by Christine Kenneally
This is my first review for the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.
From the back cover:
“We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by the forces that are invisible to us?
What role does Neanderthal DNA play in our genetic makeup? How did the theory of eugenics embraced by Nazi Germany first develop? How is trust passed down in Africa, and silence inherited in Tasmania? How are private companies like Ancestry.com uncovering, preserving and potentially editing the past?
In The Invisible History of the Human Race, Christine Kenneally reveals that, remarkably, it is not only our biological history that is coded in our DNA, but also our social history. She breaks down myths of determinism and draws on cutting-edge research to explore how both historical artefacts and our DNA tell us where we have come from and where we may be going.”
The Invisible History of the Human Race is the kind of book that I can’t believe hasn’t been written already. As Kenneally herself writes “someone, I reasoned, must have investigated the psychology of family history or, surely, examined how different philosophies of heredity have shaped this ubiquitous human experience” (p.26); however, it seems that Kenneally is the first author to try and draw together the numerous different strands of human inheritance. This inheritance is defined as a combination of the strictly scientific field of genetics, combined with the often maligned fields of ancestry and genealogical research, as well as historical data, which understood as a whole reveal more about an individual and their family than it has previously been possible to discover.
While there are a lot of scientific theories and details in the book, Kenneally has done an excellent job of making it as easy to understand as possible. There were a few sections which I had to re-read several times, although that’s probably because I didn’t pay as much attention in high school science classes as I should have done. The more overarching and expansive theories and conclusions are seen through the experience of many different individuals whom Kenneally has interviewed, like Gisela Heidenreich who was born as part of Heinrich Himmler’s plan to breed more Aryan children or Alison Alexander whose entire family were unaware that they were descended from convicts. These personal experiences prevent the book from becoming too academic as well as showing exactly why this kind of research is so important.
The amount of research and different subjects that Kenneally had to grapple with is obvious, but never overwhelms the narrative, which is divided surprisingly well into thematic chapters which build on each other with very little overlap. All in all, The Invisible History of the Human Race is an amazingly interesting and informative book which raises questions that I had never even thought to ask (such as ‘is there a correlation between the relative success of the present day economies of certain African countries and the number of people from these countries forced into slavery in the past?’ Answer: yes (Chapter 7). I’d highly recommend The Invisible History of the Human Race to anyone interested in genetics, genealogy, prehistory, or even the future of medical research and ethics (if you’ve seen the movie Gattaca, you’ll know what I mean).
The Invisible History of the Human Race fulfils the #female author, #non-fiction book, #author new-to-me and #book published in 2014 criteria of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.
So far I have read:
1 book by a female author
1 non-fiction book
1 book by an author who is new-to-me
1 book published in 2014 or 2015