The definitive account of one of the most memorable events in medical history.



A chronicle of the race to map and sequence the human genome that pitted the government against private industry, no holds barred.

For government read Francis Collins at the National Institutes of Health, three other major genome labs in the US, and one in the UK funded by the Wellcome Trust. Private industry was Celera, the firm headed by former NIH-er J. Craig Venter with the aim of beating the feds for the greater glory of mankind—and profit, too. Science writer Shreeve (The Neandertal Enigma, 1995, etc.) was given unlimited access to Celera throughout, so the text largely tells Venter’s story and abounds with verbatim dialogue and witty descriptions of the principals: how they dressed, the jokes they told, the Sturm und Drang that accompanied triumphs and setbacks. There’s plenty of high drama here, especially among the extraordinary geeks who wrote the computer programs. Celera’s “whole genome shotgun” approach, in which the total human DNA is blasted into a gazillion fragments and then sequenced and ordered, competed against the government’s “map first/sequence later” approach, in which DNA landmarks are mapped on each chromosome, followed by sequencing to fill in the gaps. Government scientists thought Venter was crazy and resented the privatizing of genes. Venter was so sure he would bag the human genome first that he turned to Collins at a celebrated meeting and suggested “you can do mouse.” Neither Collins nor Venter and his staff, particularly the business side, come off nobly. Indeed, it may shock the naïve to learn that government officials were capable of end-runs and leaks to demonize Venter. The race ended in a carefully staged tie with Clinton and (via satellite) Tony Blair presiding over a smiling Collins and an affable Venter in the White House. But the acrimony lives on. Celera morphed into a drug development company and fired Venter, who started a new firm. Stay tuned.

The definitive account of one of the most memorable events in medical history.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2004

ISBN: 0-375-40629-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2003

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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

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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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