Best-Selling Author A.J. Jacobs Determined to Show How We're Related

Author A.J. Jacobs Builds a Global Family Tree
A.J. Jacobs (center), surrounded by cardboard cutouts of potential celebrity relatives
Peter Yang

06/22/2014 AT 05:30 PM EDT

What if we really are all one big, happy family?

Seven months ago, A.J. Jacobs received an e-mail from a man in Israel claiming to be his 12th cousin – and part of an 80,000-person family tree, which included Karl Marx and some European aristocrats.

Jacobs's reaction to the mysterious missive: "Part of me is thinking, 'Is this a scam and he's going to ask me to wire him $10,000?' And another part of me thought, 'Do I really want 80,000 new relatives?' "

Suspicion (and horror) aside, Jacobs had found his new mission – and book subject.

A bestselling author with a penchant for the quirky (he followed the Bible literally for The Year of Living Biblically and strove for the perfect body for Drop Dead Healthy), he became consumed by the concept that everyone is interconnected.

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