Customer Reviews

51 Reviews
5 star:
4 star:
3 star:
2 star:    (0)
1 star:
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review

The most helpful favorable review
The most helpful critical review

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Imperfections Show Us Who We Are
You are a mutant, and you have been since before you were born. You probably have three hundred mutations in your genes that impair your health in some way. Of course, that leaves a huge number of genes to correct any problems, and most of us don't look as if we stepped out of the X-Men comic books. "We are all mutants. But some of us are more mutant than others,"...
Published on April 6, 2004 by R. Hardy

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We are all mutants...
If you are interested in biology in general, and genetics in particular, this is a must read. The science is explained with just enough detail to make it accessable to the average reader with a modest scietific background.

The premis of the book is that we are all mutants, to one degree or another. The relatively small percentage of genetic mutations that cause...
Published 10 months ago by Librarydragon

‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First

41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Imperfections Show Us Who We Are, April 6, 2004
You are a mutant, and you have been since before you were born. You probably have three hundred mutations in your genes that impair your health in some way. Of course, that leaves a huge number of genes to correct any problems, and most of us don't look as if we stepped out of the X-Men comic books. "We are all mutants. But some of us are more mutant than others," says the evolutionary biologist Armand Marie Leroi in _Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body_ (Viking). Leroi takes a review of human mutations based on the wonderful principle that we get to understand how nature normally works by carefully examining abnormalities; when things go wrong, we know that there must be some important process going right most of the time. So there is extensive evaluation here of strange-looking humans, often with nightmarish defects. Amply illustrated, the book has engravings from centuries past to show that humans have always had a curiosity about such beings. Leroi's intellectual interest is far from morbid, however, and his lessons drawn from the monsters here are humane and increase our admiration for how often things go right, and how often those who were dealt a bad genetic hand can still play it well.
For example, Carl Herman Unthan was a violin virtuoso by age twenty, although he had no arms. Of course, not all such mutants are so successful. Harry Eastlack had a defect that told his body to make bone whenever it made any repair, so that bruises and tears would turn into bone, not healed flesh. The stillborn babies here are strange indeed. One has a second developed mouth in its forehead. Another child was born with over twenty half-developed fetuses in his brain. The book, however, is far from a chamber of horrors. Even the most bizarre of the mutants do show us things about the process of becoming and being a human creature. Conjoined twins, for instance, are closely examined here in many ways for many lessons, like how our developing bodies can know left from right. The deformities in limbs show the importance of embryonic limb-buds, a signaling protein called "sonic hedgehog," and "hox" genes that are the same ones that help keep our vertebral segments orderly. The same hox genes work to make the segments in worms. Leroi writes of the "breathtaking similarity" living creatures have in such arrangements, as evolution has built variations on the same basic plan. "We are, in many ways, merely worms writ large."
There are pygmies and dwarfs here, and giants, and men / women of intermediate sex, albinos, piebalds, cyclopes, and families covered all over in hair. There is natural curiosity about such "monsters," but Leroi shows there needs to be more. They are all products of molecules gone wrong, molecules we can now detect and understand, to better appreciate how molecules go right in the unimaginably complicated dance that creates organisms. There is a fascinating chapter near the end to show that perhaps ageing and death are caused by specific mutations (we are mutants all, remember). The final chapter is about the importance of human diversity, and the importance of beauty as a general evolutionary force (as Darwin knew it to be). A beautiful face has appeal at least in part because imperfections, the myriad types of imperfections as illustrated here, are not apparent, indicating health and fitness. With a declaration for biological beauty, this is a well-informed, life-affirming book by a scientist who has used molecular errors to ponder deeply the human condition.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A clever approach to genetics, January 2, 2004
Atheen "Atheen" (Mpls, MN United States) - See all my reviews
I have to admit to a little voyeurism when it comes to the odd, and Armand Marie LeRoi's book Mutants does have a bit of a side show aspect to it. What it really intends is to show how science discovers how things work--or in this case fail to work--in human anatomy-physiology.
