My review of It’s All Relative will follow the publisher’s blurb :

New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically, A.J. Jacobs undergoes a hilarious, heartfelt quest to understand what constitutes family—where it begins and how far it goes—and attempts to untangle the true meaning of the “Family of Humankind.”

A.J. Jacobs has received some strange emails over the years, but this note was perhaps the strangest: “You don’t know me, but I’m your eighth cousin. And we have over 80,000 relatives of yours in our database.”

That’s enough family members to fill Madison Square Garden four times over. Who are these people, A.J. wondered, and how do I find them? So began Jacobs’s three-year adventure to help build the biggest family tree in history.

Jacobs’s journey would take him to all seven continents. He drank beer with a US president, found himself singing with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and unearthed genetic links to Hollywood actresses and real-life scoundrels. After all, we can choose our friends, but not our family.

“Whether he’s posing as a celebrity, outsourcing his chores, or adhering strictly to the Bible, we love reading about the wacky lifestyle experiments of author A.J. Jacobs” (Entertainment Weekly). Now Jacobs upends, in ways both meaningful and hilarious, our understanding of genetics and genealogy, tradition and tribalism, identity and connection. It’s All Relative is a fascinating look at the bonds that connect us all.


When I was in my early 20’s, I discovered a wonderful genealogy document that listed all the marriages, deaths and births of this little district where my grandparent’s lived while they were young. The book was such a treasure trove of information. However, there were some discoveries I made that were eye opening to say the least. Genealogy is one of those things that once you start to dig, be mindful that the information you find may be difficult to digest.

It’s All Relative, a book about genealogy, is not something I would have picked up if it wasn’t infused with something else. A.J. Jacobs filled it with loads of humor, great stories and a mission to create a Global Family Reunion. You are basically along for the ride as Jacobs writes about his own family history, the people he meets along the way and the grand finally of the Global Family Reunion.

There are some other great things in there too! The most interesting point for me was the DNA debate. Personally I’m still not comfortable sending my DNA to a lab to get tested. Even with all the assurances in the world, it just doesn’t feel safe enough or hack proof enough. The book offers some other great points of view on the subject, but I still won’t part with my saliva just yet – even though I am very curious about certain aspects of my ancestry.

Out of all the stories A.J. Jacobs tells in the book, I loved the ones that touched upon the changing aspects of what “family” is. Obviously it changes the way genealogy is documented and for some reason I find that interesting. Jacobs has many stories in his book that show us just how complicated and fascinating family ties can be.

I think as I grow older, it has become even more important to collect various bits and pieces and document it for my children. For me it’s not essential that I’m related to such and such a celebrity 12 steps away. I’ll admit, it’s a fun fact to bring up at a party but I really want my children to know what their great grandparents were like, what they did for a living and all the various memories and stories I am able to share and collect for them. They may not be interested in all this stuff right now, but I’m betting that when they are my age they will be very happy to have it.

I really enjoyed reading It’s All Relative. It’s a book that would make an excellent gift for the genealogy buffs in your life.

It’s All Relative Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree by A.J. Jacobs
Published by Simon & Schuster – available now
352 pages
ISBN 9781476734491

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for my thoughts and honest review.

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