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Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance

43 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393070057
ISBN-10: 0393070050
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Editorial Reviews


Epigenetics explains all this in clear, no-nonsense prose. . . . One particularly excellent chapter explains epigenetic change through the body of steroid-addled baseball player José Canseco, from his brain to his testicles. — Josh Rothman (Boston Globe)

Francis’s primer introduces a new field. It’s a thorough guide to the many ways in which personality and health can play out through our genes but not be coded for in DNA. — Christine Kenneally (Slate)

About the Author

Richard C. Francis is a writer who has a PhD in biology from Stony Brook University. He is the author of Why Men Won't Ask for Directions. He lives in New York City.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (June 13, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393070050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393070057
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #192,069 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 86 people found the following review helpful By T. Eagan on July 26, 2011
Format: Hardcover
There is definitely a market for a good popular science book about epigenetics, and I eagerly awaited this one. But it fell short of my expectations. It simply is too short, and too lacking in depth. For the epigenetics of inheritance and evolution, there already is an excellent book out there: Evolution in Four Dimensions: Genetic, Epigenetic, Behavioral, and Symbolic Variation in the History of Life (Life and Mind: Philosophical Issues in Biology and Psychology) . However, the book by Jablonka & Lamb is getting a little old (in this field, things sure develop rapidly), and it lacks the issues that I was most interested in - the effects of epigenetic change on health. However, I'll restate, for the evolutionary side, the Jablonka & Lamb book is great.

Back to the book by Francis, 160 pages is just too short. I will acknowledge the great many notes and large bibliography included, but the first 160 pages are so superficial, I doubt the author finds the right audience for the notes/bibliography.

The author's writing style and explanations are fine, so if you want a quick overview on a topic of which you have zero knowledge before, this book will serve you well.
However, for many of us, we must wait for a book with more depth, or a vastly expanded second edition.

For an example of excellent and in depth popular science writing, try Power, Sex, Suicide: Mitochondria and the Meaning of Life.
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44 of 49 people found the following review helpful By Jerry M. Wright on June 21, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a fascinating introduction to the new field of Epigenetics - a word to which most people react blankly. Most have no idea what how epigenetics changes the way that we conceptualize human development and inheritance, as well as conditions ranging from cancer to Alzheimer's disease.

Francis starts each chapter with a well-chosen, true story or observation that serves to illustrate the main points of that chapter. Frequently he circles back to the information presented in earlier chapters and it is clear that he is slowly building, in completely understandable terms, the reader's ability to understand the implications and intricacies of this burgeoning field of study, culminating in an outstanding discussion of stem cells.

From the Dutch famine of World War II to the growing obesity crisis to the fact that the experience of past generations can influence the current one - and the scary thought that what we do and experience will also have ramifications for future generations - the book is well-written, witty, and very timely. Don't be surprised if you start to read and can't stop until you are done!
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By tles on October 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a pretty accessible treatment of a somewhat arcane topic for non-biologists. It is probably too advanced for the totally lay reader, but for a person willing to make the effort to understand what is being said, it is really important. Epigenetics is one of the most important avenues for understanding many of our modern maladies (e.g. diabetes, cancer), and will eventually lead to new and more effective treatment regimens for many conditions. This work presents the basic ideas of epigenesis pretty clearly. In my mind it doesn't go far enough to detail what the processes are that result in its implications. However, it is a start.
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Format: Hardcover
Neither classical genetics nor an environmental explanation suffices to unravel (some) phenomenon. But the new science of epigenetics - which deals with long-term alterations in gene behavior - supplies a key causal link. Epigenetics involves chemical changes in cells, sometimes random and sometimes environmentally caused." -- Julia Klein

A month ago, my second nephew, a medical doctor about fifty years old fainted while playing soccer, but got a lifesaving CPR by one of his friends on site, and was miraculously saved. Following up on his recovery, I briefed his wife that her uncle-in-law, while operating on a urology patient, had a heart attack at the same early age as his grand dad, both passed away on the spot. Asking her if she could ask her brothers-in-law to take a medical check. The Post Master's Nurse Practitioner, who applied her genetic basic knowledge, replied, "I have already booked him for one!" Thanks to better awareness of heart attack signs and symptoms and improved treatments, most people who have a heart attack now survive. I think it is time, for all of us to worry periodically; our choices may endanger our health, and our lifestyle do impact our genetic code and that of our children.

Epigenetics is defined as the science of genetic expression, a description that conceals what might be the most relevant research field that may effectively help our healthcare, and cut its cost, by eliminating identifiable genetic defects. Environmental stress, is recently proved to impact an individual's physiology so tragically that the resulting biological scars could be inherited by succeeding generations. These scars don't alter a parent's DNA, but they can, even so, inflict damage on children.
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By crik on August 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
This book gives a nice overview on WHERE epigenetics plays a role. On the one hand it looks on the effects of diet, stress and other environmental factors on long-term gene regulation, and on the other hand it explored how epigenetic regulation is influencing many aspects of our lives from obesity to disease outcome. It fails however in clearly explaining HOW this happens. I doubt anybody not yet familiar with the subjects remembers after the reading how all this works with methylation, histones etc.

Most chapters start with a look back on some important researchers and their findings and then explore what role epigenetics played in their experiments. Thus the book gives also some nice insights into the history of biological research. Unfortunately, in some cases the author decided to start instead with lengthy descriptions of a movie, just to stress out that people react differently to stress, or with personal thinkings on Thai diets. These parts are weak, and it is surprising that the author could not find more scientific examples to explain his ideas.

The book fails also to explore the ethical consequences of epigenetics. Obviously, if we learn that our behavior today such as smoking or exposure to stress will affect our grand children, this will have huge ethical implications. Ethical issues are discussed briefly in the context of embryonic stem cells, but this discussion is very poor (e.g. constantly mixing up religious and ethical grounds), and the book clearly lacks to highlight the full complexity of questions coming up.

Given that the book is only 160 pages long and one can read it quit fast, I still recommend it to anybody interested in a first overview on the subject.
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