A marvelous entrance for those ready to plunge into popular science.

SEX, LOVE AND DNA

WHAT MOLECULAR BIOLOGY TEACHES US ABOUT BEING HUMAN

From the veteran science writer who brought us Genomes, Browsers and Databases (2008) comes a compendium for laypeople on the breakthroughs of molecular biology.

With backgrounds in education and physics (among other disciplines), Schattner has intended this volume to help curious and intelligent readers explore the world of molecular biology. He uses six sections to illuminate a vast array of topics, beginning with “Proteins and Genes: The Constituents of Life,” which builds a scaffolding to more complex areas of knowledge. Throughout, stories about real people help ground the detailed science. In the section “DNA: Our Link to the Past and the Future,” we learn how family histories can be traced through genetic testing (using Jewish and African-American ancestries as examples) and how glimpses of prenatal DNA may help parents prepare for their child’s arrival by detecting potential diseases (like Huntington’s) early. Sections III (about gene regulation) and IV (epigenetics) showcase the workings of phenomena like sleep, kindness, love and memory (frequently citing animal studies) by explaining how these phenomena can malfunction at the molecular level. Next is the “Nature and Nurture” discussion, covering how genes affect human longevity, athleticism, intelligence and language. The final part focuses on gender, behaviors (like aggression) and emotions (pleasure and fear) as seen through the lens of molecular biology. In this thoroughgoing work, author Schattner writes crisply, offering lucid definitions to technical terms. For example, the double helix refers to “two strands of the DNA molecule...bound together in a very specific manner in which certain bases are always matched.” He also lets us know, thankfully, that there is an ethical line he’d rather not cross with regard to animal testing: “[T]he moral implications of changing monkey DNA make many people (including me) uncomfortable.” Schatter occasionally seasons with a dry wit that will keep readers from being overwhelmed by so much information; e.g., he warns of “logistical challenges” if a Great Dane and a Chihuahua were to mate. Further volumes would be most welcome.

A marvelous entrance for those ready to plunge into popular science.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0991422517

Page Count: 382

Publisher: Olingo Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2014

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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

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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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