Now that the human genome project has crunched out the raw data on what our DNA code is, it has become the far more daunting task of biologists to figure out what it says and how it works. The best way to do that would be to screw up specific sites on the gene and see what happens. This is how they learn what the DNA of lower orders does, but humans aren't like fruit flies; we don't live our lives in a matter of days. Nor are we like amoeba or worms; our genetics are much more complicated and the interactions among them probably orders of magnitude greater than those for the "simpler" animals. Most important, screwing up the genetics of a human subject is not exactly, ethically or morally speaking, a good place to go! That leaves us with natural genetic failures, those individuals who have suffered genetic misprints that can lead to clues about what normal DNA does. This is what chapter one explains in some detail.
The remaining chapters illustrate what is learned from specific mutations: twinning, how and from what parts of the body arise, how things grow, how gender develops, how skin differences occurs, and why aging happens.
Since many of the mutant individuals discussed are historic figures, some of the bibliographic entries are quite old. While there are some books, most of the entries are those of modern scientific journals: American Journal of Medicine, Annals of Human Biology, Developmental Biology, Nature, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Science, etc. Most of these are very current, many from the late 1990s. For the interested follower of the subject, some of these might be difficult to find unless there is a university library at your disposal.
FOR THOSE WRITING PAPERS: IN SCIENCE OR IN THE HISTORY OF SCIENCE: The book might illustrate how scientists can approach a problem without offending the ethics of the society of which it is a part. One might also check some of the old texts to find material that would illustrate other types of genetic problems and describe how this might be of help to geneticists. One might describe the current issues regarding cloning using this book as a reference. One might write a paper that showed how the efforts of scientists and medical doctors of the past to publish new information in their times have helped scientists decades, even centuries later. IN THE ARTS, HISTORY, ANTHROPOLOGY, SOCIOLOGY: One might show how art has captured information that is pertinent to scientific work today, or discuss how the mutant individual fit into his/her particular society. (Please note that James Merrick is one of those discussed and that there are several biographies and a play based on his life.)
An interesting book on a clever approach to genetics.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Are Redheads Mutants?, June 26, 2004
Bruce Crocker "agnostictrickster" (Whittier, California United States) - See all my reviews
Despite being the repository of many of my family's variant genes, I can't complain - I am a fully functional human being. That said, the fact that I am the first known case of inherited intermittent vertical nystagmus [at least that's what the doctors said at the time of my birth] has given me an above average interest in the genetics of human beings. Armand Marie Leroi's Mutants is an excellent introduction to genetic variety in human beings. Mutants could have been turned into a freak show by a lesser writer or one with the desire to titillate, but Leroi handles the subject directly and with the right level of sensitivity. In the introduction, Leroi demystifies the word mutant and concludes the chapter by saying
We are all mutants. But some of us are more mutant than others.
I especially enjoyed the fact that I was finally able to understand the genetics of my aunt's 6th toe and the fact that Leroi uses redheads to explore the boundary between mutation and polymorphism [I'm okay with the fact that being a redhead makes me a mutant].
Despite the way Leroi handles the material, this is not a book for the squeamish. The black and white illustrations may be disturbing to some readers. I think the perfect reader for this book would be a person with the background from a 9th grade biology class and an interest in learning more about human genetics. People with an interest in history and the process of doing science should also find much of interest in Mutants.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Weird, witty and wise, January 2, 2004
By A Customer
Armand Marie Leroi's MUTANTS is a delightful mixture of historical anecdote, philosophy, artistic allusions and serious science, all served up with a first-person narrative voice that is both sympathetic and learned. Despite the bizarre and often gruesome subject matter used to illustrate scientific principles governing the formation of the human body, we are guided through the spectrum of human abnormality with a respectful hand. Although at times Leroi is amusing, he never ridicules the mutant humans he discusses - if anything, it is the scientists, anthropologists and historians who have misunderstood or abused their odd subjects that receive the well-timed onslaught of his wit. And yet even some of these jibes are sympathetic: the wise men of old were fumbling around in the dark and did not have the benefit of our knowledge or modern morals, so Leroi is gracious enough at times to excuse them, when other authors might be stern and judgmental. Even the horrific spectre of the Nazi doctor Josef Mengele is portrayed in a multi-faceted light; Leroi does not condone or excuse his acts, but he does attempt to understand his motivations. It is a delicate balancing act that the author pulls off beautifully in most cases.
