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

Matt Ridley
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)

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Book Description

2 Sep 1999

From the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling The Red Queen and The Origins of Virtue, Genome is set to be the most important investigation of genetic science since The Selfish Gene.

The genome is our 100,000 or so genes. The genome is the collective recipe for the building and running of the human body. These 100,000 genes are sited across 23 pairs of chromosomes. Genome, a book of about 100,000 words, is divided into 23 chapters, a chapter for each chromosome. The first chromosome, for example, contains our oldest genes, genes which we have in common with plants.

By looking at our genes we can see the story of our evolution, what makes us individual, how our sexuality is determined, how we acquire language, why we are vunerable to certain diseases, how mind has arisen. Genome also argues for the genetic foundations of free will. While many believe that genetics proves biological determinism, Ridley will show that in fact free will is itself in the genes. Everything that makes us human can be read in our genes. Early in the next century we will have determined the function of every one of these 100,000 genes.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Fourth Estate (2 Sep 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1857028341
  • ISBN-13: 978-1857028348
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 310,430 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Matt Ridley received his BA and D. Phil at Oxford researching the evolution of behaviour. He has been science editor, Washington correspondent and American editor of The Economist. He is the author of bestselling titles The Red Queen (1993), The Origins of Virtue (1996), Genome (1999) and Nature via Nurture (2003). His books have sold over half a million copies, been translated into 25 languages and been shortlisted for six literary prizes. In 2004 he won the National Academies Book Award from the US National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine for Nature via Nurture. In 2007 Matt won the Davis Prize from the US History of Science Society for Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code. He is married to the neuroscientist Professor Anya Hurlbert.

Product Description

Amazon Review

Science writer Matt Ridley's Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters is an elegant reflection on the significance of being able, for the first time in history, to read our own genes. The book is loosely organised around the stories of one gene per chromosome, rather than the whole genome. This enables Ridley to take in most of the usual topics associated with genes--our relations with other species, the nature of intelligence, the origins of behaviour--and add some new ones. Ridley is a fine writer and explains his selection of genetic stories exceptionally well. This is especially helpful when he is dealing with the intricacies of evolutionary theory or the tangled webs of genes influencing biochemistry influencing behaviour, influencing biochemistry influencing genes. His libertarian-right politics (state intervention bad, individual choice good) cut through many traditional worries about screening, testing and eugenics. The generally even tone only deserts him in a rather bad- tempered discussion of BSE (which starts with the gene for the protein implicated in the disease) and public attitudes to beef-eating. Otherwise, he is almost always persuasive, always interesting. By the time they finish cataloguing all our DNA, there look like being as many books on the subject as there are human genes. This is one of the ones worth having. --John Turney

