It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree

It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree

New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs undergoes a hilarious, heartfelt quest to understand what constitutes family—where it begins and how far it goes—and attempts to untangle the true meaning of the “Family of Humankind.”A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the...

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Title:It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree
Author:A.J. Jacobs
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It's All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree Reviews

  • Benjamin Thomas

    For those readers like me who have experienced an AJ Jacobs book before, we know that he has a seriously curious mind. And he doesn’t think small. This time around, he has been thinking of his own ancestors and the concept of the World Family Tree (i.e. that we are all, in essence “cousins” descended from a scientific Adam and Eve known as the “Y-Chromosomal Adam” and the “Mitochondrial Eve”). And, of course, Mr. Jacobs dreams up a project to dwarf anything a rational human being might think of:

    For those readers like me who have experienced an AJ Jacobs book before, we know that he has a seriously curious mind. And he doesn’t think small. This time around, he has been thinking of his own ancestors and the concept of the World Family Tree (i.e. that we are all, in essence “cousins” descended from a scientific Adam and Eve known as the “Y-Chromosomal Adam” and the “Mitochondrial Eve”). And, of course, Mr. Jacobs dreams up a project to dwarf anything a rational human being might think of: coordinating a family reunion that breaks the Guinness World Record for most attendees. It would be a project that would take over a year to pull off and would become known as the Global Family Reunion.

    That’s the setup, but as always, AJ Jacobs provides us with far more insightful observations on human nature and in this case, the very nature of what constitutes a “family”. The author counts down the weeks until the big reunion by sharing numerous anecdotes from his own family and others who he encounters during his search along the branches of the tree. He examines such topics as family feuds, immigrants to the US, our Neanderthal cousins, and the many forms of genealogy. He does not shy away from the controversial aspects of genealogy, such as privacy, and presents all sides fairly.

    I’m afraid I’m making this sound like a textbook of some kind but nothing could be further from the truth. While I certainly learned a lot about the inter-relationships of human beings, this is a really fun book to read. AJ Jacobs is a humorist and his prose is downright funny. He is a sort of everyman who is very observant and also humble when it comes to his own charm. What he achieved with his Global Family Reunion (with the help of hundreds of assistants) was pretty amazing but the truths about ourselves which he discovers and relates along the way are truly inspiring.

    This book comes along at a great time. We humans seem to be more divided than ever into our little cliques and tribes based on our differences and often, it is our leadership that is throwing fuel on the fire. To read a book wherein we can take pride in our individual cultural histories but realize just how similar we all are is to find hope for the future.

  • Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance

    I have loved everything A. J. Jacobs has written so far, and I'm happy to say that I loved his new book, It's All Relative, too. Jacobs takes on huge personal projects in his writing. This time, he takes on genealogy. He does all the DNA tests, and researches his family members from the past, and decides to put on a huge family reunion. Everything he does makes me laugh, and laugh out loud, and it takes something good to have me laughing out loud. It's All Relative is something good.

  • Wanda

    I would call this a book about genealogy for people who aren’t really all that interested in the subject. It is genealogy lite. Which is not to say that it isn’t a good book or that I didn’t like it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

    I’ve been doing genealogy since I was a teenager and discovered our family Bible, with my great-grandfather’s handwritten records of the family in it. It’s huge & heavy and he bought it from someone in a California train station for 25 cents back in the day. He was a lu

    I would call this a book about genealogy for people who aren’t really all that interested in the subject. It is genealogy lite. Which is not to say that it isn’t a good book or that I didn’t like it. I enjoyed it a great deal.

    I’ve been doing genealogy since I was a teenager and discovered our family Bible, with my great-grandfather’s handwritten records of the family in it. It’s huge & heavy and he bought it from someone in a California train station for 25 cents back in the day. He was a lumberman and his family lived in New Brunswick (and he got migraines—he’s who I blame my headaches on!).

    Maybe not the most exciting of stories, but you find all kinds of interesting tales when you start investigating. I haven’t made time for this pursuit for years, but reading this book has encouraged me to get thinking about it again.

    I had read in a genealogy book that if you have European heritage, the very furthest apart you can be related to others with similar ties is 10th cousin. Jacobs’ research takes things a step farther: the farthest apart you can be related to anyone on Earth is 70th cousins. Start singing Kumbaya, folks, because we really do belong to the Family of Humankind.

    The strange thing is, we do have a bias for treating our family just a little better than others—cutting them some slack when they do things that we don’t understand, for example. What better way is there to increase the kindness quotient in the world than to realize that we are all relatives and all deserve that kind of treatment.

    Pie in the sky, I know, but both the author & I wish that it could come true.

  • Jenna

    Disclaimer: I first need to say that the fact the author and I are cousins in no way influenced me to give this book a good review. (If you don't believe we're related, read the book and find out!)

    I don't care what anyone says, it

    be good to judge a book by its cover. I opened this book thinking it was predominately a book about evolutionary biology and how all living things are connected; that's what I surmised from the cover. However, if I'd known it was instead predominately an accounting

    Disclaimer: I first need to say that the fact the author and I are cousins in no way influenced me to give this book a good review. (If you don't believe we're related, read the book and find out!)

