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

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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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An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY OF PLANTS

A neurobiologist reveals the interconnectedness of the natural world through stories of plant migration.

In this slim but well-packed book, Mancuso (Plant Science/Univ. of Florence; The Revolutionary Genius of Plants: A New Understanding of Plant Intelligence and Behavior, 2018, etc.) presents an illuminating and surprisingly lively study of plant life. He smoothly balances expansive historical exploration with recent scientific research through stories of how various plant species are capable of migrating to locations throughout the world by means of air, water, and even via animals. They often continue to thrive in spite of dire obstacles and environments. One example is the response of plants following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Three decades later, the abandoned “Exclusion Zone” is now entirely covered by an enormous assortment of thriving plants. Mancuso also tracks the journeys of several species that might be regarded as invasive. “Why…do we insist on labeling as ‘invasive’ all those plants that, with great success, have managed to occupy new territories?” asks the author. “On a closer look, the invasive plants of today are the native flora of the future, just as the invasive species of the past are a fundamental part of our ecosystem today.” Throughout, Mancuso persuasively articulates why an understanding and appreciation of how nature is interconnected is vital to the future of our planet. “In nature everything is connected,” he writes. “This simple law that humans don’t seem to understand has a corollary: the extinction of a species, besides being a calamity in and of itself, has unforeseeable consequences for the system to which the species belongs.” The book is not without flaws. The loosely imagined watercolor renderings are vague and fail to effectively complement Mancuso’s richly descriptive prose or satisfy readers’ curiosity. Even without actual photos and maps, it would have been beneficial to readers to include more finely detailed plant and map renderings.

An authoritative, engaging study of plant life, accessible to younger readers as well as adults.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-63542-991-6

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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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

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