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  • Published: 8 April 2021
  • ISBN: 9780753559062
  • Imprint: Virgin Digital
  • Format: Audio Download
  • RRP: $26.99

A Short History of Humanity

How Migration Made Us Who We Are

An international bestseller, covering 2 million years of human history in 250 pages, which proves that migration has always been essential to our survival.

Humanity has often found itself on the precipice. We've survived and thrived because we've never stopped moving...

'Stops you dead in your tracks ... An absolute revelation' Sue Black, bestselling author of All That Remains

In this eye-opening book, Johannes Krause, Chair of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Humanity, offers a new way of understanding our past, present and future.

Marshalling unique insights from archaeogenetics, an emerging new discipline that allows us to read our ancestors' DNA like journals chronicling personal stories of migration, Krause charts two millennia of adaption, movement and survival, culminating in the triumph of Homo Sapiens as we swept through Europe and beyond in successive waves of migration - developing everything from language, the patriarchy, disease, art and a love of pets as we did so.

We also meet our ancestors, from those many of us have heard of - such as Homo Erectus and the Neanderthals - to the wildly unfamiliar but no less real: the recently discovered Denisovans, who ranged across Asia and, like humans, interbred with Neanderthals; the Aurignacians, skilled artists who, 40,000 years ago, brought about an extraordinary transformation in what our species could invent and create; the Varna, who buried their loved ones with gold long before the Pharaohs of Egypt did; and the Gravettians, big game hunters who were Europe's most successful early settlers until they perished in the face of the toughest opponent humanity had ever faced: the ice age.

As well as being a radical new telling of our shared story, this book is a reminder that the global problems that keep us awake at night - climate catastrophe; the sudden emergence of deadly epidemics; refugee crises; ethnic conflict; over-population - are all things we've faced, and overcome, before.

  • Published: 8 April 2021
  • ISBN: 9780753559062
  • Imprint: Virgin Digital
  • Format: Audio Download
  • RRP: $26.99

About the authors

Johannes Krause

Johannes Krause is the director of the newly founded Max Planck Institute for the History of Humanity in Jena. He worked on the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome. In 2010 he and his team discovered the Denisova Man, a prehistoric man. The science journal Nature described him as "rising star in ancient DNA research".

Thomas Trappe

Thomas Trappe is a political journalist but has frequently worked in science journalism and reported several times on Johannes Krause's research.

Praise for A Short History of Humanity

Utterly fascinating and revealing to anyone who only knows Siberia through its Great Myth as a forgotten, frozen Nowhere.

Christopher Somerville

Extremely enriching. Rarely, have I been able to learn so much and get such radically new insights over 250 pages

Süddeutsche Zeitung

The ultimate quest for the oddest objects - pianos - in the most unlikely place - Siberia. But Roberts makes it much more than that, an elegant and nuanced journey through literature, through history, through music, murder and incarceration and revolution, through snow and ice and remoteness, to discover the human face of Siberia. I loved this book.

Paul Theroux

Modern archaeogenetics provides compelling new facts for the current migration debate, but also some real explosives. [A] cornucopia of new knowledge [...], easily accessible and as gripping as a historical thriller


A thrilling adventure to the ends of the earth, where sunlight glitters in the snowdrifts and the strains of the exile's song floats through the air. Pack your suitcases for Siberia - Sophy Roberts' gorgeous prose will summon you there like a smell.

Cal Flyn, author of THICKER THAN WATER

A Short History of Humanity is an eloquent and timely reminder that viruses and other pathogens of infectious disease are merely fellow-travellers in an epic journey that began when the first human migrants left Africa around 200,000 years ago. The solution to pandemics is not to close borders in the hope of keeping viruses out but to recognise that we are a fundamentally peripatetic species united in our shared genetic inheritance and common humanity.

Mark Honigsbaum, author of A Pandemic Century

Absolutely intoxicating. Such vivid detail, rich atmosphere, heartbreak, and elegance. Sophy Roberts melds research and personal experience to trace the paths of political prisoners, convicts, and conscripts determined to find beauty in exile, and track down the regal pianos now scattered in villages, museums, and storehouses across the largest country on earth. Some cherished and some neglected, these pianos tell of the musical colonization of a continent, and their stories sing.