If you want to learn something about the genetics of human development, the explanations are clear and logical, with enough analogies and examples to help you along. The reference section is vast, so you know where to turn for more gory (so to speak) details. If, however, you'd rather just sit back and enjoy the historical anecdotes, the structure of the book makes it easy for you to skim through the scientific stuff - which does not ramble on too long - and the section headings help you pick and choose your area of interest.
Although the information about deformities is certainly engaging, I found myself most captivated by the final chapter on race and beauty (don't be fooled into skipping it because it's called an `epilogue' in the table of contents). Leroi makes a good case for the importance of studying the genetics of race, a topic that is not only politically incorrect, but potentially explosive. Why, he asks, should scientists know in excruciating detail the genetic underpinnings of snail shell colour variation yet have absolutely no clue why the Chinese have curved eyelids or the Eskimos, high cheekbones? In answer to the usual rebuttal, that studying race leads to discrimination, Leroi argues, quite successfully, that it is in fact our residual ignorance that gives would-be racists a welcome loophole. And as for his thoughts on beauty, the ideas are fascinating and should be of interest to us all. It's worth reading the book for the last paragraph alone.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mutants, January 21, 2004
Joseph (Manchester England) - See all my reviews
This witty and humane book has managed to avoid the pitfalls so commonly associated with work in this area. Dr Armand Marie Leroi does not seem to have an axe to grind. The reader is spared political lectures on genetic diversity. This is a book that can be read by those on either side of the genetics debate without being dismissed as overly prejudicial. Dr Leroi's particular achievement is that he has managed this feat without loss of seriousness or respect for his subject. The book revolves around the case histories of individuals with genetic abnormalities. Dr Leroi does not pretend that these individual's lives were enhanced by their deformities, rather he uses their lives as an illustration of genetics in action, warts and all, and usually much more than warts. While one may marvel at the courage of some of those people depicted, one is nevertheless left with a keen sense of sadness for them and for the uncomprehending world in which they lived. Theirs were unusual lives. They were unusual in having been both hidden and recorded, repellent and absorbing, freakish and yet in many ways profoundly ordinary. Dr Leroi handles these dichotomies dispassionately, respectfully and above all, expertly. This is a warm, endearing book on a topic which might easily have been neither.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We Are All Mutants, October 17, 2004
Don't expect this book to be a freak show featuring people with deformities and abnormalities. Instead, this is a rather unique genetics text that Leroi constructs from a contrarian perspective. Here Leroi utilizes the concept of mutation in order to illustrate what genes and chromosomes are supposed to do, as mutations illustrate either damaging or benign alterations. For example, early in the book he uses the example of a deformity that causes some people to be born without arms. This does not prove the existence of a gene that causes a lack of arms, but rather an error in the gene that is supposed to give us arms. Note that some knowledge of genetics and biology would be an asset as you read this book, though it is well presented for the informed general reader. There is a good deal of coverage of documented birth defects, with many types of "mutants" from conjoined twins to albinos being covered in great (and sometimes gruesome) detail. However, Leroi also includes changes to the genome, either sharp mutations or more gradual polymorphisms, that lead to all sorts of human variety from tallness to crooked teeth to red hair. (I have the first two of those myself.) The book ends with some speculations from Leroi on how genetic mutations are the cause of aging and even beauty - arguments that are disputable and inconclusive but offer great food for thought. Never before have mutants looked so normal. [~doomsdayer520~]
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Follow The Subtitle, August 1, 2005
Subtitled "On Genetic Variety and the Human Body," Armand Leroi's "Mutants" is an excellent summary of current knowledge about genetic variation. The title "Mutants" and the lurid illustrations are SOMEWHAT misleading, because although they are used to illustrate genetic variety (and man's earliest attempts to understand it), the book is by no means ABOUT circus freaks or genetic accidents. The book is far less sensational (in the bad sense) than a first glance would indicate.

