A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

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Review by John Snelson

This is possibly the best book I have ever read.

That is saying something. I am talking about the book being informative, life-changing, readable, scientific and valuable.

Some great concepts remain in my head every day.

We all came out of Africa. There is no such thing as race in DNA terms. We are all related. The only homo sapiens on the planet 100,000 years ago were in Africa. Homo Neanderthalensis had bigger brains than us. Perhaps Neanderthalis could talk. In any case some 2.5% of our blood is Neanderthal blood. As they died out say 30,000 years ago, it is hard to say how much inter-breeding there has been.

Pictures of stooped apes walking behind others to straight-backed homo sapiens are misleading. This is NOT how we evolved. Our closest living relative is a chimpanzee.

All those with a European background are likely to be descended from Charlemagne and related to, but not descended from Richard III.

If you are generally of East Asian heritage, then you probably have Genghis Khan as an ancestor.

We are all probably descended from Nefertiti and Confucious if they left children, says Rutherford.

100,000 years ago we were all African. Yes, you too. Religion is something most of us get from our parents. It is irrelevant in DNA terms. Most of it is only a few thousand years old, so nothing in DNA scales of time and evolution.

Each of us has two parents, and each of them had two parents. Go back to the 8th century and Emperor Charlemagne at say 25-30 years or so per generation, and that equals 137,438,953,472 individuals, assuming each person is unique. That would account for more people than have ever existed in total on the planet. This means that there has been a lot of inter-breeding going on, some of it inter-generational. This must be so. As Charlemagne’s descendant lines are well known, we can test living claimants and look for DNA matches.

A recent example is that relating to the Bounty Mutineers on Pitcairn Island; I know somebody who is descended from several of the mutineers. A scrutiny of the English Royal Family is also a fruitful example that show family trees imploding on themselves the further back we go.

James Chang of Yale University has built a mathematical model that shows that as there were fewer people on the plant say 1000 years ago, most of us today must have those people as our ancestors. If Europeans take back their family trees, nearly all will cross everyone else’s within 600 years. That means that everyone alive then who had children through the generations will be ancestors of everyone alive today – no matter how many children they had.

So, we English folks are descended from the Vikings – because we all are ! We are also descended from the Jews, Goths, Huns, Romans – we all are. While on the Vikings, let’s get this straight :- they did not exist 2000 years ago. There is no DNA Test for Viking ancestry, but get used to it, if you are of European descent, you do indeed have Viking ancestry. 1000 years ago, we Europeans share all of our ancestry. 3000 years ago we all share all of our ancestry with everyone on Earth.

There are some illuminating stories here too. It is very unlikely that the Danish Viking conquest of the British Isles was built on rape and pillage – because there is little DNA evidence of Danish Vikings in the current indigenous population.

For me it was a revelation to read that if you compare the DNA of two randomly selected indigenous, black Africans and two indigenous Europeans, there would be more similarity and linkages between either of the Africans and either of the Europeans, than the two Africans together.

Other blows to commonly accepted thoughts include that the Tay-Sachs Jewish syndrome does not exist.

“A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived” by Adam Rutherford. A great read indeed.