Stephen Jay Gould calls Richard Lewontin "simply the smartest man I have ever met." And not the least opinionated, either. Lewontin has long been famous among biologists for a volatile combination of feisty leftism, scientific insight, and verbal skill, which have been displayed for the more general public in his essays for what has been called The New York Review of Each Other's Books.
It Ain't Necessarily So is a collection of some of his more characteristic reviews from the 1980s and 1990s. The Mismeasure of Man, by Stephen Jay Gould; Unto Others: The Evolution and Psychology of Unselfish Behavior, by Elliott Sober and David Sloan Wilson; sociological studies of Sex in America; and Ruth Hubbard's books on gender in science: all his essays are informative yet lively, with a high acid content--as when he begins his piece on the Human Genome Project with a definition of "fetish."
Lewontin's prose is worth reading in itself, but what lifts this anthology to another level is that it also includes replies and rebuttals selected from the New York Review's letters column--a forum that doubles as the intellectual's World Wrestling Federation. For the older pieces, he also includes updates, "where are they now" summaries to give a sense of historical change in each field. Assertive, brilliant, sarcastic, dense, wide-ranging--Lewontin may be challenging, but he is never dull. --Mary Ellen Curtin
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
Harvard biologist Lewontin is highly skeptical of the human genome project supporters' claims that complete knowledge of the human organism and effective gene therapies are just around the corner. His forceful critique of this multimillion-dollar gene-mapping project points out that our DNA is infinitely complex, and that mutations in genes are not the cause of, say, cancer, although they may be one of many predisposing conditions. In a bracing, lucid collection of essays, all originally published in the New York Review of Books, Lewontin makes bold forays into such fields as evolutionary theory, IQ testing, criminology, artificial intelligence, neurobiology and gender differences, exposing sloppy thinking and fallacies on all fronts. Scrutinizing "the development of modern biology from Darwin to Dolly" (a reference to the sheep cloned in 1997), Lewontin lambastes Clinton's National Bioethics Advisory Commission, charging that its report on the possibility of human cloning sidestepped fundamental ethical, religious and political issues. Lewontin is a formidable critic of simplistic, flawed biological determinism, which he sees at work in studies of identical twins reared apart; in feminist biologists' claim that females are the smarter, gentler, more humane sex; in sociobiologist E.O. Wilson's belief that the sexual division of power flows directly from innate differences between men and women; and in biologist Richard Dawkins's argument for the primacy of genes over the social environment. Several of these rigorous essays include an exchange of letters between Lewontin and his critics, making this an illuminating forum of ideas. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to the