Steve Olson’s 2002 book Mapping Human History:Discovering the Past Through Our Genes was one of those books that hung around in my “to read” pile for way too long before I finally picked it up and gave it a chance. While there are things about Olson’s book I liked and for the life of me I can’t remember anything about his book that I strongly disliked, overall I thought his book was good, but not great.
Olson, a science writer with past associations with the National Academy of Sciences, the White House Office of Science and Technology as well as the Institute for Genetic Research, has written a genetic history starting with humankind’s migration from Africa to the Middle East and Europe and ending with the settlement of the Americas and Polynesia. Since we’re dealing with an incredibly ancient story spread across a vast global canvas, debate still rages concerning the advantages the invention of language and agriculture might have given early humans as they fanned out across the globe. Debates abound as well concerning our distant cousins the Neandertals and the extent of our interaction with them not to mention the reason or reasons for their ultimate demise. Lastly, while all scientists acknowledge the Americas was settled by groups from central and east Asia, the exact time period, route and number of those migrations is bitterly contested with none of this made any clearer after the discovery of European genetic markers in some Native American DNA samples implying an additional settlement route to the Americas.
Perhaps one area where there is considerably less debate is our overall kinship as a species. While at first glance, yes there can be “racial” differences in appearance based on what part of the world one’s ancestors originated, but genetically speaking our similarities are far, far greater than any of differences. And if you go back far enough, we’re all related to each other.