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The Stuff of Life: A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA Paperback – January 23, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0809089475 ISBN-10: 0809089475 Edition: First Edition
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Let’s face it: From adenines to zygotes, from cytokinesis to parthenogenesis, even the basics of genetics can sound utterly alien. So who better than an alien to explain it all? Enter Bloort 183, a scientist from an asexual alien race threatened by disease, who's been charged with researching the fundamentals of human DNA and evolution and laying it all out in clear, simple language so that even his slow-to-grasp-the-point leader can get it. In the hands of the award-winning writer Mark Schultz, Bloort's explanations give even the most science-phobic reader a complete introduction to the history and science of genetics.

The Stuff of Life Revealed

In the panels below, Bloort teaches his fellow alien about DNA.

From School Library Journal

Grade 10 Up—The Squinch, an asexual race from the planet Glargal, are suffering from a genetic crisis. In an effort to save them, interplanetary biologist Bloort 183 was transmitted to Earth to study the evolutionary success of its life. He is now back and presenting his findings to his planet's leader. Much is packed into this book, which includes information on molecular and cellular life, the basic mechanics of genetics, key scientists who have made discoveries in genetics and DNA, and how they have been and are applying this knowledge. Touching on topics such as genetically altered foods and cloning, Schultz is careful to acknowledge controversial subjects while maintaining an unbiased view. His writing is informative, easy to follow, and infused with humor. The detailed black-and-white illustrations are a perfect match, offering images to enhance learning while adding to the humorous aspect of the book. If there is a fault with this volume, it is its physical size, which has resulted in various panels and pages seeming overcrowded—a potential turnoff for some readers. This title would do well as standard reading for science students.—Lara McAllister, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; First Edition edition (January 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809089475
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809089475
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.5 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,424 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 44 people found the following review helpful By Scott on December 27, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is no small task to explain how atoms form into chemicals, chromosomes, and the proteins which make up 'the stuff of life'. But Mark Shultz attempts to do that in just under 150 pages. Schultz uses a graphic novel format and copious illustrations to make this sometimes daunting topic accessible to the general reader. The book uses a visual learning style, mirroring each point with an illustrations as it drives through Shultz's text, which can sometimes be as dense in information as the coiled strands of DNA the book is attempting to explain.

The premise for the book is that an intelligent race of Squinch (similar to our sea cucumbers, but intelligent) are in peril as their species lacks genetic diversity. Coming to the rescue is Chief Scientist Bloort 183 who presents a galaxy-spanning report on the nature of Earth's DNA and genetics. Bloort must explain to his Supreme Highness how the reproductive strategy used by Earth's creatures brings about species diversity and why it is a winning strategy for life.

The text is written at a level suitable for high-school and college freshmen. My seventh-grader, who is studying genetics as a part of her curriculum said most of the book was over her head. I would recommend following up this book with a more in-depth exploration provided by MIT's OpenCoursware biology 700 series of video lectures, which are the lectures MIT provides its Freshmen.

The pace is very brisk and at times the terms and concept come fast and furious. Bloort does pause to make sure that the his Highness is able to recap one or two of the key points. The book does well when it uses the illustrations to explain some of the more difficult to grasp concepts, such as those related to molecular and cellar-level genetics.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Shawn on March 16, 2009
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I bought this book because I am always looking for new ways to teach things to my high school students. After reading it, I went to my department head and (after he looked at the book) had little trouble convincing him to buy a classroom set to use to teach the basics of genetics. My class is now about half-way through the book and the students all seem to enjoy taking some time out to read (no mean feat in and of itself), and some have even said that seeing the pictures in the book has helped them with topics they were having trouble with.
One word of warning is that some of the words used that are unrelated to science are a bit advanced (a great opportunity to teach more vocabulary), but the terms related to genetics are well explained and there is even a glossary to help students still having trouble.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Saganite VINE VOICE on January 26, 2009
Format: Paperback
Great framing device, great artwork, wonderful idea. There is simply no way to make the "basics" of genetics easy. With this book, a limit has been reached for how basic the explanation can be made without fatally sacrificing accuracy and specific, vital information. Having the visuals is essential in this effort, because no amount of description could do the job of these graphical representations accompanying the narrative. For the patient, intelligent, curious person of at least junior high age, this is a wonderful introduction to the topic. As one of the characters in the book says, the difficult genetic science has been "front-loaded" in the earlier chapters so that later chapters can focus on the more startling and fascinating implications of that science.

One specific great thing, and one unfortunate thing: Kudos for giving Rosalind Franklin her due. Her work was essential to the "discovery" of DNA structure credited to Crick and Watson, and with a couple of well-chosen sentences, her rightful status is acknowledged.

And unfortunately, the copy that I purchased was victim of some strange printing accident that put some pages in the wrong order and repeated a section. The material is challenging enough...I really needed to have the book put together in perfect order.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy M. Harris on April 9, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This wonderful book uses the power of extensive, inventive graphics paired with well-chosen text to illustrate and explain many important aspects of genetics and DNA. It introduces concepts at a level basic enough for the general reader, but also includes material detailed and deep enough to interest an expert. The graphic style and panel layout are reminiscent of a comic book only in the best sense -- they make the reading experience rapid and effortless.

For entertainment value the factual content is woven into a story involving hyperintelligent invertebrates which inhabit the planet Glargal and vaguely resemble sea cucumbers. The Glargalians are plagued by a heritable disorder which threatens their existence, and they have launched an extensive study of Earth creatures in an effort to understand and perhaps cure their own genetic affliction. The narrator of the book is the interplanetary biologist Bloort 183, who is reporting on his findings to the Glargalian leadership council. The obsequious behavior of Bloort toward the supreme leader provides comic relief, but the background story is wisely kept exactly that -- it interferes not at all with with the book's main objective, which is to transmit Bloort 183's copiously illustrated report directly to the reader.

The story begins with a brief reprise of our planet's origin, the appearance of lightning-induced chemical compounds, their extension into self-reproducing molecules, and self-assembly of the first unicellular bacteria. More detail is added as the narrative progresses to multicellular organisms, prehistoric flora and fauna, and eventually hominids.
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