    I don't care what anyone says, it

    be good to judge a book by its cover. I opened this book thinking it was predominately a book about evolutionary biology and how all living things are connected; that's what I surmised from the cover. However, if I'd known it was instead predominately an accounting of one man's decision to learn more about genealogy and also to host the world's biggest family reunion, I highly doubt I would have read it. Therefore, I'm quite pleased I judged a book merely by what I saw on its cover, that I didn't open to the inner jacket and read the blurb to get more information before deciding whether or not to read it. I think we should strive to not judge other people by appearances, but I for one usually do judge books by their covers. Maybe that's good; maybe that's bad. Whatever the case, it's what I often do. (Note to publishers: Ditch the ugly, unappealing covers. You lose readers that way, at least when it comes to physical format books.)

    is such a fun and funny writer that I quickly devoured the book. No, there's not quite as many scientific facts as I'd expected, but that's OK because it was still highly entertaining, and I did learn a few things. For instance, a recent analysis by an MIT computer scientist showed that

    is no further away on our family tree than

    ! Now this kind of information I love! It's partly what endeared me to Mr. Jacobs; his goal is to bring the world closer together, let us see that we're all related and should drop the "Us vs. Them" tribal mentality that so many people still have. We're all human beings and we're all family, so let's just stop killing each other and ostracisizing each other. Let's try to get along for once in our history.

    Much of the book concerns the author's closest family and ancestors and thus I would have thought I'd find it a bit tedious. This was not the case, however, as he is so full of wit that he had me laughing much of the time. It's a fun and different sort of book to read and I recommend it especially to anyone interested in genealogy.

  • Angel Hench

    This book was interesting and amusing in some places, but I didn't get the sense that this was an A.J. Jacobs' usual in-depth ultra-obsessed project book. This felt more like A.J. Jacobs-lite. It did get me looking into my family history, which I'm thankful for. I've learned that my great-grandmother's second marriage was to a man almost 15 years her junior (go, grandma!) and my maternal grandmother's family was probably Amish. So, if you are interested in genealogy at all, you will enjoy this b

    This book was interesting and amusing in some places, but I didn't get the sense that this was an A.J. Jacobs' usual in-depth ultra-obsessed project book. This felt more like A.J. Jacobs-lite. It did get me looking into my family history, which I'm thankful for. I've learned that my great-grandmother's second marriage was to a man almost 15 years her junior (go, grandma!) and my maternal grandmother's family was probably Amish. So, if you are interested in genealogy at all, you will enjoy this book. If not, you will probably just give it a huge shoulder-shrug.

  • Beth Jusino

    Meh.

    This would have been better if it spent more time exploring genetics, family trees, and human connections, and less time complaining about party planning.

  • fortuna.spinning

    I love AJ Jacobs but this wasn’t quite as strong as his other experimental ventures. I thought the idea of a global family reunion was pretty ridiculous, but the genealogy bits were interesting, and as always, his writing was very witty and fun. I know next to nothing about my family history so this might just inspire me to do some research.

  • Melki

    This is one I picked up solely because of the author. I have no real interest in genealogy, but I'm ALWAYS interested in a new book by

    . His books are packed with fascinating facts and tidbits. This one, however, is on a more personal level, and much of the information is about A.J.'s relatives. He has some fun tales to tell, but I'm willing to bet most of us have stories of immigrants and wartime heroes hovering in our backgrounds just waiting to be discovered.

    And that, I suppose, is

    This is one I picked up solely because of the author. I have no real interest in genealogy, but I'm ALWAYS interested in a new book by

    . His books are packed with fascinating facts and tidbits. This one, however, is on a more personal level, and much of the information is about A.J.'s relatives. He has some fun tales to tell, but I'm willing to bet most of us have stories of immigrants and wartime heroes hovering in our backgrounds just waiting to be discovered.

    And that, I suppose, is the point of all this - encouraging readers to delve into their own pasts to see what sort of knotholes and nuts populate our own family trees. His appendix (okay - the book's appendix, NOT A.J.'s) offers hints for getting started on your own genealogical quest. I was mildly curious, so I thought I might give it a try. One of the best methods is, of course, talking to living relatives. I'm pretty much out of luck when it comes to that - I've got one elderly aunt and eight cousins . . . none of whom I'd consider friends. So, I headed to one of the free sites - familysearch.org. I only tried my father's side of the family, as I was curious to see the origins of my last name. Alas, the list only went back as far as my great, great grandfather - Elias Barrick. However . . . Elias's

    line went the whole way back to Clement Zahn in 1485 Germany and, okay . . . I can see how people get hooked on genealogy. The weirdest thing was after I found this out yesterday, I was inexplicably,

    happy, as if I had suddenly just proven my own existence.

    You know, I might just reach out to my cousin Frances; she's a genealogy buff, and she might know the name of Elias's father. How do you like that? I could get to know one of my actual living relatives thanks to this book.

    But, I'm still only giving it three stars. Sorry, A.J. You set the bar pretty high with your other books, and this one just doesn't measure up. But when your next one comes out, you'd better believe I'll buy it. That's what cousins do, right?

  • Carol

    Not what I was expecting and didn't find it that funny.

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