On the other hand, the book *IS* sensational in the good sense. Leroi is such a fluid writer in this, his first book, that I half expect this to be a pseudonym for someone more well-known. But then again, why would any author hide his identity with a book this good?

Mixing humor, history, science (hard AND soft), politics, sociology, philosophy and quite a bit of good-hearted wisdom, Leroi moves easily through complexities which would prove daunting in the hands of a less-skilled guide. He covers eugenics, phrenology, evolutionary biology, embryology, gerontology, science history and of course genetics in a seamless narrative which never feels pedantic or labored. The reader is introduced to quite a few novel concepts, and drawn to unexpected conclusions without ever noticing how clever is the writing.

Filled with startling facts -- and yes, mutants -- the book is as entertaining as it is informative.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very well written- a mixture of genetics, antropology, history, philosphy, March 31, 2006
C. B Collins Jr. (Atlanta, GA United States) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This is a very readable book, only getting too technical once or twice, but for the most part fully explaining concepts for his readers.

Leroi bases his study of mutations in human beings on the philosophy of Francis Bacon. Bacon helped establish the principles by which the scientific inquiry of the natural world was to be conducted. Bacon saw that natural history can be divided intot he study of normal nature, aberrant nature, and nature manipulated by man. Leroi writes: "Centureies ahead of his time, Bacon recognized that the pursuit of the causes of error is not an end in itlsef, bur rather just a means. The monstrous, the strange, the deviant, or merely the different, he is saying, reveal the laws of nature. And once we know those laws, we can reconstruct the world as we wish."

The range of Leroi's knowledge is considerable. The story repeatedly drew together the fields of philosophy, anthropology, history, and molecular biology.

Leroi is the one of the first to discuss that in Africa the Delta 32 polymorphism of the CCR5 gene is currently increasing in frequency because it confers resistance to HIV. We know that CCR5 in some lucky persons of Northern European background gives them some protection against HIV infection. However this trait is so rare among Africans that I suspect the increase will not make significant changes in the grim outlook for sub-Saharan Africa.

The book is actually hopeful even though it discusses the many ways that we as humans can go genetically 'wrong'. Leroi states: "The aveage newly conceived human bears three hundred mutations that impair its health in some fashion."

Leroi's historic studies add much to the book. He uncovers the range of enlightened thinkers who saw human mutations, not as the work of the devil, but as opportunity to study God's methods. For example he quotes Montaigne: "Those whom we call monsters are not so with GOd, who in the immensity of his work seeth the infinite forms therein contained."

Of course there are times that the book makes your hair stand on end. For example: "In 1982, a thirty-five-year-old Chinese man was reported with a parasitic head embedded in the right side of his own head. The extra head had a small brain, two weak eyes, two eyebrows, a nose, twelve teeth, a tongue and lots of hair. When the main head pursed its lips, stuck out its tongue or blinked its eyelids, so did the parasitic head; when the main head ate, the parasite drooled...A Dutch child born in 1995 had the remains of twenty-one foetuses (as determined by a leg count) embedded in its brain."

There is a very interesting case study of the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec. "By the time he was seven his mother had taken him to Lourdes, where she hoped to find a cure for some vaguely described limb problem... By the age of ten he was complaining of constant severe pains in his legs and thighs, and at thirteen minor falls caused fractures in both femurs which, to judge from the length of time during which he supported himself with canes, took about six months to heal. He would use a cane nearly all his adult life. Laurterc also undertwent some unusual facial changes. He developed a pendoulous lower lip, a tendency to drool, and a speech impediment rather like a growling lisp, and his teeth rotted while he was still in his teens."

The examples continue to build on each other, offering new inforamtion and insight throughout the book.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars At play in the genetic casino, April 18, 2005
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body (Paperback)
"Mutants" is part side-show and part genetic crapshoot where the mutated gene almost always loses. The author states that on the average, 300 mutations burden each newly conceived embryo. Five of the mutations won't make it into the general population because of miscarriage and childhood deaths---"No one leaves the genetic casino unscathed." Being born with three sets of eye-lashes, an extra set of ears on one's neck, or in my case, crooked little fingers, are very benign mutations compared to what can and sometimes does go wrong.

The primary theme of this elegant, engaging book is that mutations are the signposts that can be used to determine exactly where in the morphogenesis of an infant, something went physically or genetically astray.

