The Seven Daughters Of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry, by Bryan Sykes
It would not be exactly right to consider this book a science book. To be sure, the author discusses science, particularly as it relates to mitochondrial DNA, but this book is more imaginative than a straight science book would be. The author has various agendas that he is wishing to promote in this work, and in doing so he ends up providing a compelling book but one that is certainly not strictly nonfictional. And while this is not problematic, it would likely be better for the reader if one enters this book knowing that it is not only a book of reportage but a book with rhetorical aims and also a book with a fair amount of imagination. These are not bad things, especially for anyone who has taken DNA tests and wondered what stories could be hidden in the various information that is provided by such tests. This book gives imaginative discussions on that evidence, which may or may not have some basis in fact but which are highly speculative. Whether or not the reader approves of this mix of fact and speculation, always aware that the author wants to demonstrate the usefulness and legitimacy of his approach, depends as always on the reader.
This book is about 300 pages and 23 chapters. After acknowledgements and a prologue the author begins with a discussion of a story where an Italian iceman from thousands of years ago shared a close maternal connection with English people in Dorset (1). After this the author discusses DNA and what it does (2) and looks at the historical shift from blood group to DNA analysis as a way of determining links (3) while spending special time on mtDNA as a special messenger (4). The author discusses the mystery of the slain Russian Czar and his family (5) as well as the puzzle of the origin of the Polynesians (6, 7) as well as the first Europeans (8) and last Neanderthals (9) and the debate over whether Europeans are mainly descended from hunters or farmers (10). Debates over genetic theories (11) and the DNA of the Cheddar man (12) allow the author to discuss yDNA a bit and how it talks about the ancestry of paternal lines (13). The rest of the book is mostly spent on discussing the seven daughters of Eve (14) that correspond to the title, with imaginative stories about the lives of Ursula (15), Xenia (16), Helena (17), Velda (18), Tara (19), Katrine (20), and Jasmine (21), before looking briefly at the world (22) and how DNA can provide one with a sense of self (23), after which the book closes with an index.
I personally found this book amusing and enjoyable although I do not think that all of the speculations are necessarily true. It is likely that this is a fairly common response to dealing with the book, a great deal of interest in what it has to say, a certain discount in knowing that the author has a definite agenda to promote in appealing to the veracity of mitochondrial DNA as a way of determining ancestral lineages on the maternal side in the face of some scientific debate and concerns about testing equipment that led to initial inconsistent results, and that the author’s imaginations about how it was that a small number of Native American women ended up with European DNA may be very off-base. The way that the author describes the importance of someone having more than one daughter as a way of demonstrating one’s status as a founder of an mtDNA line, though, is worthwhile. It is also always interesting to see people try to borrow clout by pointing how their research provides indication that humanity really does have a very narrow range when it comes to common origin while denying the implications of universal common human descent as well.