The Invisible History of the Human Race

By Christine Kenneally Black Inc.

We are doomed to repeat history if we fail to learn from it, but how are we affected by the forces that are invisible to us?

What role does Neanderthal DNA play in our genetic makeup? How did the theory of eugenics embraced by Nazi Germany first develop? How is trust passed down in Africa, and silence inherited in Tasmania? How are private companies like uncovering, preserving and potentially editing the past?

Christine Kenneally

Christine Kenneally is an award-winning journalist and author who has written for the New Yorker, the New York Times, Slate, Time magazine, New Scientist, the Monthly, and other publications. She is the author of The First Word: The Search for the Origins of Language, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award. Her book The Invisible History of the Human Race was shortlisted for the 2015 Stella Prize. She currently lives in Melbourne.

Judges' report

The sciences and the humanities are traditionally thought of as separate, or even as opposite, fields of study and endeavour, but Christine Kenneally moves on from this kind of thinking in her fascinating exploration of DNA and what it tells us about our individual, social, and anthropological pasts, bringing genetics and history together via the concepts of ancestry and inheritance. At every stage of this book, the data, the facts and the ideas are illustrated and enlivened by personal stories of individual lives and discoveries.

Kenneally uses the contemporary enthusiasm for genealogy and family history as an accessible entry point for the general reader, giving us a wonderful assortment of insights into the meaning and value of the past. To read this book is to be in the company of a dynamic, ardent mind, talking in a friendly authorial voice and never talking down.

Further reading


‘The breadth of this book; its abundance of enthralling accounts and astonishing science; its adept, vivid writing; and Kenneally’s exquisitely calibrated judgment make it the richest, freshest, most fun book on genetics in some time.’ – David Dobbs, New York Times

‘Kenneally again proves herself to be one of the most original, inclusive and engaging contemporary thinkers we have.’ – Simon Caterson, The Monthly

‘Kenneally offers a rich, thoughtful blend of science, social science, and philosophy in a manner that mixes personal history with the history of the human species.’ – Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

‘[A] treasure trove of information … and a terrific primer for those interested in where we all come from and where that information will lead us.’ – Cathy Carmode Lim, San Francisco Book Review

‘A lively, informative mix of genealogy and genetics.’ – Kirkus reviews