Well written and illuminating.

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JACOB’S LADDER

THE HISTORY OF THE HUMAN GENOME

A detailed history, not so much of the genome as of genetics itself.

Nature science writer Gee begins with a description of how a fertilized human egg develops into a person. As everyone has observed, that person will resemble both parents in various ways, but how are those traits inherited? Aristotle thought that the fetus was made largely out of menstrual blood; others thought that semen carried the entire reproductive package. The details of reproduction weren’t sorted out until the 17th century, when the newly invented microscope revealed the nature of sperm. Even two centuries later, a serious obstacle to the acceptance of Darwin’s theories was scientists’ incomplete understanding of just how heredity worked. Mendel’s work, which sorted out of the fundamentals of genetics, provided the missing link, and Thomas Hunt Morgan’s meticulous study of fruit flies proved that genes were more than just a metaphor. The discovery of DNA’s structure by Watson and Crick made the exact mechanism of inheritance clear once and for all. What happened next is not as well known, and here Gee comes into his own. He clearly and readably explains the “triplet code” by which DNA bases dictate the synthesis of enzymes, the key role of interactions between genes, and the presence of large amounts of “junk DNA” in the genome. He also deals with the evolutionary origins of various features of the human genome, which is within a percentage point of being indistinguishable from that of a mouse. Gee concludes with a look at the questions raised by gene therapy, cloning, and other techniques just coming over the horizon of practical application. Stunning progress, and yet the question of just what in the tangled double helix makes us human remains unanswered. The author hopes we find that answer before we go too far down unknown roads.

Well written and illuminating.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-393-05083-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2004

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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