Book Review: The Lost Family

A deeply reported look at the rise of home genetic testing and the seismic shock it has had on individual lives

You swab your cheek or spit into a vial, then send it away to a lab somewhere. Weeks later you get a report that might tell you where your ancestors came from or if you carry certain genetic risks. Or the report could reveal a long-buried family secret and upend your entire sense of identity. Soon a lark becomes an obsession, an incessant desire to find answers to questions at the core of your being, like “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” Welcome to the age of home genetic testing.

In The Lost Family, journalist Libby Copeland investigates what happens when we embark on a vast social experiment with little understanding of the ramifications. Copeland explores the culture of genealogy buffs, the science of DNA, and the business of companies like Ancestry and 23andMe, all while tracing the story of one woman, her unusual results, and a relentless methodical drive for answers that becomes a thoroughly modern genetic detective story.

The Lost Family delves into the many lives that have been irrevocably changed by home DNA tests—a technology that represents the end of family secrets. There are the adoptees who’ve used the tests to find their birth parents; donor-conceived adults who suddenly discover they have more than fifty siblings; hundreds of thousands of Americans who discover their fathers aren’t biologically related to them, a phenomenon so common it is known as a “non-paternity event”; and individuals who are left to grapple with their conceptions of race and ethnicity when their true ancestral histories are discovered. Throughout these accounts, Copeland explores the impulse toward genetic essentialism and raises the question of how much our genes should get to tell us about who we are. With more than thirty million people having undergone home DNA testing, the answer to that question is more important than ever.

Gripping and masterfully told, The Lost Family is a spectacular book on a big, timely subject.

 Abrams Press; 1 edition (March 3, 2020)

What did I think?

I joined Ancestry and started my family tree at Christmas and it is my number one new hobby. This book couldn’t have come into my hands at a better time. Each year, thousands of people send their DNA in to find out about their past, health, and as you’ll read in this book- verify their familial DNA.

It wasn’t textbookish and the narrative story of one family’s quest to find out why their DNA results didn’t match their family lore was intriguing. I fully enjoyed it and liked learning about the history of the various DNA companies.

Book Review: Ride the Devil’s Herd: Wyatt Earp’s Epic Battle Against the West’s Biggest Outlaw Gang

The little-known story of how a young Wyatt Earp, aided by his brothers, defeated the Cowboys, the Old West’s biggest outlaw gang.

Wyatt Earp is regarded as the most famous lawman of the Old West, best known for his role in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral in Tombstone, Arizona. But the story of his two-year war with a band of outlaws known as the Cowboys has never been told in full.

The Cowboys were the largest outlaw gang in the history of the American West. After battles with the law in Texas and New Mexico, they shifted their operations to Arizona. There, led by Curly Bill Brocius, they ruled the border, robbing, rustling, smuggling and killing with impunity until they made the fatal mistake of tangling with the Earp brothers.

Drawing on groundbreaking research into territorial and federal government records, John Boessenecker’s Ride the Devil’s Herd reveals a time and place in which homicide rates were fifty times higher than those today. The story still bears surprising relevance for contemporary America, involving hot-button issues such as gang violence, border security, unlawful immigration, the dangers of political propagandists parading as journalists, and the prosecution of police officers for carrying out their official duties. Wyatt Earp saw it all in Tombstone.

Published March 17th 2020 by Hanover Square Press

What did I think?

If you wanted a textbook like description of all things Wild West, this is your book. I found all the information intriguing, but was left wishing that it was longer (and at 512 pages- that’s saying something) It would have been nice to include more details about daily life in Tombstone.

That said, it has to be one of the best books on Wyatt Earp ever written. The author definitely did his research as there are so many small details included about the Earp family that I’ve never heard about, and I’m a die hard classic western movie fan.

Book Review- Rust: A Memoir of Steel and Grit

A young woman’s debut memoir of grit and tenacity, as she returns to the conservative hometown she always longed to escape to earn a living in the steel mill that casts a shadow over Cleveland.

