A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived, by Adam Rutherford

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Along with Alexander and Alfred, Charlemagne is one of a handful of kings who gets awarded the post-nominal accolade “the Great.” His early life remains mysterious and the stories are assembled from various sources, but it seems he was born around 742 CE, just at the time when the Plague of Justinian was dispatching millions at the eastern edge of the moribund Roman Empire. The precise place of his birth is also unknown, but it’s likely to be in a town such as Aachen, now in contemporary Germany, or Liège in Belgium. Even Einhard, his dedicated servant and biographer, wouldn’t get drawn into the specifics of Charlemagne’s early life in his fawning magnum opus, The Life of Charles the Great. The very fact that this account exists—probably the first biography of a European ruler—is testament to how important he was (or at least was seen to be). In many European languages, the word “king” is itself derived from Charlemagne’s name.

A good summary of where we are with the study of human genes, genetics and genomes, a subject that I have thought about at great length during my genealogical investigations and also my previous pieces on Richard III and the most recent common ancestor. (Rutherford covers both of these topics in detail.) He goes into the very slender genetic basis for race, criminal disposition or many other characteristics that have been said to be biologically predetermined, and explains why it is More Complicated Than That.

In other words, my prejudices were reinforced, but authoritatively, and although the style gets a little too jocular in places for my taste, I still recommend it strongly. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired last year, and my top unread non-fiction book. Next respectively on those piles are How Democracies Die, by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt, and The Pragmatic Programmer, by David Thomas.