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

This book is about A.J. Jacobs’s family. And also your family. Because it’s the same family. So as a (distant) cousin of his, you might want to check this book out.

Jacobs tells the tale of his quest to unite the entire human race in one all-encompassing family tree. Well, it’s not just his own quest. It’s a historic project involving thousands of researchers and scientists and it’s revolutionizing the way we think about race, ethnicity, history and the human species.

In this wild adventure, Jacobs travels the globe and dives deep into the genome. He attempts to convene the biggest family reunion in world history. He contemplates black sheep and bad apples. He unearths his own genealogical connections to Hollywood actresses, Civil War soldiers, and real-life scoundrels. He drinks beer with a U.S. president. He investigates new types of families, from sperm donor siblings to group marriages. He examines the legitimacy of those DNA tests that purport to reveal your ancestry. He learns about his Neanderthal great (great, great, etc.) grandfathers. He meets thousands of cousins. And he figures out his relationship to Barack Obama (it’s his fifth great aunt’s husband’s brother’s wife’s seventh great nephew).

In this era of tribalism and us-versus-them thinking, this extraordinary book is a profound exploration of what binds us all. In the words of Sister Sledge – who actually show up at Jacobs’s worldwide reunion – we are family.

How AJ came up with it.

A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the strangest: “You don’t know me, but I’m your eighth cousin. And we have over 80,000 relatives of yours in our database.” That’s enough family members to fill Madison Square Garden four times over.

It was at once alarming (did he really want more relatives?) but fascinating (could this be the ultimate social network).

Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them?