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Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters [Hardcover]

Matt Ridley
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (148 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan. 20 2000 0060194979 978-0060194970 1
Text on what the Human Genome Project has found. Discusses genes and how they work, by picking one newly discovered gene from each of the 23 human chromosomes and telling its story. The author recounts the history of our species from the dawn of life to the brink of future medicine. For anyone interested in the subject. Does not discuss mapping and sequencing techniques.

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Science writer Matt Ridley has found a way to tell someone else's story without being accused of plagiarism. Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters delves deep within your body (and, to be fair, Ridley's too) looking for dirt dug up by the Human Genome Project. Each chapter pries one gene out of its chromosome and focuses on its role in our development and adult life, but also goes further, exploring the implications of genetic research and our quickly changing social attitudes toward this information. Genome shies away from the "tedious biochemical middle managers" that only a nerd could love and instead goes for the A-material: genes associated with cancer, intelligence, sex (of course), and more.

Readers unfamiliar with the jargon of genetic research needn't fear; Ridley provides a quick, clear guide to the few words and concepts he must use to translate hard science into English. His writing is informal, relaxed, and playful, guiding the reader so effortlessly through our 23 chromosomes that by the end we wish we had more. He believes that the Human Genome Project will be as world-changing as the splitting of the atom; if so, he is helping us prepare for exciting times--the hope of a cure for cancer contrasts starkly with the horrors of newly empowered eugenicists. Anyone interested in the future of the body should get a head start with the clever, engrossing Genome. --Rob Lightner

From Publishers Weekly

HSoon we'll know what's in our genes: next year, the Human Genome Project will have its first-draft map of our 23 chromosomes. Ridley (The Red Queen; The Origins of Virtue) anticipates the genomic news with an inventively constructed, riveting exposition of what we already know about the links between DNA and human life. His inviting prose proposes "to tell the story of the human genome... chromosome by chromosome, by picking a gene from each." That story begins with the basis of life on earth, the DNA-to-RNA-to-protein process (chapter one, "Life," and also chromosome one); the evolution of Homo sapiens (chromosome two, which emerged in early hominids when two ape chromosomes fused); and the discovery of genetic inheritance (which came about in part thanks to the odd ailment called alkaptonuria, carried on chromosome three). Some facts about your life depend entirely on a single gene--for example, whether you'll get the dreadful degenerative disease Huntington's chorea, and if so, at what age (chromosome four, hence chapter four: "Fate"). But most facts about you are products of pleiotropy, "multiple effects of multiple genes," plus the harder-to-study influences of culture and environment. (One asthma-related gene--but only one--hangs out on chromosome five.) The brilliant "whistle-stop tour of some... sites in the genome" passes through "Intelligence," language acquisition, embryology, aging, sex and memory before arriving at two among many bugbears surrounding human genetic mapping: the uses and abuses of genetic screening, and the ongoing debate on "genetic determinism" and free will. Ridley can explain with equal verve difficult moral issues, philosophical quandaries and technical biochemistry; he distinguishes facts from opinions well, and he's not shy about offering either. Among many recent books on genes, behavior and evolution, Ridley's is one of the most informative. It's also the most fun to read. Agent, Felicity Bryan.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Okay Sept. 7 2001
By A Customer
This is an often interesting, readable book. But the author just uses the genome foundation to write often arbitrary essays on human beings. It's not really as advertised. And he's really opinionated at times. He makes the claim that lactose tolerant groupings of people WILLED their genes to become lactose tolerant. (I'd like to will my DNA to need no sleep...)That's a really outrageous claim. And in the final chapter, 22, on free will, he is so adamant that parents have NOTHING to do with how a child develops emotionally, that it is all PEER pressure and genes that shape a child...he sounds like a parent who has problem children and is desperate to point the finger at anyone but himself. He sites a study that showed STEP-children of abusers did not abuse their own children, showing that abusers got the tendency to abuse from their abusing parents only genetically. Okay. But what about the link between people suffering from multiple personality disorder invariably being the victims of child abuse? Is multiple personality disorder purely a genetic phenomenon? Mr. Ridley would argue it is. But the evidence is that multiple personality disorder is a result of abuse. I mean there is BROAD and solid documentation of parents shaping a child's emotional life. If parents didn't, then we should never feel sorry for orphans. But the author SINCERELY claims that children shape the emotional lives of their parents more than the other way around. The fact is the human childhood is so long, compared to other animals, BECAUSE the child needs shaping by his parents. And when that shaping goes awry...the parents can be to blame. Chapter 22 basically gives parents permission to be really really really lousy parents, and not to feel bad...because if the kids end up in rehab: hey, you had nothing to do with it! Read more ›
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Nice story - emphasis on story Oct. 22 2002
Ridley is a good writer and it's a compelling read. However, his approach is far too similar to the approach taken by others who have a story to tell - and whose story trumps facts. And he is unabashed about this endeavor. He specifically states in the introduction that he took his ideas about human nature and then went looking for genes within each chromosome to support his story. Not exactly the ideal of the scientific method. But at least he's honest about it. Anyway, if you enjoy books like Diamond's "Guns, Germs, and Steel" in which nature is brought into conformity with the author's vision, you'll probably like this one.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
By David
As soon as I finished reading this book, I started all over again - something I've never done before. Partly to ensure I really had grasped some of the key learning points, and partly just to enjoy the writing style of the author (what a gift he has for translating deep academic research into a compelling story!)

