A robust, bouncy, pellucid introduction to DNA and genetics.

HERDING HEMINGWAY'S CATS

UNDERSTANDING HOW OUR GENES WORK

A survey of recent research and thinking on genes.

What are genes, asks science writer Arney, and what do they do? “Genes are the things in your DNA that make your eyes blue, your belly bulge or your hair curl….Genetic knowledge has the power to save us,” she writes at the beginning of the book. Of course, it’s not nearly that simple, but by the end of the book, Arney has arrived at a simplified definition of a gene: “an inherited thing that does a thing.” In between, the author delivers an alluring tale of science at its most humble and probing, at least as practiced by the company of skeptics and scientific investigators. Genes are strings of DNA with instructions telling the cells to make various molecules—a string of building blocks to make a protein, for instance—that enable us to grow from a single cell into a baby. But the more we learn about genetic behavior, the murkier becomes our understanding. We know that genes can be switched on and off, but we also know the activator can be seriously distant from the genes producing a protein to endow a cell with individual characteristics. How do they communicate? There are 6 feet of DNA in every cell, jammed into the nucleus, “constantly on the move, writhing and wriggling like a nest of snakes.” If evolution is genetics and time, then this is natural selection at its most immediate and intimate. Arney delves into the importance of nature and nurture, as well as the epigenetic “impact of the environment on how this genetic information gets used.” Then come the bedeviling stochastic chemical interactions, the matters of chance “that the right things will come together at the right time.” With all the moving parts, she writes, genetics is “a statistical event rather than a guaranteed one.”

A robust, bouncy, pellucid introduction to DNA and genetics.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4729-1004-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bloomsbury Sigma

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

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

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

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

Did you like this book?

more