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The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture Paperback – July 6, 2004
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“Proposes a new way of looking at an ongoing debate.” -- Washington Post Book World
“An engrossing study of what makes us who we are … conveyed with insight and style.” -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Ridley is simply one of the best science writers in the business.” -- Hartford Courant
“Terrific popular science.” -- Booklist (starred review)
“Thoughtful and entertaining.” -- Salon.com
“Matt Ridley breathes new life into the old debate of heredity versus environment. He deftly examines subjects as diverse as sexual identity, political theory, and psychotic behavior. This book will both edify and excite the intelligent reader.” -- Jerome Groopman, M.D.
“Ridley’s enthusiasm for his subject is contagious … He writes with panache, wit and humor and displays remarkable ingenuity in finding ways to present complicated materials for the lay reader.” -- Los Angeles Times
“A delight. . . a rich overview and a compellingly integrated picture of a great deal of science, both old and new." -- Nature
About the Author
Matt Ridley is the author of books that have sold well over a million copies in 32 languages: THE RED QUEEN, THE ORIGINS OF VIRTUE, GENOME, NATURE VIA NURTURE, FRANCIS CRICK, THE RATIONAL OPTIMIST, THE EVOLUTION OF EVERYTHING, and HOW INNOVATION WORKS. In his bestseller GENOME and in his biography of Francis Crick, he showed an ability to translate the details of genomic discoveries into understandable and exciting stories. During the current pandemic, he has written essays for the Wall Street Journal and The Spectator about the origin and genomics of the virus. His most recent WSJ piece appeared on January 16, 2021. He is a member of the House of Lords in the UK.
- Publisher : Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (July 6, 2004)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 006000679X
- ISBN-13 : 978-0060006792
- Item Weight : 9.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.31 x 0.79 x 8 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #660,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Top reviews from the United States
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Konrad Lorenz (indeed, I named my son after him)-- I've read pretty much everything he has ever written!
Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox-- various
Richard Leakey-- The Origin of Humankind
Stephen Pinker--How the Mind Works
Jane Goodall-- everything
and others (Stephen Jay Gould's "Ontogeny and Phylogeny" is next on my "to read" list)
and Matt Ridley's the Red Queen.
It is from this background that I say I enjoyed this book mightily even though some of the science went right over my head with nary a look back.
The book engages with some of the deepest questions in this field and does a wonderful job of anticipating my questions as I read it and answering them.
The discussions in this book are dramatically and importantly different from other discussions of "Nature/Nurture", and I can hardly recommend it strongly enough. What is different is the degree of specificity that Ridley brings to the conversation. He demonstrates from a dozen different points of view HOW causality flows both ways, from the genes to the environment and back. He also pokes holes in logical fallacies one hears all the time - for example, the assertion that a feature is not genetic because the specific genes have not (and in some cases may not ever) been identified. A well-constructed twin study positively identifies heritability of traits; tracking that heritability back to a spot on a chromosome is useful and interesting but not necessary.
There is also basic science here that the lay reader might not otherwise learn for years. For instance, until very recently it was thought that there was a one to one correlation between genes and their proteins. It was also unknown what, if any, purpose breaking genes apart into exons on the chromosome served. Now we have discovered that many - ninety five on one mouse gene - different versions of one exon can exist on the chromosome, allowing one gene to make many different versions of its protein. Different versions mediated by... environment, of course.
Much of the information here is counter-intuitive. For instance, the more egalitarian a society is, the more the heritabilaty of traits becomes manifest. Potentially confusing, certainly mind-bending, and who better than Ridley to explain it?
If you are interested in biology, read this book.
Top reviews from other countries
Key to proving a lot for Ridley in the nature / nurture debate is the stats on identical twins and separation at birth. This does provide a lot of information and evidence that genetics have a massive influence on not just matters physical but also psychological. However, looking the other way, if there is only 50-60% correlations the question screaming out is why the 40-50% non correlation when the genes are identical? Almost an equal influence from the environment obviously. And one has to question the reliability of correlation figures in vague areas such as character mapping etc. The insistence that criminality is predominantly genetic is hard to believe. And of course, with most American prisons being filled with black inmates, that makes for a very definite genetic type casting.
Overall a good book covering a lot of information, well presented but occasionally the authors efforts to present a case for both nature and nurture as major players in our development fails and he, like many before him, pins his colours to a particular master.