Following is the third of Angela Long’s book reviews from the 2015 Stella Prize shortlist. Follow Angela on Twitter as she tweets her reading progress! See the full longlist here.

  • Title: The Invisible History of the Human Race 
  • Author: Christine Kenneally
  • Category: Sociology
  • Publisher: 2014 Black Inc Books 
    Review by Angela Long for Welcome to my Library

Summary: 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 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.

Review: When someone says ‘Where are you from?’ what do you answer?

We might say the town we live in; the country we were born in; or the cultural origins of our parents or grandparents. But where did we really come from? Christine Kenneally explores this question in The Invisible History of the Human Race, where Genealogy meets Biology. From what makes up our own individual blueprint, to the origins of our ancestors; it’s there in our DNA, and the journey it has taken to reach us, is in effect, the history of the human race. It has been shaped by selection, individual choice and events of major historical significance and in the end it reaches us, completely unique but at the same time not that different.

From ancient Greek times it was said that ‘like begets like’ and this rule was used to pass specific traits on from one animal to another, but it wasn’t until the 1700’s that the modern study of genetics really started to pick up pace.

From the Czech monk, Gregor Mendel, to Charles Darwin, and the lesser known Madison Grant, each shaped our understanding of how we became who we were and what qualities, features and traits were passed on to future generations.

Kenneally takes us on a fascinating journey through the scientific based research of the world of segments, chromosomes and genomes and how this can be used for everything from filling gaps in our personal family trees, through to finding cures for some of the most debilitating hereditary diseases such as Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s. But this isn’t a chemistry, or biology tome that we would dully drag out at school and learn by wrote. In the Invisible History, Kenneally looks beyond the science and through to the impact of social beliefs and actions, and how these too have determined who we are on that very same string of DNA.

“DNA can shape how we feel, how we behave, and what we look like, and of course, all these qualities can shape how people treat us”

From the natural bottlenecks of historical migration and disease, to the systematic purging of hundreds of thousands of people in worldwide events of genocide, each has imprinted a geographical overlay on our genetic diversity. This imprint can be seen in our surnames; whom we choose as partners; where we live; and how we identify culturally and racially.

Today the history of the past is more relevant than ever before and the collection, storage and use of this information fraught with social and moral implications. Christine Kenneally has taken an enormous and heavy subject, and made it accessible and fascinating. Before I was half way through I couldn’t wait to start pulling apart my own DNA and discovering the knowledge locked inside.

Buy this book: Black Inc BooksBooktopia, Bookworld or download from iBooks or Amazon.

Read all Welcome To My Library Book Reviews HERE


InvisibleAuthorPhotoBlogAuthor Bio: Christine Kenneally is an award-winning journalist and author who has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Slate, Time magazine, New Scientist, The Monthly, and other publications. She is the author of The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. She currently lives in Melbourne

For more information about Christine Kenneally please see her website or her publisher Black Inc Books

aww-badge-2015This book has been read and reviewed by Angela Long for WTML for the 2015 Australian Women Writers challenge. To read more about the challenge see their website

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