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It's All Relative: Adventures Up and…

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

by A. J. Jacobs

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193537,190 (3.58)4



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I love reading about the journeys that A.J. Jacobs takes in his books. Whether it be a journey through the voluminous knowledge contained in the Encyclopedia Britannica, or a spiritual journey through many of the world’s religions or a personal health and fitness journey – the way he embraces new things, explores new ideas and pushes himself to consistently expand his world view is fascinating. And through it all – he keeps the reader engaged…and laughing.
This is true again in his latest book – “It’s All Relative” bout a search through his own and the world’s family tree. He starts the book and his quest with an expert in the field – Randy Schoenberg (famously known now also for the being the lawyer that helped a woman get back family paintings from the Nazi’s – the basis for the movie “Woman in Gold”.)

“So you’re interested in genealogy?” Randy says, when I call him for advice a few days later. “I warn you. It’s addictive.” I tell him I can handle it. “Randy explains to me that this is the most thrilling time in the history of genealogy. Which may sound a little like saying we’re in the sexiest era of professional bowling.”

Humor aside – I always learn a great deal from Jacobs’ books. Like this:

“I’d always thought Neanderthals were a primitive form of Homo sapiens. I figured they eventually evolved into us. That’s not the case. Neanderthals were an entirely different human species. Homo sapiens and Neanderthals are like foxes and wolves – related but distinct.”

The most interesting aspect of the book for me was the struggle Jacobs had in defining “family”. Is family the nuclear one we are born/adopted into? Is it the family we choose to surround ourselves with? (As writer Armistead Maupin defines them – the “biological” and the “logical family”.) And how far out does that family go? Back to the beginning of humankind – we are all related? Or is there value in our clans – the people we are closest to? And what brings people together the most? Being defined as part of a specific group and building those bonds? Or losing all boundaries and embracing everyone as a relative? His musings on these definitions and descriptions is fascinating and makes for an excellent and beautiful story.

“I know cemeteries can be beautiful, poignant, and sacred places for many people. But it’s become clear to me: What affects me emotionally isn’t seeing the ground where my ancestors’ bones lie. It’s hearing their tales, seeing their images, reading their words.” His words add to these voices in a poignant and touching way. ( )
  karieh | Oct 9, 2017 |
This book was interesting and amusing in some places, but I didn't get the sense that this was an A.J. Jacobs' usual in-depth ultra-obsessed project book. This felt more like A.J. Jacobs-lite. It did get me looking into my family history, which I'm thankful for. I've learned that my great-grandmother's second marriage was to a man almost 15 years her junior (go, grandma!) and my maternal grandmother's family was probably Amish. So, if you are interested in genealogy at all, you will enjoy this book. If not, you will probably just give it a huge shoulder-shrug.

(A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.) ( )
  ouroborosangel | Aug 29, 2017 |
A very fun look at what constitutes family and how it has changed over time. As someone who does genealogy research on my own family I really enjoyed the author's experiences as he traced his family. A great primer for anyone thinking of doing their own genealogy research to show the highs and lows of what can be a rewarding and frustrating hobby. ( )
  JJbooklvr | Aug 17, 2017 |
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