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Who We Are and How We Got Here

Ancient DNA and the new science of the human past

David Reich

March 2018

ISBN: 9780198821250

368 pages

In Stock

Price: £20.00

David Reich describes how the revolution in the ability to sequence ancient DNA has changed our understanding of the deep human past. This book tells the emerging story of our often surprising ancestry - the extraordinary ancient migrations and mixtures of populations that have made us who we are.



David Reich describes how the revolution in the ability to sequence ancient DNA has changed our understanding of the deep human past. This book tells the emerging story of our often surprising ancestry - the extraordinary ancient migrations and mixtures of populations that have made us who we are.

  • A gripping account, from the head of a world-leading lab, of the picture of human history and ancestry emerging from the revolution in the study of ancient DNA.
  • Describes the evidence for ancient migrations and ghosts of long-lost populations, now revealed through comparing the genomes of ancient modern humans, archaic humans, and present-day populations.
  • Considers what the latest research tells us about the often surprising ancestry of the people who now inhabit Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas.
  • Shows how there are no 'pure' races: all modern human populations are mixtures of more ancient ones.
  • Shares new insights into how human populations spread across the world, and makes a compelling argument that ancient DNA is fundamentally changing our picture of who we are.

About the Author(s)

David Reich, Professor of Genetics

David Reich is a Professor of Genetics at Harvard University and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. In 2015 he was highlighted by Nature magazine as one of "10 people who matter" in all of science for his role in transforming the field of ancient DNA "from niche pursuit to industrial process." In 2017 he was awarded the Dan David Prize in the Archaeological and Natural Sciences for the computational discovery of intermixing between Neanderthals and modern humans.

Table of Contents

    Part I - The Deep History of Our Species
    1:How the Genome Explains Who We Are
    2:Interbreeding with Neanderthals
    3:Ancient DNA Opens the Floodgates
    Part II - How We Got to Where We Are Today
    4:Humanity's Ghosts
    5:The Making of Modern Europe
    6:The Collision that Formed India
    7:In Search of American Ancestors
    8:The Genomic Origins of East Asians
    9:Rejoining Africa to the Human Story
    Part III -The Disruptive Genome
    10:The Genomics of Inequality
    11:The Genomics of Race and Identity
    12:The Future of Ancient DNA


"A wonderfully illuminating exposition of how advances in reading ancient DNA have upended our ideas about past population movements and human interaction." - Paul Collier, Books of the Year 2018, The Times Literary Supplement

"Hugely impressive." - Robin McKie, Books of the Year 2018: Science, The Observer

"Remarkable ... Spectacular ... In making constant new discoveries about humanity, Reich and his Harvard team are now plunging into uncharted academic waters ... Reich's influence in this field has been immense and the output of his department monumental ... Thrilling in its clarity and its scope." - Peter Forbes, The Guardian

"This is a compendious book ... its importance cannot be overstated and neither can some of its best stories." - Bryan Appleyard, The Sunday Times

"A thrilling account of mapping humans through time and place ... Reich gives us a window into what ancient DNA can tell us about human evolution, the peopling of the world, continent by continent, and the population mixing that makes us who we are today." - Turi King, Nature

"Few subjects fascinate us as much as human origins ... If you want to understand our origins over the course of the last 100,000 years, this book will be the best up-to-date account for you." - Jared Diamond, New York Times Book Review

"The conclusions of this book are reassuringly complex and nuanced. But they are no less approachable, no less captivating for that. Indeed, the result is to bring prehistory almost disarmingly close. He brings whole societies from that past vividly to life." - Harry de Quetteville, The Daily Telegraph

"Gives the first comprehensive account of this newly revealed prehistory ... an astonishing book." - Juliet Sam, The Daily Telegraph

"Reich has produced an invaluable resource that is likely to become an enduring intellectual touchstone." - Tom Booth, British Archaeology

"Who We Are and How We Got Here provides a marvellous synthesis of the field." - Clive Cookson, The Financial Times

"Geneticists such as Reich have shown [...] that the human world has been made by people who move. This is an important lesson in a time when migration and mobility, in both reality and perception, play such a significant role." - Robert Foley, The Times Literary Supplement

"In this comprehensive and provocative book, David Reich exhumes and examines fundamental questions about our origin and future using powerful evidence from human genetics. What does "race" mean in 2018? How alike and how unlike are we? What does identity mean? Reich's book is sobering and clear-eyed, and, in equal part, thrilling and thought provoking. There were times that I had to stand up and clear my thoughts to continue reading this astonishing and important book." - Siddhartha Mukherjee, author of The Emperor of All Maladies

"The breakthrough that all archaeologists have been waiting for; a truly exciting account of the way in which ancient DNA is making us rethink prehistory. Essential reading for everyone interested in the past." - Barry Cunliffe, author of The Ancient Celts