Steel is the only thing that shines in the belly of the mill…

To ArcelorMittal Steel Eliese is known as #6691: Utility Worker, but this was never her dream. Fresh out of college, eager to leave behind her conservative hometown and come to terms with her Christian roots, Eliese found herself applying for a job at the local steel mill. The mill is everything she was trying to escape, but it’s also her only shot at financial security in an economically devastated and forgotten part of America.

In Rust, Eliese brings the reader inside the belly of the mill and the middle American upbringing that brought her there in the first place. She takes a long and intimate look at her Rust Belt childhood and struggles to reconcile her desire to leave without turning her back on the people she’s come to love. The people she sees as the unsung backbone of our nation.

Faced with the financial promise of a steelworker’s paycheck, and the very real danger of working in an environment where a steel coil could crush you at any moment or a vat of molten iron could explode because of a single drop of water, Eliese finds unexpected warmth and camaraderie among the gruff men she labors beside each day.

Expected publication: March 3rd 2020 by Flatiron Books

What did I think?

I spent a couple days letting this book settle in prior to typing up my thoughts on it. There’s a lot to unpack here. It isn’t just a book about one thing. I mean, no one has a life with just one issue.

Eliese attended college and never expected to be working in the steel mill that dominated her hometown. So there’s a story there.

She also was raped at her extremely conservative Catholic University and they swept it under the rug. That’s a story too.

Finally, she discovers that she has Bi-Polar Disorder which is not only a story, it colors her entire life: school, work, and relationships. These three threads get woven together into one engrossing, relatable memoir.

If you liked the book Educated, and or Hillbilly Elegy, this is a book you won’t want to miss.

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Book Review: The Splendid and The Vile

On Winston Churchill’s first day as prime minister, Adolf Hitler invaded Holland and Belgium. Poland and Czechoslovakia had already fallen, and the Dunkirk evacuation was just two weeks away. For the next twelve months, Hitler would wage a relentless bombing campaign, killing 45,000 Britons. It was up to Churchill to hold his country together and persuade President Franklin Roosevelt that Britain was a worthy ally—and willing to fight to the end.

In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson shows, in cinematic detail, how Churchill taught the British people “the art of being fearless.” It is a story of political brinkmanship, but it’s also an intimate domestic drama, set against the backdrop of Churchill’s prime-ministerial country home, Chequers; his wartime retreat, Ditchley, where he and his entourage go when the moon is brightest and the bombing threat is highest; and of course 10 Downing Street in London. Drawing on diaries, original archival documents, and once-secret intelligence reports—some released only recently—Larson provides a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day experience of Churchill and his family: his wife, Clementine; their youngest daughter, Mary, who chafes against her parents’ wartime protectiveness; their son, Randolph, and his beautiful, unhappy wife, Pamela; Pamela’s illicit lover, a dashing American emissary; and the advisers in Churchill’s “Secret Circle,” to whom he turns in the hardest moments.

The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s political dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership, when, in the face of unrelenting horror, Churchill’s eloquence, courage, and perseverance bound a country, and a family, together.

Expected publication: February 25th 2020 by Crown

What did I think?

Everything you ever wanted to know about Churchhill and everything you didn’t know about him at all in one 500 page tome. Details that until now were dormant and lost are all compiled together in this readable play by play historical account of WW2 inside Winston Churchhill’s closest circle.

I didn’t know anything about Churchill’s daughter Mary, and the sections of her diary gives you a side that history books skip over. As Larson states in his interviews Londoners lived through an entire year of the terror that New Yorkers felt on 9/11. It is intense.

I didn’t like it as much as his previous books and I don’t know if it was this subject matter or what, but this took me a long time to read and I read the whole thing before reviewing. I think you’d have to be a die hard fan of either this author or Winston himself to give this a 5 star rating.

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Book Review: American Sherlock

Berkeley, California, 1933. In a lab filled with curiosities–beakers, microscopes, Bunsen burners, and hundreds upon hundreds of books–sat an investigator who would go on to crack at least two thousand cases in his forty-year career. Known as the “American Sherlock Holmes,” Edward Oscar Heinrich was one of America’s greatest–and first–forensic scientists, with an uncanny knack for finding clues, establishing evidence, and deducing answers with a skill that seemed almost supernatural.