Review

?Remarkable. . . . Hops from one human chromosome to the next in search of the most delightful stories.?
--"New York Times Book Review
?A fascinating tour of the human genome. . . . If you want to catch a glimpse of the biotech century that is now dawning, and how it will make life better for us all, Genome is an excellent place to start.?
--"Wall Street Journal
?A superb writer whose exquisite, often moving descriptions of life's designs remind me of the best work of the late Lewis Thomas. . . . He crafts some of the clearest explanations of complex biological processes that I have encountered. What's more, he captures their slippery beauty.?
-- Susan Okie, "Washington Post Book World
?Ridley is a lucid, engaging and enthusiastic guide to the double-helical DNA that comprises our inheritable human essence.?
-- "Los Angeles Times Book Review
?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.?
--"Publishers Weekly (starredreview)
?Superb popular science writing and cogent public affairs argumentation.?
--"Booklist (starred review)
?An engrossing account of the genetic history of our species. . . . This book will be particularly relevant to lay readers, providing insight into how far we have come and where we are heading in the understanding of our genetic heritage.?
--"Library Journal
?Ridley . . . deftly takes up the story of the genome in 23 chapters in clear entertaining prose. Eminently readable, compelling and important.?
--"Kirkus Reviews
?A lucid and exhilarating romp through our 23 human chromosomes that lets us see how nature and nature combine to make us human.?
--James Watson
?With riveting anecdotes, clever analogies and compelling writing, Matt Ridley makes the human genome come alive for us. I was left in awe at the wonder of the human body, and the scientists who unravel its mysteries.?
--Abraham Verghese, author of " The Tennis Partner
?Clever, up-to-the-minute informative, and an altogether spellbinding read. Ridley does just what a first-rate journalist should do: get it right, make in interesting, then wisely put it all in perspective.?
--SarahHardy, author of " Mother Nature
?"Genome is a tour de force: clear, witty, timely and informed by an intelligence that sees new knowledge as a blessing and not a curse. . . . A cracking read.?
--"Times (of London)
?Matt Ridley's brilliant new book is eloquent and up-to-date. . . . A much needed breath of fresh air.?
--"Daily Telegraph
?Compelling. . . . Spectacular. . . . This is one of those rare books in which the intellectual excitement continues to rise from what already seems an almost impossibly high plateau. . . . Not even the scientifically purblind will fail to perceive the momentous nature of the issues he raises.?
--"Spectator
? A dazzling work of popular science, offering clarity and inspiration. . . . Witty erudition.?
--"Guardian
?Erudition, intriguing sequences of anecdotes and . . . stylish prose. The combination has resulted in the best popular science book I have read this year, a worthy autobiography of mankind.?
--"Observer
?An exciting voyage . . . very much up-to-date . . . Ridley includes just the right amount of history and personal anecdote to spice up science. He's a good storyteller.?
-- "ScientificAmerican
?An extraordinarily nimble synthesist, Ridley leaps from chromosome to chromosome in a handy summation of our ever increasing understanding of the roles that genes play in disease, behavior, sexual differences, and even intelligence. More important, though, he addresses not only the ethical quandaries faced by contemporary scientists but the reductionist danger in equating inheritability with inevitability.?
-- "The New Yorker
?Matt Ridley [writes] with a combination of biblical awe, scientific curiosity and wit about what many consider the greatest scientific breakthrough of the 20th century and the greatest technological challenge of the 21st: the discovery of the molecular basis of life and its many applications in medicine, law, and commerce.?
-- "Dallas Morning News
?Thoroughly fascinating. . . . A sophisticated blending of science and public policy certain to educate, entertain, challenge and stimulate even the least technologically inclined reader.?
--"Philadephia Inquirer
?Lively phrasing and vivid analogies . . . I gained an appreciation for the incredible complexity of human beings.?
--"Minneapolis Star-Tribune
?With skillful writing and masterful knowledge of his subject matter, Ridley conveys a wealth of information about what we currentlyknow, or think we know, about the human genome?No well-educated person can afford to remain ignorant of this advancing science. GENOME provides a sound and engaging introduction.?
--Austin American-Statesman
--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
57 of 57 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very effective format for Matt Ridley 3 Mar 2005
By Dennis Littrell TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Matt Ridley proves here once again that he is a terrific writer. He has the easy style of a confident journalist and the wide knowledge of an accomplished scholar. He is learned without being stuffy. He proves too that he is a master of analogy and metaphor, understanding that we learn through comparison. I have the sense that he spent a fair amount of his free time looking for apt comparisons to illuminate the ideas of genetics for the general reader. Some examples:
On page 276 he describes the idea that there is a living thing with no DNA as "about as welcome in biology as Luther's principles in Rome."
Or on page 241 talking about apoptosis, in which our cells are programmed to commit suicide: "the body is a totalitarian place."
He even asserts on page 174 that we cannot hope to understand the process of embryotic development without "the handrail of analogy."
My favorite is this from pages 247-248 where he is talking about gene therapy and an engineered retrovirus that doesn't work: "it lands at random...and often fails to get switched on; and the body's immune system, primed by the crack troops of infectious disease, does not miss a clumsy, home-made retrovirus."
Add a sharp wit and an infectious enthusiasm for understanding human behavior and one can see the reasons for his success as an interpreter of the biological sciences. In Genome, Ridley has found a structure and an approach that allows him to wax speculative and philosophical about matters of particular interest to him and to most people. The result is that the reader is treated to a lively mind at work trying to understand ourselves and this world we live in.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
If you are at all worried about where the genetic engineering revolution is taking us then this book is indispensible reading. Matt Ridley takes you through a journey of human history, psychy and disease in easily understanderble chapters, explaining what genes do without any of the recent media hype. The preface is possibly the best summary of the processes DNA goes through and its structure I have ever read...all biology A-level and degree students should be forced to read this books opening, and once they have done that they won't be able to put the rest down.
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112 of 125 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good but biased 4 Feb 2003
By Fluff
Format:Paperback
This is a very good popular science book on a fascinating subject. It's enjoyable and easy to read. It presents a wealth of information and I particularly like the frequent shifts from overview to detail and back. I agree with almost all of the positive comments so far. I also have some particular criticisms of the book which others may find interesting (or boring beyond belief!):-
Like any popular science book, the author takes a certain stance. I found it disconcerting that in writing for a lay audience Matt Ridley avoids making the fact that he has a particular viewpoint clear. There are places in the text where he cites published scientific work followed by a sweeping generalisation/over-extrapolation summarising the cited work. This summary is Matt Ridley's opinion. A lay audience may be unaware that the summary is the author's opinion and be fooled into thinking that it is scientifically established fact.
In terms of sweeping (and erroneous) statements, here's a great example (p92): "Freudian theory fell the moment lithium first cured a manic depressive, where twenty years of psychoanalysis failed." (You can almost hear the author snorting derisively at the end of the sentence). Lithium doesn't "cure" manic depression. It controls some of the effects in some (not all) sufferers. About 40% of users have side effects. Treatment is often lifelong. Prolonged use can cause renal or thyroid failure. It can interact badly with other common drugs. No evidence/reference is given of the "failure of psychoanalysis". (Considering it's postulated "fall" its use seems pretty widespread 50 years on.) In terms of evidence, I think this is one of the main failings of the book.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A great overview of chromosomes and the genome 7 Oct 2007
By rhinoa
Format:Paperback
A popular science book subtitled "The autobiography of a species in 23 chapters". It goes through the 23 pairs of chromosomes of the human body (including the sex chromosomes X and Y) and discusses one or two of the genes found on each. Topics covered include Life (where human DNA came from and its discovery by Watson and Crick), Intelligence, Disease (although he frequently reminds us that genes do not cause disease), Stress, Memory and Death (programmed cell death called "apoptosis" and it's relation to cancer).

