Sobering, humbling, and extraordinarily rich reading from a wise and gifted writer who sees how far we have come—but how...

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THE GENE

AN INTIMATE HISTORY

A panoramic history of the gene and how genetics “resonate[s] far beyond the realms of science.”

Mukherjee (Medicine/Columbia Univ.; The Laws of Medicine, 2015, etc.), who won the Pulitzer Prize for his history of cancer, The Emperor of All Maladies (2010), begins with Mendel and his “pea-flower garden,” and he never lets readers forget the social, cultural, and ethical implications of genetics research. Indeed, he dedicates the book to his grandmother, who raised two mentally ill children, and to Carrie Buck, the Virginia woman judged “feeble-minded” and sterilized according to eugenics laws passed in the 1920s. After Mendel, Mukherjee describes Thomas Morgan’s fruit fly studies in the 1900s, and he goes on to trace the steps leading to the discovery of the double helix, the deciphering of the genetic code, and the technological advances that have created ethical dilemmas. Early on, there was recombinant DNA, the insertion of genes from one species into another, and this led to mandates initially proscribing certain experiments. Then, there were the first disastrous attempts at gene therapy, which consisted of arrogant and sloppy science. Meanwhile, the human genome has been mapped, more and more genes have been associated with certain diseases (and even behaviors), and a new technique has been developed that permits the removing or replacing of specific genetic defects. Are we ready to apply that to an individual patient? Should it apply to sperm and egg cells so as to affect future generations? Mukherjee ponders these issues in the final chapters and epilogue, ultimately seeing the need for more research about the information coded in the human genome, since so much of it does not consist of genes. Throughout, the author provides vivid portraits of the principal players and enough accessible scientific information to bring general readers into the process of genetic lab science.

Sobering, humbling, and extraordinarily rich reading from a wise and gifted writer who sees how far we have come—but how much farther we have to go to understand our human nature and destiny.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3350-0

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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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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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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