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Why Us?: How Science Rediscovered the Mystery of Ourselves Hardcover – March 17, 2009

ISBN-13: 978-0375421983 ISBN-10: 037542198X Edition: First Edition

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon; First Edition edition (March 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037542198X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375421983
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.6 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,130,341 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Simple and compelling; a bold attempt to reunite science with a sense of wonder.”
The Sunday Times (London)

“An extraordinary work of science. . . . Quite wonderfully refreshing.”
—A. N. Wilson, Reader’s Digest (UK)
“[Le Fanu reminds us] that life is finally inexplicable, and the universe full of mysteries that are inaccessible to scientific probing. The fact that these rarely stated realities are so superbly brought to life here makes this a brave, brilliant and fascinating book.”
The Sunday Telegraph (London)

“Excellent. . . . An important, luminously written book. . . . Carefully-documented, scrupulously fair-minded. . . . It deserves a very wide readership. . . .  A careful reader, analyst, and conveyor of this body of research, and an admirer of its revelations and the ingenuity of those who have made them, LeFanu is also possessed of something even rarer than a gift for luminous explication of scientific complexity: he has what the great, polymathic thinker Blaise Pascal called 'l’esprit de finesse,' or a philosophical mind.”
Modern Age

“James Le Fanu’s lively literary imagination makes this book such a stimulating and challenging read.”
Literary Review (UK)
“Erudite and beautifully written. . . . Le Fanu lucidly analyses the limitations of that narrow intellectual prison in which science has languished too long.”
The Spectator (UK)
“Le Fanu sets his stall out with admirable clarity, and not a little brio. . . . [He is] a lucid and compelling writer.”
Evening Standard (UK)
“This challenge is so knowledgeable, so meticulously constructed that mere prejudice will not be enough to undermine this major work.”
Catholic Herald
“A bold synthesising polemic.”
Standpoint Magazine
“Le Fanu eviscerates salvation by science. The Double Helix is impenetrable, the brain unfathomable, the genome over-rated, the self a mystery.”
World Magazine
“An outstandingly readable and informative book. . . . Le Fanu knows a lot but wears his erudition lightly.”
—David Klinghoffer, The Discovery Institute

From the Trade Paperback edition.

About the Author

For the past twenty years James Le Fanu has combined working as a doctor in general practice with contributing a weekly column to The Sunday Telegraph and The Daily Telegraph. His articles and reviews have appeared in the New Statesman, The Spectator, GQ, the British Medical Journal, and the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. He has made original contributions to current controversies over the value of experiments on human embryos, environmentalism, dietary causes of diseases, and the misdiagnosis of non-accidental injury in children. His previous book, The Rise and Fall of Modern Medicine, won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in 2001. He lives in England.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By R. Pennoyer on July 19, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this work James Le Fanu, a medical doctor and prize-winning author, examines certain cutting-edge discoveries in the life sciences and finds that those discoveries have profound implications for understanding both the nature of science and the nature of humanity. He concentrates on two areas in particular: Genetics and Brain Science.

Regarding genetics, Le Fanu argues that recent advances in our understanding (including the mapping of the complete human genome) call into question the adequacy of the traditional theory of macroevolution (species to species) through random mutation over time. Turning to brain science, Le Fanu argues that recent research undermines any conceptual model of the brain-as-computer and "thought" as the simple result of chemical reactions. Taken together, these discoveries raise a challenge to the strict materialism that has characterized science for many decades, a materialism that (according to Le Fanu) can blind its proponents to the extraordinary implications of the data before them and has contributed to a growing sense of sterility in the field. Importantly, this strict materialism is not a necessary part of good scientific method. Indeed, Le Fanu believes we are on the verge of another major paradigm shift in science of the type Thomas Kuhn has described; that before long a tipping point will be reached and the hegemony of certain inadequate assumptions will be over.

Le Fanu is not a "creationist" properly speaking and any efforts to classify him as such would be lazy at best. He accepts the scientific consensus of an ancient earth and part of his argument rests on the evidence for periodic "explosions" of life in the Cambrian period and other eras.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By FreshVoice on July 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
"It cannot be long before a proper appreciation of the true significance of the findings of the recent past begins to sow doubts in inquisitive minds."
The paradigm shift that James Le Fanu alludes to in this book may just be around the corner, or new year for that matter. Le Fanu describes the fascinating findings of the New Genetics and Neuroscience, new evidence that calls for a new paradigm to be revealed. One can only hope this will come about soon. Science has indeed "rediscovered the mystery of ourselves" and will usher in a new period of discovery-- a period where wonder, and not doubt, will lead to an explosion of discoveries that have remained hidden under the existing paradigm.
This is an excellent book for all to read. Give it to anyone... Le Fanu writes with eloquence and grace, driving his ideas home and allowing all to comprehend, scientist or not.
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22 of 29 people found the following review helpful By James Coker on May 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Very interesting. Le Fanu makes a strong case for the wonder of our universe. The book is a broad sweep of science, though Le Fanu never gets superficial. He makes a strong case for an intelligent universe. I expect this book to generate a lot of discussions on the wonder, purpose and meaning of our existence. It is a strong and refreshing challenge to the weary little universe of materialism. Highly recommended.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By John C. Landon on March 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Le Fanu's Why Us? is a timely reminder from a scientist that all is not well with Darwinian evolutionism. It should be an elementary aspect of public understanding that current science has not yet produced a theory of consciousness or of its evolution. And this is mirrored by an equal inadequacy in the current status of neuroscience, which cannot seem to truly grapple with its own proper subject matter. In fact, reductionist theories cannot even bridge the fact/value distinction, something that they should, must, be doing, even as scientists insist they must not, that value-free science must reduce biological knowledge to an extension of physics. The deficit of explanation leads to a sense of the inadequacy of explanation.
Le Fanu's rediscovery of a sense of wonder makes one think of the noumenal aspect of the 'phenomenon' of evolution, as it surpasses the limits of observation to issue an enigma beyond theory.
It is rare for a scientist to grasp the dilemma of evolutionary theories. Le Fanu's book is a seminal, and refreshing, exception. Perhpas there is science beyond scientism after all.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By DonL2507 on November 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a mixed review because while this book is very well-written and contains a fascinating "big picture" view of the limits of reductionist science in fully explaining humanity, there are many areas where I think the author is wrong and some areas that are just plain irritating. I should hasten to add, however, that we don't have to agree fully with a book to enjoy it and gather useful insights from it. Le Fanu describes the history of two fields, genetics and neuroscience, in their efforts to "de-mystify" humanity, and suggests that these powerful and productive disciplines have bumped up against a wall in their efforts to provide a complete explanation of human beings thus allowing a residual core of "mystery" to surround how our bodies are built and function, and how our minds are created and sustained. It's unclear to me whether he thinks these limits to understanding are temporary (science will eventually fill the "gaps") or are permanent and thus part of the mystery of our existence.

Essentially, the author takes two "unexpected" developments: (1) the Human Genome Project's discovery that, instead of the 100,000 or so genes anticipated, we have only about 25,000 genes, and that humanity's genotype is identical to 98% of the genotype of our primate cousins, and (2) that after substantial resources in recent decades have been plowed into neuroscience including the "Decade of the Brain" project, we still don't have a clear idea how the brain creates the mind and how consciousness is sustained. Le Fanu suggests the former development erodes genetic reductionism (it's all in our genes) since how can man's gifts, relative to the primates, be explained by a 98% overlapping of genes.
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