THE LANGUAGE OF GENES: Unraveling the Mysteries of Human Genetics by Steve Jones

THE LANGUAGE OF GENES: Unraveling the Mysteries of Human Genetics

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If the history of life is the history of DNA, then this survey of genetics is an essential book for anyone interested in the development and possible future of our species. Jones (Genetics/University College, London; editor, The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Human Evolution, not reviewed) expands a BBC lecture series on genetics into an accessible and wide-reaching survey of that science and of its actual and potential impact on humanity. In the process, he combines history (the discoveries of Darwin and Mendel), cutting-edge research (genetic engineering and the Human Genome project), and an unusually clear perspective on moral issues (racism, eugenics, human evolution). The human animal is descended from an apelike ancestor, molded early on by changing climatic conditions, winnowed by accident and disease, and finally on the verge of being able to influence the genetic inheritance of future generations. Without subjecting the reader to overly technical language or complex mathematics, Jones gives a clear look at some of the questions that occupy scientists studying human genetics: whether homo sapiens emerged only in Africa or in several places around the world; the inheritance of genetic defects, from sickle cell anemia to Huntington's disease; and the effect of prolonged human life span on natural selection. The book is smoothly written, despite an occasional clichÉ (Jones is overly fond of the expression ""writ large""), and enlivened with an occasional touch of humor. The author does not shy away from controversy -- he makes his opinion of anti-evolutionists eminently clear -- and draws effectively on common experience (such as the history of surnames) to illustrate his points. An extensive bibliography makes the book especially valuable to readers who want to learn more about the subject. An excellent introduction to one of the most important frontiers of science, by a man who knows it as well as anyone.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1994
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday