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.

  • Linda

    Who could get me to read an entire book about genealogy, without holding me hostage and/or threatening bodily harm? The list is very short, and A.J. Jacobs’ name is right at the top.

    He admits that it’s a topic he became interested in only after he had kids, and became old enough to start contemplating his own mortality. He also admits that it’s one of the most narcissistic pursuits ever. I like honesty in a person.

    He outlines the ways that genealogy has been used for less than noble purposes,

    Who could get me to read an entire book about genealogy, without holding me hostage and/or threatening bodily harm? The list is very short, and A.J. Jacobs’ name is right at the top.

    He admits that it’s a topic he became interested in only after he had kids, and became old enough to start contemplating his own mortality. He also admits that it’s one of the most narcissistic pursuits ever. I like honesty in a person.

    He outlines the ways that genealogy has been used for less than noble purposes, then starts planning the world’s largest family reunion, in hope that the event will bring people together. The theory is that we look more favorably upon people who are related to us, so if we think of everyone on earth as a cousin, then we’ll all be nicer to each other. Nice theory. Humans being what they are, it doesn’t work perfectly in practice.

    There were many laugh out loud moments in the book: the chapter about a group advocating first cousin marriage (all together now: ewwwwwwww!), A. J. going to lunch with Barbara and George H.W. Bush, A. J. learning that not all the members of Sister Sledge will be performing “We are Family” at the reunion because some members are no longer speaking to others, A. J. opening for Donny Osmond… There’s also plenty of good information for anyone truly interested in genealogy. I had no idea the global tree movement had gained as much popularity as it has.

    As little interest as I have in the subject, I admit that plugging my name in to a global tree website to see how distantly I’m related to the famous and infamous is intriguing. Recommended for anyone with an interest in the subject, or who enjoys a good laugh.

  • Randee

    Did you know that we share an estimated 99.9% of DNA with each other? Did you know that most homo sapiens have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA? Or an atom of Beethoven's? How about that we share 88% of the same DNA with mice?

    If information like this fascinates you, you'll like the writings of A.J. Jacobs. I read his first book 'Know It All' when it came out. It was his account of reading his way through the encyclopedia. I have never read an entire encyclopedia, but I have picked one up m

    Did you know that we share an estimated 99.9% of DNA with each other? Did you know that most homo sapiens have a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA? Or an atom of Beethoven's? How about that we share 88% of the same DNA with mice?

    If information like this fascinates you, you'll like the writings of A.J. Jacobs. I read his first book 'Know It All' when it came out. It was his account of reading his way through the encyclopedia. I have never read an entire encyclopedia, but I have picked one up many times and browsed for hours. I also read 'The Year of Living Biblically" and although I would not want to even try it for a day, I found it interesting to read about the challenges he faced.

    This new book is about genealogy, his own and in general plus his year of planning a World Tree Family Reunion with thousands of his relatives. His conjecture is that if we all feel more connected to one another because we are related if you go back far enough, we will treat each other more kindly, etc. Every once in a while, I feel that I was born into the wrong species and planet, but in reality, it's only a matter of mathematics that if any one person goes back far enough, they will find relatives in common with virtually anyone. Knowing that I am marginally related to everyone on the planet is interesting, but I'm not sure that it makes me feel more inclusive. Nonetheless, I found the book to be entertaining and I shall try to remember the next time I feel like directing my vitriolic tongue at a person who has annoyed me, I shall remind myself they are a relative and will try to show some restraint.

  • Caryn

    I became a fan of AJ Jacobs after finishing his first book, The Know-it-All. He expertly is able to combine humor with factual info and make a subject you wouldn’t expect to find entertaining, well, entertaining.

    His newest book starts with the idea that we are all related. It’s so timely, given the popularity of sites like Ancestry.com and mail-in DNA kits.

    This book gives us some examples of his family history, but it also covers genealogical connections to presidents, celebrities, and scientist

    I became a fan of AJ Jacobs after finishing his first book, The Know-it-All. He expertly is able to combine humor with factual info and make a subject you wouldn’t expect to find entertaining, well, entertaining.

    His newest book starts with the idea that we are all related. It’s so timely, given the popularity of sites like Ancestry.com and mail-in DNA kits.

    This book gives us some examples of his family history, but it also covers genealogical connections to presidents, celebrities, and scientists. Aside from his own family, we get snippets of how the family tree works in other families, in some cases surprising and fascinating. I was often quoting snippets out loud to my husband as I was reading. It’s Jacobs’ humor that propels the narrative and makes you want to keep reading.

    I look forward to the subject matter he chooses to explore next. My thanks to the publisher for a copy in exchange for an honest review.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Alex O'Brien

    An interesting and funny account of Jacobs' efforts to research his ancestors, prepare a global family tree, and stage the world's biggest reunion. The book is well-written and will serve as a good guide for budding genealogists, but it's not as deep in content as Jacobs' previous works and I found the ending-his description of the actual reunion-a bit of a let-down. Unfortunately, Jacobs only touches on this event which the whole book had been building up to.

  • Scottsdale Public Library

    A.J. relates (pun totally intended!) his journey of finding his and the worlds’ proverbial and literal, shallow and deep family roots in

    An Israeli dairy farmer sends an e-mail to A.J. stating how he is a distant relative. Concerns only slightly aside, A.J. does some of his notoriously in depth research (Did you know that you and I are at most seventieth cousins?! … Probably. ) to find out more about how to begin a genealogy sear

    A.J. relates (pun totally intended!) his journey of finding his and the worlds’ proverbial and literal, shallow and deep family roots in

    An Israeli dairy farmer sends an e-mail to A.J. stating how he is a distant relative. Concerns only slightly aside, A.J. does some of his notoriously in depth research (Did you know that you and I are at most seventieth cousins?! … Probably. ) to find out more about how to begin a genealogy search and connect family trees to fulfill a sense of belonging. This naturally leads to the planning and hosting a massive Global Family Reunion, inviting cousins and cousin’s cousins and not even related to you cousins, to hopefully break a Guinness World Record and demonstrate global, communal and familial unity. As a self-professed genealogy nerd, I adored A.J.’s wit, research and depiction of his journey toward finding his ancestors and attempt to create an obscenely large event without the mention of anti-anxiety medication. - Sara G.

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