Chapter 1, "A Perfect Join (On the invisible geometry of embryos)" takes the reader on a tour through the first few hours and days of a fertilized egg. Conjoined twins are an example of what can go wrong with the developmental mechanics within the womb. One unfortunate baby was born with 21 partially developed twins (determined through a leg count) in his skull. However, the main thrust of this chapter, using conjoined twins as an example of the process gone wrong, is the search for an 'organizer': that which informs the cells what to do, what to become, and where to go. It is a process that is part mechanical, part chemical, and part sheer dumb luck. As the author puts it: "The power of cell-cell adhesion to mould the developing body is startling."

In the next chapter, the author examines the powerful homeotic genes and signaling proteins such as 'sonic hedgehog,' employing some gruesome examples of what can go wrong during the formation of the neural tube and other body parts. Human and animal Cyclops, as well as other mutations such as 'mermaids' are outcomes of control processes gone wrong. Sonic hedgehog-defective infants have a single cerebral hemisphere, hence one eye. "Mice in which the sonic hedgehog gene has been completely disabled have malformed hearts, lungs, kidneys and guts. They are always stillborn and have no paws..."

I certainly wouldn't recommend this book to a pregnant friend. It's frightening enough to have a vague notion of what might go wrong, without this author's meticulous gene-by-gene guide as to the results of many mutations.

Limb buds, skeletons, growth, gender, and skin color are all viewed in turn, through the distorting lens of genes gone wrong. We are introduced to pigmies, piebalds, cretins, and castrati.

The penultimate chapter, "The Sober Life (on Ageing)" is especially interesting because ageing is something we all do regardless of our original mutational burden. The author raises the interesting question as to whether death is just another genetic engineering problem. "Were it not for ageing's pervasive effects, 95 per cent of us would celebrate our centenaries; half of us would better the biblical Patriarchs by centuries and live for more than a thousand years."

Sir Peter Medawar was the first to suggest that mutations causing fatal errors in old age are not necessarily selected against. Once we've bred and raised our children, what use has nature for us?

The final chapter, "Anthropometamorphosis (an Epilogue)" ends rather wistfully with a discussion of beauty, and why it may be important for the survival of a species. Beauty is defined as the absence of imperfections: "the machine errors that arise from the vicissitudes of the womb, childhood, maturity and old age, that are written all over our bodies and that are so ubiquitous that when we see someone who appears to have evaded them, however fleetingly, we pause to look with amazed delight."

Read "Mutants" and you may also find yourself pausing, and looking about with amazed delight. Armand Marie Leroi does not exploit freaks of mutation so much as he weaves them into the story of each of our individual lives.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Graceful exposition of a disturbing topic, June 30, 2006
A reader (Rocky Mountains USA) - See all my reviews
Verified Purchase(What's this?)
This review is from: Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body (Paperback)
The human body is a masterpiece of complex interlinked parts, ideally working in harmony. All of us contain slight variations from the norm making each of us a mutant in a technical sense. However, in certain rare human beings the genetic orchestra plays so dissonant a tune that the end product classifies as a "Mutant" in the generally accepted sense of the word.

When the genetic tune goes awry to the extent portrayed by the case studies in the book, dealing with this topic requires of an author a multitude of versatile attributes. He/she needs to paint a verbal picture of the disorder, to put the human under study in historical or geographical context and explain the biological conditions under which the mutation occurred. Leroi rises to the task with grace and authority, making for a fascinating book.

Leroi scouts sources in locales far and wide, effortlessly leaping back and forth across the centuries to find subjects for his exposition. In many cases he supplements his descriptions with illustrations and photographs. His prose is evocative and erudite, circumventing the tedium it could easily segue into, given his academic interest in the subject. However disturbing the topic (and personally I do not delight in the macabre), this is a book well worth reading. I would also recommend this as a great Halloween gift.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No

‹ Previous | 1 26 | Next ›
Most Helpful First | Newest First


Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body
Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body by Armand Marie Leroi (Paperback - February 1, 2005)
$17.00 $12.99
In Stock
Add to cart Add to wishlist
Search these reviews only
Send us feedback How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you? Let us know here.