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A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

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A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived

The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes


15 min read
7 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

The lens of modern genetics offers a compelling history of humankind.

Editorial Rating



  • Innovative
  • Scientific
  • Eye Opening


In telling the history of humankind through the relatively new lens of genetics and genomic sequencing, Adam Rutherford offers an original, compelling explanation of a complex science. Rutherford’s bona fides as a geneticist and science writer provide great credibility. This, combined with his balanced, hype-free exploration of what genes and DNA reveal about humans – past, present and future – should delight everyone, whether you’re a science newbie or an experienced genetics researcher.


Some 107 billion modern humans have lived on Earth over the past 300,000 years. Most share a near identical set of DNA, yet each person is unique.

You are nearly identical to every other person living or dead and are unique in the history of the universe. Ninety-seven percent of your genome – 23 chromosomes and three billion letters of DNA – comes from a random shuffling of your parents’ genomes, and theirs from a shuffling of their parents. This “recombination” means that no one has had or will ever have your exact genome. Even the DNA in identical twins differs by the time they are born.

You receive matching chromosomes from your parents to ensure redundancy. If you get a bad gene from your mother, the matching gene from your father overrides it. In many royal families – for example, the European Hapsburgs – centuries of inbreeding reduced this redundancy. Both sets of genes became flawed. Toward the end of their 20-year dynasty, half the Hapsburg children died by age 10 – a rate many times that of their contemporaries. Those who survived childhood, like King Charles II of Spain, suffered physical and mental ailments, including ...

About the Author

One of the world’s foremost science writers and speakers, Adam Rutherford earned a PhD in genetics from the University College of London.

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