Wellwritten, insightful, and a useful reminder of the complex issues still unsolved in the biological sciences.



This wideranging collection of provocative essayreviews from The New York Review of Books focuses on the biological sciences.

Lewontin (Agassiz Prof. of Biology/Harvard) finds himself at odds with some fashionable orthodoxies of modern biology. In particular, he is skeptical of the determinist streak evident in many proponents of genetics. In a brief introduction he sets the context. As he sees it, part of the problem originates with the migration into biology of physicists and chemists in the 1950s, thrusting molecular biology into the center of public attention. Congress may be unwilling to fund the supercollider, but it did not blanch at funding the Human Genome Project, touted as the cureall for myriad ills. Lewontin points out that, despite the geneticists' hype, in many cases the genetic expression of a congenital disease is not confined to a unique sequence of DNA. Moreover, identifying the genetic cause does not necessarily produce a cure. Lewontin's historical observations are also useful. For instance, while Darwin's formulation of natural selection as the driving force of evolution is not open to serious challenge, the pat notion of species often conveniently overlooks the considerable degree of variation within a species. As one would expect from an NYRB reviewer, Lewontin rarely dodges controversy—concerning the National Bioethics Advisory Commission's report on cloning, he wonders whether it was at all wise to give religious spokespeople input into a document on scientific policy. Likewise, he points out the key problem in research on human sexuality: whether the subjects can be trusted to tell the researchers the truth about their practices. The book's exploration of these and other issues is given additional depth by the inclusion of exchanges between Lewontin and some of the subjects of the reviews.

Wellwritten, insightful, and a useful reminder of the complex issues still unsolved in the biological sciences.

Pub Date: May 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-940322-10-2

Page Count: -

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2000

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 16

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?

A quirky wonder of a book.



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?