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on November 9, 2013
I posted this review some months ago but it appears only as a comment to the review by danielx. I am re-posting it here simply to increase its visibility.

I am John Quackenbush, the author of The Human Genome: Book of Essential Knowledge. I typically don't respond to reviews, but I feel that this critical, unflattering, and somewhat misleading review warrants a reply.

First, as is true of all books, there are some errors that were missed as the book was prepared for publication. For example, as you point out, mammals did not arise 510 million years ago, but during the Late Triassic Period, approximately 210 million years ago. This was an unfortunate typographical error and I appreciate having it pointed out. Similarly, the review is correct in noting that sperm do contain mitochondria and, indeed, the text should have read, "Male sperm cells do not contain large numbers of mitochondria and these are destroyed within minutes of fertilization." And both of these will be corrected (as a few other minor errors I've found) should a second edition of this book be produced.

However, I must disagree with most of the other points raised here. While Rhode, Olsen, and Chang published a 2004 paper presenting mathematical models and computer simulations indicating humans shared a most recent common ancestor only a few thousand years ago, this idea is not widely accepted and not supported by experimental evidence. A little thought about the history of human migration and worldwide diversity underscores why such a recent common ancestor is so unlikely.

The example of sex-linked inheritance detailed in the book, describing the disappearance of surnames (inherited through the paternal line), is a well-established model. Indeed, the 48 inhabitants ([...]l) represent four main families: Christian, Young, Brown, and Warren. The first three are surnames belonging to descendants of Bounty crew members and the last belongs to descendants of an American who settled on the island not long after the original settlers.

Regarding Darwin and the Galapagos finches, they did play an important role in the development of Darwin's thoughts on evolution. Following the return of the Beagle to England, Darwin presented the finches, along with other mammal and bird species he collected, to the Geological Society of London on January 4, 1837. He gave the bird specimens to John Gould, a famous ornithologist, who, at the subsequent meeting of the Geological Society, reported that there were more finch species than Darwin had thought. In fact, birds Darwin had originally classified as blackbirds, "gross-beaks" and finches were in fact "a series of ground Finches which are so peculiar [as to form] an entirely new group, containing 12 species." This classification, together with information about the location of each species, helped Darwin establish his evolutionary theory.

As for parsimony, it can well be defined as "the assumption that nature makes as few changes as possible as new species evolve from old ones." This is not an empirical statement about the processes that operate in nature and it is never presented as one in the book. Rather, the highlighted sentence implies, it is a principle applied to the analysis of evolutionary data.

Finally, regarding my background. Although I did indeed study physics, I have worked in biology and genomics since 1992 when I received a Special Emphasis Research Career Award from the National Institutes of Health to work on the Human Genome Project. Since that time, I have published more than 220 peer-reviewed scientific papers in top journals and am recognized nationally and internationally for my work.

I am proud of this book and believe it presents a compelling history of the human genome project, a description of its importance, and a view of where it may lead us. As the cost of sequencing a genome is now only a few thousand dollars, genome sequencing is rapidly entering into the practice of medicine and has become an essential research tool. I believe the information in this book will be increasingly important not only to its readers, to all of us.
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on March 15, 2011
Oh no, not another book that is too sciencey for me to understand, I thought, when I first saw this little gem of a book. But when I picked it up I found myself drawn into a topic I know little about. Dr. Quackenbush's book makes mapping the human genome perfectly understandable. He writes of his early physics training: "I soon learned that biology was undergoing a revolution as profound as that which had occurred in physics in the late 1800s and early 1900s when... new methods of investigation set the stage for people like Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, and Albert Einstein to dramatically alter our understanding of the universe." So it is today. By combining biology, computer science, and information technology Dr. Q is able to map the human genome sequence--data that leads to "major advances in understanding, diagnosing, and treating disease." Dr. Quackenbush is a computational biologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The new technologies might actually lead to more effective treatments and managements of disease. The book is essential for both the lay person and the scientist. It also has its share of footnotes and citations, leading back to previous accretions of research. Bravo. A must have for anyone interested in understanding the evolution of cancer treatment.
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on July 11, 2013
A real head turner. Easy to read, interesting to read, and Earth shaking information. The future has potential to surprise us and maybe make the world a better place for us to live by improving not only the human species, but all living things. Will man use this information for good or evil---time will tell. I'm impressed with the way John Quackenbush explains the background and history of the Human Genome Project and the possibilities it brings to mankind. Wish I had teachers like him when I went to school. Almost makes mankind 'god-like'.
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on April 8, 2011
It's rare when a book is written about a branch of science and a specific research project that is so important as to be seminal to the future of the Human Race. Yet here, in clear and concise language, Dr. Quackenbush, as the title aptly describes, gives us the 'essential knowledge' to understand the kind of unbelievable changes the Human Genome Project will bring to us as a species.