"David Reich uses the power of modern genome analysis to show the fascinating complexity of human migration and history. By letting the data lead him, he treads a narrow path between racists and xenophobes on one side and left-wing ideologues on the other. Although many of his conclusions will be controversial, he starts a necessary conversation about what modern genome analysis can tell us about the variability of human populations." - Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, Nobel Laureate and President of the Royal Society, London

"This riveting book will blow you away with its rich and astounding account of where we came from and why that matters. Reich tells the surprising story of how humans got to every corner of the planet, which was revealed only after he and other scientists unlocked the secrets of ancient DNA. The courageous, compassionate and highly personal climax will transform how you think about the meaning of ancestry and race." - Daniel E. Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and author of The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health and Disease

"Who We Are and How We Got Here dramatically revises our understanding of the deep history of our species in our African homeland and beyond. Reich's beautifully written book reads like a detective novel and demonstrates a hard truth that often makes many of us uncomfortable: not only are all human beings mixed, but our intuitive understanding of the evolution of the population structure of the world around us is not to be trusted." - Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Professor of Literature at Harvard University and Executive Producer of "Finding Your Roots"

"In just five years the study of ancient DNA has transformed our understanding of world prehistory. The geneticist David Reich, one of the pioneers in this field, here gives the brilliantly lucid first account of the resulting new view of human origins and of the later dispersals which went on to shape the modern world." - Colin Renfrew, Emeritus Disney Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge

"This book will revolutionize our understanding of human prehistory. David Reich sheds new light on our past from the vantage of a sparkling new discipline-the analysis of ancient DNA. He places migration in the limelight, demonstrating that humans did not just evolve, they spread, often on dramatic scales." - Peter Bellwood, Professor of Archaeology at Australian National University

"Reich's book isn't just a collection of stories about the histories of human populations. It is a fascinating case study of scientific revolution ... Reich also has interesting things to say about the way his discipline has over the years been caught up in politics." - Steven Mithen, The London Review of Books

"Whole genome mapping hasn't just revolutionised our world, it has helped us rethink our past." - Simon Ings & Liz Else, New Scientist

"A hugely important book and essential reading." - Edward Biddulph, Current Archaeology

"The Harvard professor [Reich], who is 43, was recently highlighted by the journal Nature as one of 10 people who mattered in all of science for his role in transforming the field of ancient DNA from "niche pursuit to industrial process"." - Paul Rincon, BBC News

"The work in [Reich's] lab has reshaped our understanding of human prehistory ... He and his colleagues have shed light on the peopling of the planet and the spread of agriculture, among other momentous events." - Carl Zimmer, The New York Times

"Reich's intellectual curiosity and passion for research shine through every page of his book ... This book is required reading for everyone interested in an up-to-date account of the spellbinding story of human prehistory." - Debbie Kennett, Who Do You Think You Are?

"I learned a good deal from this book, and I encourage others to do the same." - Bernard Wood, Current Biology

"It is an incredibly exciting overview of a revolution in the making." - Leon Vlieger, The Inquisitive Biologist

"Who We Are and How We Got Here is both comprehensive and exceptionally well-written ... [a] vast global scope as well as its myriad of fascinating details." - Richard Milner, Minerva

"Introduces us to the 21st-century Rosetta Stone: ancient DNA, which will do more for our understanding of prehistory than radiocarbon dating did ... Who We Are and How We Got Here is less than 300 pages of text, but it is packed with startling facts and novel revelations that overturn the conventional expectations of both science and common sense." - The National Review

"Professor David Reich of Harvard Medical School [...] is not a disinterested observer of a fast-developing field; he is a participant and, in fact, a driver, of the ancient DNA revolution and it is his and his team's research that has accomplished much of the reshaping of human history. So this book has the feel of a first-hand account from the trenches that also carries with it a high-level perspective of what is going on where and why." - Tony Joseph, The Hindu

"David Reich's magisterial book is a riveting account of human pre-history and history, through the new lens provided by ancient DNA data. The story of human populations, as he shows, is ever one of widespread, repeated mixing, debunking the fiction of a "pure" population." - Molly Przeworski, Professor of Biological Sciences at Columbia University

"Powerful writing and extraordinary insights animate this endlessly fascinating account, by a world scientific leader, of who we modern humans are and how our ancestors arrived in the diverse corners of the world. I could not put the book down." - Robert Weinberg, Professor of Cancer Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

"Reich's book reads like notes from the frontline of the 'Ancient DNA Revolution' with all the spellbinding drama and intrigue that comes with such a huge transformation in our understanding of human history." - Anne Wojcicki, Chief Executive Officer and Co-Founder of 23andMe

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