The chapter on Eugenics was perhaps my favourite talking about chromosome 21 and Down symdrome (found when a person has 3 copies of the chromosome compared to the usual 2). It also discussed the idea of sterilising mentally retarded people and criminals which went on in America and Germany, but interestingly not the UK although Winton Churchill was a big fan. Interestingly the chromosomes on the front cover are a photograph of the authors which I didn't realise until I read the note after finishing the book.

You definately need a basic understanding of genetics to appreciate this book. The author does try to explain things without too much terminology, but it's pretty impossible in some places. I really enjoyed it and was surprised to find it is the first science book I have read voluntarily since graduating in 2004. It was a lot to take in and I will definately be reading it again in the future. I am really pleased I finally got around to reading it and although some of it is already out of date (it was published in 2000 and genetics has made so many advances in the last few years) I definately recommend it.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Not easy for a non scientist, but worth the effort
Published 1 day ago by Pat Batchelor
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This will help me extremely well with my AS boilogy next year.
Published 2 days ago by Louis Potts
5.0 out of 5 stars Easily digested science
Although this is a scientific subject, the author has made it understandable to the layman.
It never gets you bogged down in jargon, and holds your interest. Read more
Published 1 month ago by keencook
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read
Genome in 23 chapters is a must read book even if you know a lot about chromosome and disease, excellent for a layman like me though bioscience and the like books are my favour... Read more
Published 2 months ago by MR BILL KUT
2.0 out of 5 stars bought New but pages "yellowed"
Content of book is good. I already have a copy of this and bought this one as a present for my granddaughter who is studying biotech
I paid the "New" price but the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mr Jefffrey A Bruchez
5.0 out of 5 stars great
i bought this for my daughter, she is doing 2nd year a levels in biology and chemistry - said it is really interesting read
Published 7 months ago by Susan Robinson
5.0 out of 5 stars Does what it says on the tin....or book :D
Great read; I had to get this for my university course. It arrived quickly so I could start my work straight away. A brilliantly written, well informed book. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Emily H
4.0 out of 5 stars Genome book review
The book arrived on time and in good condition. The content is insightful and explains the essence of what genome can tell us in layman terms.
Published 17 months ago by TZheng
3.0 out of 5 stars Tabloid view - quite fun but badly thought out.
I enjoyed the first few chapters until the author gets into the genetic basis of intelligence, personality etc, where he argues so badly that I found it tiresome. Read more
Published 18 months ago by John Bradon
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating insight into genes and genetic engineering
This fascinating account of human inheritance has an elegant structure. Various genetic phenomena are discussed, each in one of 23 chapters: each one named (= numbered) after the... Read more
Published 20 months ago by anozama
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