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It Ain't Necessarily So: The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions Paperback – Sep 30 2001

3.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: New York Review Books; 2nd ed. edition (Sept. 30 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0940322951
  • ISBN-13: 978-0940322950
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.6 x 19.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 454 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #653,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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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.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
A collection of disparate essays is an elusive target for a reviewer. The range of topics here is wide and of varying quality. With essays ranging from IQ testing through the Darwinian revolution to the Human Genome Project and cloning, Lewontin is able to declaim his own expertise in whichever subject he approaches. As with most New York Review of Books authors, he's witty and cleverly subtle when assaulting those authors or ideas he's contesting; passionately assertive in support. When you've finished the review, however, you're often left with little foundation for deciding whether you should buy that particular book for yourself. The usual reaction is wishing to run out and find all the other sources he refers to for confirming information.
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.
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Format: Hardcover
First of all, let me say I feel a special admiration for Richard Lewontin. I believe he is a really smart man and always has an interesting point of view and lots of knowledge to sustain his opinions. This short collection of Reviews he wrote in The New York Review of Books undoubtly endorse my personal opinion on the author. I really recommend this book to anyone with some background on genetics, evolution and biology who wants to enrich his (hers) personal opinion on diverse themes in this subjects. I did not gave this book 5 stars because the reviews contained in it are not new. Although he writes some stuff at the end of his reviews in an attempt to update them, I believe that if he was to write them again, today, he might have changed (maybe, just maybe) a great deal of them. I think Richard Lewontin has more interesting things to say about this themes today than 12 or 20 years ago. He certainly has grown in knowledge and surely has mature his ideas with time and scientific enrichment. Just because he could have gave us more I did not give him 5 stars.
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Format: Hardcover
First a word on the format of this book: This is a collection of Lewontin's articles written for The New York Review of Books of the last decade. In each case Lewontin has chosen a topic of general interest in the general area of the biological sciences and written a survey of the area intended for the general reader. In typical New York Review fashion, this survey is done in the guise of a review of one or more books recently published in the area.
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.
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By A Customer on Dec 27 2003
Format: Paperback
First, the only reason this book gets four stars instead of five is because of the 'book review' format, and as book reviews the essays largely fail. As counteractive theoretical essays, however, they are insightful, scathing, and thorough. A friend of mine wanted to reread "The Selfish Gene" because it's a perennial favorite of humanities snobs, now I'll direct her to this text first.
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.
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