If you’ve read any of A.J. Jacobs’ bestselling books, you have an idea of what to expect from It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree. But if you haven’t, then, you’re in for a treat. Jacobs has established a brand by immersing himself in his subjects. There was the time he read the encyclopedia (The Know-It-All) and the time he took every command in the Bible literally (The Year of Living Biblically). He’s also applied that sort of immersive reporting as a writer for Esquire and as the host of the podcast Twice Removed. Jacobs doesn’t do things halfway.
That’s again the case in It’s All Relative, as he turns his attention to genealogy. It started with an email: “You don’t know me, but you are an eighth cousin of my wife, who, in my opinion, is a fine lady.” This email from Jules Feldman introduces Jacobs to the concept of a worldwide family tree—and, in typical Jacobs fashion, he goes all in.
Jacobs decides to organize the world’s largest family reunion. At some point we’re all related, right? And perhaps seeing one another as family could improve the way we treat strangers. You wouldn’t cuss at your fourteenth cousin twice removed in the carpool line, would you?
It’s an ambitious goal, and one that results in a romp through genealogical history and insight. Readers will meet y-Chromosomal Adam and Mitochondrial Eve, who weren’t the Earth’s original inhabitants but are those from whom we can trace our origins. They likely didn’t know each other, but their DNA has separately survived the centuries. They’re our eight-thousandth-great grandparents, so to speak.
Readers will delight in Jacobs’ other discoveries, such as his relationship to George H.W. Bush, and his uncertain approach to organizing the world’s largest family reunion. It’s All Relative is another installment in Jacobs’ brand of learning, with a lot of laughter along the way.