It was packed full of facts and explanations of how cells, protein & DNA all work together - something I never did at school over 30 years ago. But this is no text book. As other reviewers have explained, this reads like 23 short stories - one for each chromosome.

After reading "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins I found that "Genome" was a great complement to my new interest in genetics and how DNA enables evolution. With a great nod of respect to Dawkins, if you only read one book on the subject of DNA or genetics - read "Genome".
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5.0 out of 5 stars a good book on THE topic March 14 2004
"Evolution is the thing and Darwin is the man."
This is the sentence my college English professor emailed to me several years ago. And right he was. Today, scientists are prying deep into our genetic vaults, finding clues to our past that Matt Ridley claims are leaving the scientists breathless. Prions, junk DNA, parasites in our genome, and little genetic ins and outs tell the tale of how homo sapiens left company with other Earthly organisms millions of years ago. We thought we were advanced when we split the atom, broke the speed of sound, and landed on the moon. We were not even started then: now, we have mapped our own genome onto a computer disc.
Matt Ridley is well educated, and he has done his gruntwork as a writer for the Economist, making his explanatory skills superb. He tells the tale of a "briefly abundant, relatively hairless primate out of Africa" with wit and skill, aligning his book along twenty-three chapters (like our chromosomes). There is fine explanation about how DNA works, what parts of this complicated "filament" do what, and how male genes "invade" a woman's body and build a placenta. In between this fascinating material are quotes from Alexander Pope and Francis Crick, among others. Ridley also explains the "homeobox" genes, the ones that "tell" other genes where to go during the building of an embryo. We share these development genes with flies and mice, causing Ridley to remark that "at the level of the embryo, we are glorified flies." Ahh, human vanity...
For anyone with a casual or serious interest in what one reviewer called "the most portentous natural truth that science has yet discovered," Matt Ridley's Genome is a great read. His prose is clear and his sense of humor peppers this most deep, beautiful, and disturbing of all human subjects: our very selves.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Ain't nothin' like the real thing Jan. 4 2004
Until now human genes have been almost a complete mystery. However, because of the human genome project we will be the first humans to penetrate that mystery, which will in turn give us great new answers along with even greater new questions. We will be the first generation since "the beginning" - 4 billion years ago (?) - to read this book that is the genome, a book which will tell us more about our origins, our evolution, our nature and our minds than all the other efforts of science to date.
We've now discovered that the complete set of human genes (the human genome) can be found in our chromosomes, 23 separate pairs of them. Of the 100 trillion cells in the body each has a set of chromosomes making up a genome pair or set, one from mom and one from dad. These genes, an arbitrary collection of genes on the chromosomes inside the cell nuclei, are each composed of DNA which hold the information (the recipes for life) to create proteins which will determine how we as an organism look, behave, fight infection, metabolize food, and do virtually everything else.
This book relates the story of the human genome by using a gene from each chromosome to chronicle the story of our lives. By constructing the book in this manner the author represents the basic themes of human nature thru genetics. Thus, the genome is an autobiography of our species, recording the most important events in our history as they've occurred.
There are probably 60,000-80,000 genes in our human genome of which the great majority are merely tedious biochemical middle managers. All of these genes have not been found, but their story continues to unfold almost daily.
Each chromosome includes several thousand stories called genes.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars genome
the book was in excellent condition as promised amd arrived faster than had been offered. totaly satisfied
Published on Sept. 12 2009 by Viktoria Reuter
4.0 out of 5 stars Reminded me why I love what I do
I picked up this book in a book buying frenzy this past summer. I am in my last year of a degree in biology, so to me this book was from the outset inherently interesting. Read more
Published on Dec 10 2004 by Sabina82
3.0 out of 5 stars fun to read
this was a great book to read because it is a compilation of vignettes. it's easy to read one or two in a sitting and then let it rest for a day, a week or a month. Read more
Published on May 19 2004 by J. F Treml
4.0 out of 5 stars Very educational
I'm currently a 9th grade student and find the DNA, RNA, etc. reviews extremely fascinating. I picked up this book and found it a wonderful read. Read more
Published on March 25 2004 by dfgsggdfs
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, but has some non-fact facts. Flawed.
I got this thinking I'd get a nice airplane read out of it, maybe learn something. I've got a bioscience background.
It's quite varied. Read more
Published on March 20 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Ain't nothin' like the real thing
The study of the genome compares with, though greatly exceeds, one of the greatest technological advancements of in human history, one which took us from the age of faith to the... Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2004 by Eugene A Jewett
4.0 out of 5 stars Well done
Matt Ridley presents some of the recent findings of molecular biologists in a language that we can all understand. There are approximately 23 chapters, and an Introduction. Read more
Published on Nov. 7 2003 by Godfrey T. Degamo
5.0 out of 5 stars Buy one for your friends
This is the first book by Matt Ridley that I've read; it encourages me to read his other works.
The approach is quite effective - each chromosome gets 10-15 pages, so its... Read more
Published on Oct. 30 2003 by Keith Appleyard
4.0 out of 5 stars Not a Science Mumbo Jumbo Book
This book is wonderfully written. Ridley is able to take an extremely gargantuan, not to mention complicated, subject and make it understandably compact for the readers who are not... Read more
Published on Oct. 28 2003 by Shasta M. Lewis
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting Ideas, Some Careless Research
I liked this book. There are lots of interesting ideas about the role of DNA in our lives. On many issues he considers evidence for a variety of theories before offering his own... Read more
Published on Sept. 19 2003
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