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AJ Jacobs recommends

Your distant cousin shares further reading on how we're all related, and what that means for the future of humanity.

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    Ancestors and Relatives

    Eviatar Zerubavel
    Oxford University Press, 2012

    The very first question in this book sets the thought-provoking tone: 'Why do we consider Barack Obama a black man with a white mother rather than a white man with a black father?' Rutgers anthropologist Eviatar Zerubavel shows us that our ideas about ancestry are shaped by cognitive biases that we often don’t acknowledge.

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    Family Trees

    Francois Weil
    Harvard University Press, 2013

    Weil, a French-born historian, takes us through America’s obsession with ancestry, from colonial to current times. Genealogy had a rocky start in the United States: After the Revolutionary War, it was seen with some skepticism because it was linked to aristocratic strivers. This was at odds with the 'future-oriented egalitarianism' of early America.

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    The Family: A World History

    Mary Jo Maynes and Ann Waltner
    Oxford University Press, 2012

    This book argues against the idea that any particular family arrangement is 'natural,' saying that polygamy, intermarriage and arranged marriage have all been the norm or outside the norm, depending on the era. We also get a survey of women’s roles in family, which have ranged from near-equal to not equal at all, as in the Bible or in the Laws of Manu from first-century CE India, which say 'A virtuous wife should constantly serve her husband like a god, even if he behaves badly, freely indulges his lust and is devoid of any good qualities.'

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    The Seven Daughters of Eve

    Bryan Sykes
    W.W. Norton and Company, 2002

    This book is more than a decade old, but it’s still a great tale about DNA and family. Sykes, a professor of genetics at Oxford, worked on decoding the mitochondrial DNA of Iceman, a 5,000-year-old corpse discovered by hikers in Northern Italy. He’s able to trace Iceman’s genes to modern Europeans, including a management consultant in Dorset, England, who became an ancestral superstar in the media.

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    Sweet and Low

    Rich Cohen
    Picador, 2007

    There are so many remarkable family memoirs, it was hard to choose one, but this book stays with me years after reading it. It’s by Rich Cohen, who also wrote Tough Jews, and tells the tale of his Brooklyn family, whose patriarch made a fortune by inventing the artificial sugar Sweet'N Low. But then things got Shakespearean. Squabbles, envy and outsized characters, including Rich’s uncle, who told Rich, 'If there is a heaven and a hell, your brother is not going to heaven.' Not even the Global Family Reunion would be able to bring these two together.