Jonathan C. Slaght, author of OWLS OF THE EASTERN ICE

A highly readable, personal guide to the twists and turns in unravelling ancient DNA: Krause and Trappe expertly unravel the story of ancient DNA to reveal how the new field of archaeogenetics has utterly transformed understanding of our deep past.

Rebecca Wragg Sykes, author of Kindred: Neanderthal Life, Love, Death, and Art

Romance and tragedy, gulags and tower blocks, princes and oligarchs and of course tigers and pianos, Roberts captures all the wonder and heartbreak of an entire Empire in one feast of a book.

Ben Rawlence, author of CITY OF THORNS and RADIO CONGO

A valuable contribution to our understanding of who we are and how we got here.

Tim Marshall, bestselling author of Prisoners of Geography

The Lost Pianos of Siberia is one of those magical books that captures the imagination and draws you into the beauty and majesty of Siberia. Idiosyncratic in style - part travelogue, part history, part detective trail - it is full of wonderful stories about human endurance through adversity and the transformative power of music in the most remote and forgotten outposts of this vast territory. A book to savour and remember.

Helen Rappaport, author of THE LAST DAYS OF THE ROMANOVS

One of those books that stops you dead in your tracks and makes you say out loud - why didn't I know that before? So easy to read. So logically argued. So satisfyingly sensible and thought-provoking. Read it, think about it, and then read it again. An absolute revelation.

Professor Sue Black, bestselling author of All That Remains

Utterly absorbing - a wonderful addition to the story of resilience, tragedy and triumph that are the hallmarks of Siberia. Roberts displays an empathy and understanding worthy of this deeply haunted, strangely fascinating land.

Benedict Allen

A splendid account of human origins, migrations, and pathogens from the perspective of DNA evidence. Unique among other world histories...provides new avenues of understanding the human past.

STARRED Library Journal

Courage, patience, erudition and a sympathetic imagination. A travel book of rare quality.

Dervla Murphy

Thrilling... Krause and Trappe capture the excitement of this new field... it is a history we are starting to decode as never before.

Wall Street Journal

A modern-day Freya Stark.


An exuberant, eccentric journey through Russian vastness, European history and Russian culture, The Lost Pianos of Siberia is a quixotic quest, a picaresque travel adventure and a strange forgotten story, all wrapped into one fascinating book.

Simon Sebag-Montefiore

What worlds this book traverses! From gilded recital halls to the haunts of Siberian tigers; from remote penal colonies to volcanic islands in the Bering Sea: I felt as if I had travelled through places I had only dreamed of, following these magical instruments through landscapes and histories so full of tragedy and hope.

Daniel Mason, author of THE PIANO TUNER

Not-to-be-missed travel.

The Tablet

Beautifully constructed, clear-eyed and generous-spirited.

Will Atkins, author of THE MOOR and THE IMMEASURABLE WORLD

An extraordinary encounter with a wildly fascinating and astonishingly ill-known region... This is a wonderful book.

Sunday Times

What shines through in this book is Roberts' genuine, humane affection for and fascination with the people she meets in Siberia.

Literary Review

A stunning example of modern historical travel writing


An impressive exploration of Siberia's terrifying past.


Captures Siberia's wildness, but favours its enchantments.

Times Literary Supplement

Roberts' writing is beguiling.

The i

A richly observed cultural history... thrilling.

New Statesman

Beautifully written... A unique short history of Russia from Catherine the Great to Putin... A sense of the extraordinary marks every page.

History Today

Fascinating account of Siberia's horrific legacy told with great verve. Roberts is a wonderfully lyrical writer.

The Observer

Stories endure in this compelling debut.


Roberts achievement is to vividly bring us into a hidden landscape that in an over-travelled world retains its mystique. Through her painterly depiction of the people she encounters, she infuses the epic with the intimate and reveals how sometimes looking is more important than finding

Business Post Magazine

A noble quest to understand the dazzling respect for music embedded in Russian culture.

Country Life

An intoxicating journey into the wilds of Siberia.

Stella magazine

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