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Genome: The Autobiography of a Species In 23 Chapters

4.4 out of 5 stars 328 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0060194970
ISBN-10: 0060194979
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Science writer Matt Ridley has found a way to tell someone else's story without being accused of plagiarism. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters delves deep within your body (and, to be fair, Ridley's too) looking for dirt dug up by the Human Genome Project. Each chapter pries one gene out of its chromosome and focuses on its role in our development and adult life, but also goes further, exploring the implications of genetic research and our quickly changing social attitudes toward this information. Genome shies away from the "tedious biochemical middle managers" that only a nerd could love and instead goes for the A-material: genes associated with cancer, intelligence, sex (of course), and more.

Readers unfamiliar with the jargon of genetic research needn't fear; Ridley provides a quick, clear guide to the few words and concepts he must use to translate hard science into English. His writing is informal, relaxed, and playful, guiding the reader so effortlessly through our 23 chromosomes that by the end we wish we had more. He believes that the Human Genome Project will be as world-changing as the splitting of the atom; if so, he is helping us prepare for exciting times--the hope of a cure for cancer contrasts starkly with the horrors of newly empowered eugenicists. Anyone interested in the future of the body should get a head start with the clever, engrossing Genome. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

HSoon we'll know what's in our genes: next year, the Human Genome Project will have its first-draft map of our 23 chromosomes. Ridley (The Red Queen; The Origins of Virtue) anticipates the genomic news with an inventively constructed, riveting exposition of what we already know about the links between DNA and human life. His inviting prose proposes "to tell the story of the human genome... chromosome by chromosome, by picking a gene from each." That story begins with the basis of life on earth, the DNA-to-RNA-to-protein process (chapter one, "Life," and also chromosome one); the evolution of Homo sapiens (chromosome two, which emerged in early hominids when two ape chromosomes fused); and the discovery of genetic inheritance (which came about in part thanks to the odd ailment called alkaptonuria, carried on chromosome three). Some facts about your life depend entirely on a single gene--for example, whether you'll get the dreadful degenerative disease Huntington's chorea, and if so, at what age (chromosome four, hence chapter four: "Fate"). But most facts about you are products of pleiotropy, "multiple effects of multiple genes," plus the harder-to-study influences of culture and environment. (One asthma-related gene--but only one--hangs out on chromosome five.) The brilliant "whistle-stop tour of some... sites in the genome" passes through "Intelligence," language acquisition, embryology, aging, sex and memory before arriving at two among many bugbears surrounding human genetic mapping: the uses and abuses of genetic screening, and the ongoing debate on "genetic determinism" and free will. Ridley can explain with equal verve difficult moral issues, philosophical quandaries and technical biochemistry; he distinguishes facts from opinions well, and he's not shy about offering either. Among many recent books on genes, behavior and evolution, Ridley's is one of the most informative. It's also the most fun to read. Agent, Felicity Bryan.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper (February 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060194979
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060194970
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (328 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #216,912 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I'm not sure whether to give this book four or five stars...
FIVE STARS - because of how interesting the subject matter is. DNA, it seems, isn't a brilliant piece of software to make bodies. It's more a committee of chemicals each trying to propogate themselves, and often at odds with the other chemicals in DNA (97% of which don't actually do anything!) And this is the stuff that to a large extent makes us US!
FIVE STARS - because of how well written some sections are. Chapter 4, for instance, which talks about the researcher who not only can tell you IF you're going to get Huntington's chorea, but can tell you what age you'll get it, simply by counting the number of times a particular gene sequence repeats. I was left haunted by the question, if I had a high risk for H.C., would I get the test done, simply to know when the symptoms would start?
FIVE STARS - Because of the research. This is the most up to date book on the subject available at the moment. He cites research done as close as 1998.
BUT FOUR STARS - because although some parts were absolutely mind-blowingly interesting and could be considered _classic_ bits of writing, the prose in other parts seemed to get a bit heavy and tedious, and I had to put it down. I was surprised by my own reaction, having been so thoroughly entertained a few short chapters before. But it means I can't give it five stars, because that rating is for out and out classics. (Which this book nearly is. Damn.)
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Format: Paperback
This is the book that I wish Steven Pinker's "How the Mind Works" was. Matt Ridley unfolds the human genome for us in a crisply written and precise "Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters." OK, I don't know what the Hades that means, but this guy is a good writer, a smart scientist, and a friendly teacher of what is a really cool, but intimidating, branch of learning.
Ridley's got a little shtick, which he openly mocks himself, where his 23 chapters each represent one of the 23 human chromosomes. It's kind of an interesting little angle, you want to like this guy, anyway, so the shtick mostly works, although I don't really have a sense that each of our 23 chromosomes is a particular type of chromosome at the end of it.
Genome is a lot of good science explained with a clear, well-constructed hand. In an excellent seven-page introduction, Ridley answered for me all sorts of questions that my scientifically-literate yet communication-challenged science friends have been unable to answer, to wit:
"Imagine that the genome is a book.
There are twenty-three chapters, called Chromosomes.
Each chapter contains several thousand stories, called Genes.
Each story is made up of paragraphs, called Exons, which are interrupted by advertisements called Introns.
Each paragraph is made up of words, called Codons.
Each word is written in letters called Bases."
Very nicely done, brings it to an understandable level for the literate layperson, and establishes a very solid foundation from which he is able to unfold the rest of this story.
He handles the basic science very well, and mostly shys away from the "Believe It or Not!" school of science reporting, though the occasional oddity does pop up. One thing I found fascinating is the existence of "chimeras.
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Format: Hardcover
Things have, indeed, changed. This book chronicles the opening of the Genome mystery and the path science has taken to reach today's level of knowledge. It also includes a far reaching discussion of the current discoveries of DNA and the impact (including a realistic cure for Cancer) that they will have on our lives in the future.
This is a far ranging discussion, moving from the genetic impacts on sexuality, personality, disease (or more appropriately resistance to disease), longevity, and other topics. It is an excellent, intriguing book for anyone who reads it. The scientific information can get a little overwhelming, but every turn of the page can reveal a new understanding about who we are and how our exploding genetic knowledge might shape our future.
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Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent overview of current scientific discovery and argument regarding that inheritently common, but innately variable blueprint of 23 pairs of chromosones we all share.
Our knowledge of our genes is progressing at a rapid rate, so much so, that by the time I finish writing this sentence, our knowledge of the human genetic code has been updated. If you wish to know what kinds of things are being discovered, this book is a very good place to find it.
Matt Ridley devotes each chapter to one of our chromosones-23 in all, and describes some useful dicoveries and speculations regarding each. From such things as the ability to digest lactose, blood groups, cancer suppressors, 'instinct',intelligence, ethics, free will, allergies, aspects of language, ageing, sex, cloning, test tube babies, Mad Cow disease etc, he describes in a clever and clear way the discoveries being made in the field.
I would give the book 4 1/2 stars,(but there are no halves in these reviews), as no book is ever perfect, but a point to remember is no understanding of our world, or our genes themselves, is ever perfect either. But we can find pieces to the puzzle, useful and uplifting, and that is what this book is about.
Ridleys style is clear and clever, my only quibble is that he displays perhaps just a touch of arrogance, and a subtle air of bias. But give the author his due, an author is entitled to his opinions and leanings, what is important is that he generally makes it clear when he does so.
The book is highly recommended for both those familiar with the jargon, and those with enthusiastic minds who wish to learn about it.
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