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 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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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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