THE HUMAN BLUEPRINT

THE RACE TO UNLOCK THE SECRETS OF OUR GENETIC SCRIPT

An encyclopedic yet personal and imaginative account of human genetics by someone who has ``ridden briefly over the ground'' he wishes to cover. Shapiro (Chemistry/NYU) divides his discussion into ``Yesterday,'' ``Today,'' ``Tomorrow,'' and ``After Tomorrow,'' providing historical chronology as well as future speculations. ``Yesterday'' begins with Mendel and moves on to Morgan and the fruit-fly group at Columbia at the turn of the century, revisits the Eagle Pub in Cambridge in 1953 (site of notable Watson-Crick conversations), and moves apace to the mid-70's and the birth of biotechnology with the work of Walter Gilbert at Harvard and Fred Sanger at Cambridge. ``Today'' begins with the launching of the project to map and sequence the entire human genome: the promises, the problems, and the politics. Shapiro chooses the metaphor of DNA as literary script to be decoded and describes genetic diseases as various typos and misreadings. He spends considerable time explaining techniques in current use, such as DNA fingerprinting and chromosome walking. This is tough stuff, but Shapiro does well by his language analogies. And the two sections on the future reveal that he is no novice at speculation. Indeed, he raises the specter of people gaining intimate knowledge of one's personal genome by obtaining a hair or other easily shed body sample—for all the world a 21st-century analogue of black magic, in this case enabling the future ``magician'' to know just what ills one is heir to. Shapiro concludes with the optimistic view that humans may someday dip into the germline to create subspecies with different traits. That, plus interesting asides on the English royal family, Jefferson's descendants, the origins of the Jewish ``race,'' and other examples of DNA sleuthing, add spice and potential controversy to a first-rate study.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-312-05873-X

Page Count: 432

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1991

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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?

No Comments Yet

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more