It's All Relative: Book summary and reviews of It's All Relative by A. J. Jacobs

It's All Relative

Adventures Up and Down the World's Family Tree

by A. J. Jacobs

It's All Relative by A. J. Jacobs X
It's All Relative by A. J. Jacobs
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  • Published in USA  Nov 2017
    352 pages
    Genre: Biographies/Memoirs

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About this book

Book Summary

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 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. Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them? So began Jacobs's three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history.

Jacobs's journey would take him to all seven continents. He drank beer with a US president, found himself singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and unearthed genetic links to Hollywood actresses and real-life scoundrels. After all, we can choose our friends, but not our family.

"Whether he's posing as a celebrity, outsourcing his chores, or adhering strictly to the Bible, we love reading about the wacky lifestyle experiments of author A.J. Jacobs" (Entertainment Weekly). Now Jacobs upends, in ways both meaningful and hilarious, our understanding of genetics and genealogy, tradition and tribalism, identity and connection. It's All Relative is a fascinating look at the bonds that connect us all.

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Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Whimsical but also full of solid journalism and eye-opening revelations about the history of humanity, the book is a real treat." - Booklist

"Starred Review. Whether the author is being ruminative or rollicking, he is consistently thought-provoking in his 'adventure in helping to build the World Family Tree,' and his natural gift for humor lightens the mood of even the most serious discussion. A delightful, easy-to-read, informative book." - Kirkus

"Fans of Jacobs's previous work, as well as anyone interested in a nonacademic look into the world of genealogy and family trees, will find this account engrossing, funny, and optimistic." - Library Journal

"Esquire contributing editor Jacobs (The Year of Living Biblically) muses on the nature of family and the interconnectedness of humanity in this entertaining introduction to the world of genealogy...The result is a somewhat amusing and educational account of the science and culture of families." - Publishers Weekly

"The astonishing discoveries he makes not only reveal the compelling possibilities of genealogical and genetic research; they remind us of the common bonds that unite us as a single global family. As Jacobs's (however distant) cousin, I admit I may be biased in singing his praises, but as It's All Relative proves, who isn't?" - Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

"It's All Relative is the funniest, most thoughtful, most original and entertaining book about family that you will ever read and wish you'd written." - Mary Roach

"Jacobs again opens up to us his insightful (and hysterically bizarre) thought processes as he plots the end of hate and conflict through one massive first-of- its-kind event." - Scott Fisher, host of Extreme Genes

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Reader Reviews

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Betty Taylor

Funny but Repetitive
I read his book “The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.” I wasn’t crazy about it, nor am I for this book.

However, it does have its good points. His sense of humor is always welcome. I figure his wife Julie must have a LOT of patience. Can you imagine living with a man that comes up with these crazy ideas? In this book he tackles the World Family Tree. Never heard of it? It is a remarkable effort to unite seven billion people into one family. (Remember the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” thought?) Jacobs places emphasis on the idea that by proving we are all related perhaps we will be nicer to each other as we are all family. In the long term there is the idea that all the racial DNA mashups may reduce racism in the future.

He visits many family reunions (not his family), attends conferences, and interviews numerous people involved in genealogy and/or the World Family Tree project. He address the pros and cons of the endeavor. Early on in his project he decides to stage his own family reunion and invite all those distant “cousins” with the goal to beat the record for largest family reunion in the Guinness Book of World Records. This man does not do small projects!

I did find Chapter 15 quite interesting. He writes of how the meaning of families is changing as lifestyles change. Stepparents with step-siblings or half-siblings. Gay and trans parents. Sperm donors. Surrogate mothers. It keeps evolving. He makes the point that you can pretty much choose your own family.

The book was often repetitive (too much so) and quite dry at times. There were several chapters that I felt were not needed. It seemed as though he had to deviate into side topics to have enough material for a book.
Fortunately there are several humorous portions. All in all, I would pass on this book.

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Author Information

A. J. Jacobs Author Biography

Photo: William Pelkey

A.J. Jacobs is an author, journalist, and a lecturer. He has written a few New York Times bestsellers that combine memoir, science, humor and a dash of self-help. He is also editor-at-large at Esquire magazine, a commentator on NPR and a columnist for Mental Floss magazine. He is currently helping to build a family tree of the entire world and holding the biggest family reunion ever in 2015.

His bestsellers include The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection. He also published a collection of essays called My Life as an Experiment: One Man's Humble Quest to Improve ...

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