A humorous genealogical study/memoir in which Esquire contributing editor Jacobs muses on the nature of family and the interconnectedness of humanity while trying to organize the world's largest family reunion.
In Jacobs’s hands, this potentially parched subject comes alive. He makes terms like 'mitochondrial DNA' not only comprehensible but fun ... Jacobs, thankfully, tempers his Kumbaya tendencies with some hard-nosed questions. Does knowing your ancestry expand your circle of compassion or shrink it? The jury is out. An anti-Semite discovers he is part Jewish and reforms his ways. White supremacists hold online contests to see who has the highest percentage of European descendants. Genealogy, too, is fraught ... It’s All Relative is a whirlwind of a book, as Jacobs zip-lines from one branch of the global family tree to another. At times, it feels like a blur of great-great-grandfathers and seventh cousins once removed. So determined is Jacobs to leave no branch unexamined that he sometimes loses sight of the forest. I would have liked less time on the twigs and deeper dives into the roots ... By the end of It’s All Relative, Jacobs feels like, well, family. Mostly endearing, occasionally annoying but always well-intentioned and, in the final analysis, indispensable.
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.
Most of It’s All Relative is a mixture of narrative, research, reflection and often-effortful wit. Its factual and documentary aspects are frequently both fascinating and seemingly improvisational, almost ad-libbed, in a cheerful way ... But the bulk of It’s All Relative is colored by Jacobs’s offhand-sounding efforts to amuse and entertain the reader. From time to time they work ... unfortunately, for some readers, a lot of Jacobs’s attempts at amusing commentary and bumptious riffs will fall recumbent or all the way to flat ... Senses of humor vary so widely that it’s hard to pass any kind of objective judgment on them. But “It’s All Relative” works best, this subjectivist thinks, when the author’s voice butts out, and the research oddities and genealogical wonderments speak for themselves. Paradoxically, too much funny self-effacement can come off as self-centeredness.