Heinrich was one of the nation’s first expert witnesses, working in a time when the turmoil of Prohibition led to sensationalized crime reporting and only a small, systematic study of evidence. However with his brilliance, and commanding presence in both the courtroom and at crime scenes, Heinrich spearheaded the invention of a myriad of new forensic tools that police still use today, including blood spatter analysis, ballistics, lie-detector tests, and the use of fingerprints as courtroom evidence. His work, though not without its serious–some would say fatal–flaws, changed the course of American criminal investigation.

Based on years of research and thousands of never-before-published primary source materials, American Sherlock captures the life of the man who pioneered the science our legal system now relies upon–as well as the limits of those techniques and the very human experts who wield them.

 February 11th 2020 by G.P. Putnam’s Sons

My thoughts:

Oh, how I adore CSI and all that goes along with it. I read this at an absurdly slow rate (for me). In this book, you get to know Heinrich’s life story and hear about his personal life as he basically invented crime scene investigation as we know it today.

 Heinrich’s methods of handwriting analysis, laboratory testing of trace evidence, blood evidence observation, deductive reasoning, and other techniques that made him a criminal investigator ahead of his time.

 He was also an early adopter of victim profiling, and victimology has taken on an increasingly important role in identifying unknown killers. He used photomicrographs –magnified photos were taken through microscopes — and turned them into comparison shots to be used in court to depict significant differences to juries, a method still used today.

All the science is fascinating, and then the narratives of each crime and trial made this book read like a marathon of Law and Order for me.

All in all, I’d give it 5 stars. (Note that I’m not going to rank in stars this year unless it is a 5 star ranking from me.)

Book Review: Disney’s Land

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Disney’s Land tells the complete story of Disneyland from concept to the present day. This novel is one of the best histories of Disneyland that I’ve read (and there are quite a few out there.) The tone of the book is so friendly and readable that you feel as if you are listening to a friend tell the story.

One fact I hadn’t heard before reading this was that Walt was pretty bored making cartoon movies and wanted a new challenge. I also diagnosed Walt with ADHD just by reading his behavior descriptions. 🙂

There were so many challenges to create what was the first theme park anywhere, and to do it so well out of the gate was amazing. Not everything went as planned, and reading about the ins and outs of the details was fascinating.

I’m tempted to purchase the audio version of this book. The chapter containing the transcript of the live broadcast of Opening Day would be fun to hear. It sounds like Ronald Reagan wasn’t very happy that his role narrating the parade did not include a script.

Overall this book will appeal to not only Disney fanatics but to anyone interested in building a creative business from the ground up. There is a lot to learn from the process of creating Disney’s first Land.

Book Review: The Day It Finally Happens

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So, I strolled into my library intent of dropping off and then picking up my holds. Just minding my own business. When my eye strayed up to the Nonfiction Quick Pick Shelf. I pride myself on keeping current with new release books, especially in this subject matter: Tin Foil Hat subjects. If there is something that could happen, I’ve probably already mulled it over at 2 am. And so, this lovely tome made it into my tote bag without a second thought. (I’m sneaking in this review in between a towering stack of Cybils Nominees)

Mike Pearl works for Vice magazine writing a column titled: How Scared Should I Be? Anything that could happen falls under his purview. In this book, he gathered all the likely and unlikely scenarios that are the usual subjects of clickbait. You’d be surprised how many incredible things actually could happen and, conversely, how many I thought would be a given, and the odds are low for them. Jurassic Park could happen! That supervolcano out west? Not likely. Now, I would have guessed the exact opposite.

Mike ranks each event with the questions:

Likely in this century?

Plausibility Rating

Scary?

Worth Changing Habits?

He then backs up his one line findings with plenty of evidence and interviews with experts. You know I loved it. Buy it for the conspiracy theorist on your shopping list.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019