We are bombarded with hyperbole, often about belief systems that have no basis whatsoever in science. When a book like this is written, it's hard to underestimate its importance. Ultimately the Genomic information that he describes has the power to cure thousands of diseases, and will bring revolutions in medicine, and all aspects of biology, including horticulture, crop production, and evolution itself.

Not only does Dr Quackenbush give us the basic history of the scientific discoveries that led to the continuing success of The Human Genome Project, he reviews the biological mechanics of heredity, growth, disease, and evolution of the human race.

In the Afterward, we get to appreciate the extraordinary set of intellectual and scholarly talents that Dr Quackenbush brings to this book. He is a man of superb intellect, impressive achievements and is a respected scientist in his field. His understanding of the recent medical and technological breakthroughs, and his ability to condense and synthesize them, is why this book is such a success. This is no small task, giving the complexity and the number of different fields that were directly involved in the HGP.

I look forward to reading Dr. Quackenbush's opinions on the future of our physical bodies, the effect of the digitalization and manipulation of DNA, and what he thinks we will look like 500 years from now, and even 5,000 years from now.
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on February 4, 2017
Very informative book with illustrations that aided in my understanding of the material. I wish it would have been more science-heavy, in that I have a good genetics background that they could have gone into much more detail. But that is subjective to my educational background, so anyone interested in learning more about the process of the Human Genome Project or the ethical concerns, with a touch of science, would love this book. Great piece overall!
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on March 25, 2011
Interested in genetics and the Human Genome Project? The Human Genome is a great introduction to the Human Genome Project (HGP) from someone that experienced it from the beginning. This book is quite approachable for people not versed in biology or genetics. I have a degree in biology, but I've been away from the field for over 15 years. I really enjoyed how Quackenbush applied the work and discoveries of the HGP to real-life issues that we are all dealing with everyday. In particular, he covers the genetic foundations of cancer, something that I have recently had to deal with in my family. The book is very succinct and does not stray too far from being what it is billed: a curiosity guide. I would highly recommend trying this book out first to build a foundation. Excellent stuff!
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on October 3, 2011
Having known the author since attending college with him at CalTech, I can say unequivocally that he has done a fine job of mastering the field of Genomic Biology (Not a mean feat for a Physics major!) His book is a wonderful summary of the advances in understanding of Genomics and goes into reasonable detail on the Human Genome Project itself. It covers a variety of topics in just enough depth to make them interesting. I was even lucky enough to pick up a few details that will be helpful to me as a practicing Physician. My son, age 16, loved the book and was able to read and understand it without enormous difficulty. I will look forward to reading other books to come by Dr. Quackenbush!
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on November 18, 2015
This book was exactly what I was looking for . The right balance between complex and simple topics and explanation. It doesn't baby you and yet you understand everything !
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on November 17, 2013
Dr. Quackenbush makes the genome project understandable and makes me want to know more. His way of explaining things help me look at something I thought was way over my head to something that is right in front of my eyes. Bravo
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on December 20, 2014
This account of the development of research on the human genome and the people involved is very readable and clearly explains the relevance to medical science and the possibilities for the future.
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