68

Our ability to interpret the human genome has advanced our scientific knowledge in a wide range of disciplines. In these recent stay-at-home pandemic months I have streamed on my Roku Great Courses lecture series on evolution, Native Americans, and linguistics. All of them have touched upon genetic evidence as part of the material presented.

Author David Reich is a working scientist who complains at the outset about taking time away from preparing papers for professional journals to write a popular book. The general reader, however, is better off for his having done so. He provides a readable outline of the state of genetic research today.

Reich discusses early human history and describes how modern humans carry genes from both ancient Neanderthals and Denisovans, something that helped early modern humans survive in new environments. He writes about the migrations of people and the interbreeding between hunter-gatherers and farmers. The author then describes research into the distribution of human populations today. Throughout the book he talks about work done in his own lab and gives proper credit to individual researchers.

Near the end of the book Reich complains about the politics and academic disputes that arise in the world of research. This was somewhat frustrating reading, but the bulk of the book, in which he lays out how the science of genetics has helped flesh out our understanding of humankind, was fascinating stuff.

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