It Ain't Necessarily So: The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions Paperback – Sep 30 2001
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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
The only consistent theme in this compilation is that of the iconoclast. Chipping away at perceived flaws in other people is a Lewontin specialty. He has favoured targets, such as Richard Dawkins and Philip Rushton, are frequently mentioned. A glaring omission, particularly in the updating Epilogue to "Darwin's Revolution", is that of Daniel C. Dennett's DARWIN'S DANGEROUS IDEA. Given Dennett's scathing critique of The Spandrels of San Marco, co-authored by Lewontin and Stephen Gould, the oversight surprises.
The most engaging sections of the book are essays on the Human Genome Project, genetics and cloning. In an effort to undercut scientists like E.O. Wilson or Richard Dawkins, Lewontin attempts to restrict DNA's role to 'the stupid molecule' it was once considered. Using every verbal trick available, he writes a lawyer's brief against the Project and its supporters.Read more ›
The columns are much more survey than book review and serve as excellent introductions to the disciplines for the non-specialist reader. Lewontin has included wonderful ascerbic responses to his columns and has updated the area with an epologue to each chapter that surveys recent developments.
The topics will interest the general reader: Recent Darwinian thinking, intelligence testing and brain metrics, the genome project, the biology of sexual equality, biology of the mind and cloning. In every case, Lewontin surveys the intellectual terrain and provides insight. In excellant survey of biological developments for the general reader.
This book deals much more with the philosophical implications authors imply in their texts than the actual Science, but has enough Science to placate those looking for basic information on genetics, etc. Lewontin's humble and witty approach is welcoming, and his thought process is enjoyable. His 'tell it like it is' approach to issues like Social Darwinism and the Human Genome Project are worth reading, especially for people relegated outside the physical and natural sciences who may be unaware of these perspectives. (Especially those who infrequently read Science texts and are consequently doomed to linger in outdated material).
The key strength of this text lies in its challenging other arguments, which is often stronger than texts with centralized theses. Because of Lewontin's critical authority, he is freer from the ideological rampages that blind many of the authors he addresses. My favorite sections of the text were the 'exchanges,' where authors wrote in to the magazine criticizing Lewontin and he responds. For the reviewer here who rebuked Lewontin for his simple approach to complex problems or his philosophical leaning, note that often those letters he responds to are written by the authors of the books he derides.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
Words do matter to Lewontin, and his portrayal of scientists as pontificating from a position of "objective truth" is not an indictment of individual scientists, but... Read morePublished on July 15 2004 by B. F. Mooney
It may be understandable that authors get at times carried away but they may want to remember that irrational generalizations belong in tabloids and should be banned from serious... Read morePublished on April 11 2004 by Christina B.
This book is a collection of nine essays from The New York Review of Books, beginning in 1981, mostly on genetics, the genome and the Darwinian pantheon. Read morePublished on Jan. 13 2001 by Dennis Littrell
When I first opened this book, I was a little disappointed that it was a collection of book reviews, not a set of essays in their own right. Read morePublished on Nov. 6 2000 by Adam Rutkowski
It seems that this <<dream>> called << Human Genome Project >> has come true Mr. Richard C. Lewontin !Published on July 6 2000