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The Art of Genes: How Organisms Make Themselves Hardcover – 4 Mar 1999


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 396 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; First Edition edition (4 Mar 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0198503431
  • ISBN-13: 978-0198503439
  • Product Dimensions: 16 x 2.8 x 23.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,014,587 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Amazon Review

Genetics is a complex subject and many of the metaphors writers use to explain it-- in particular those which draw facile comparisons between genetics and computing--are seriously misleading.

Enrico Coen's erudite code-to-carcass account of plant and animal development is set to change all that. Besotted with the way genes recreate forms over and over with unerring accuracy, we tend, Coen argues, to assume that the "blueprints" for these "copies" are entirely contained within the genes. Instead, Coen would have us imagine an organism's genetic code as the record of an artist's mood, immediately prior to starting a painting. Each organism, Coen argues, is like a painting--the unique product of creative genes, reacting constructively to the appearance of the "canvas" as it develops. What maintains fidelity from generation to generation is not the ability of genes to "copy" whole bodies, but their faithful recapitulation of artistic moods. Imagine Leonardo, gripped with recurrent amnesia, painting the Mona Lisa, over and over and over again. No painting that results is really a "copy" and neither is any organism.

At first glance, these artistic analogies appear dangerously anthropomorphic; so Coen has taken extreme care to define his terms and say what each analogy is meant to achieve. The result is not the easiest book--but who cares about that? Genetics is not the easiest subject and only Coen, to date, has captured its extraordinary beauty and complexity in terms the general reader can enjoy and--more important--trust. --Simon Ings

Review

"It is arguable that the most important advance in biology in the past twenty years has been the revolution in our understanding of the mechanisms of development.... Developmental biology has been transformed from a field in which ingenious manipulative experiments generated speculations about unobservable underlying causes, such as gradients and prepatterns, to one in which we have a very detailed knowledge of what is actually going on at the molecular and cellular level. Enrico Coen has written a book that attempts, with considerable success, to convey the essence of this revolution to the lay reader. It will also be of great interest to those biologists...who have only a superficial knowledge of the subject."TREE --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Mark Burgess on 1 Jun 2000
Format: Paperback
I was very happy to stumble upon this book on the development of organisms. In this popularization of the science of development Enrico Coen proves himself equal to the best science popularizers. I was delighted to find a book which empashizes that genes are not the only source of biological information which are responsible for development. As a physicist, and computer scientist it has always been clear to me that genes cannot explain organisms by themselves. In addition to the protein recipie book that is DNA there must be a mechanism for use the ingredients. It is not just the ingredients but the amounts, their use or omission, the geometry of the cellular growth, mixture or separation, dominance, timing and irreversibility...all of the familiar features of complex systems, and indeed the entire history of the evolution which is summarized in the structure and composition of the cells and their protein consituents.
Coens book is successful in weaving the artistic analogy into a truthfully coherent and entertaining description of what is known about development. Initially I was worried by the title of the book, that the analogy would go too far, but I believe that the discerning reader will find the analogy only entertaining and sometimes helpful in providing a pedagogical reference frame.
The author is to be congratulated on producing a timely and beautiful book on a conceptually difficult topic.
Mark Burgess Associate professor, Oslo University College
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 25 July 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book is quite simply the best I have ever seen in its field. First, it is amazingly comprehensibly written, using straightforward metaphors to help the reader follow the course of the argument. Second, the argument itself is well laid out so that everyone from the beginner to the expert is clear exactly what is being demonstrated at any one point. Third, all unnecessary jargon has been abandoned, _without_ sacrificing any sophistication. Fourth, there seem to be so few authors who are willing to accept that genetic _and_ environmental factors play an equally powerful role in the delicate co-evolutionary interplay which is the story of the development of an organism. Enrico Coen is one of these few - thank you _very_ much, Mr. Coen!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By djb on 30 Dec 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A decent read for anyone interested in the science of how animals and plants unfold from a fertilised cell according to the choreographed activity of genes, and biochemical signals.
Unfortunately - for me - the artistic metaphor was forced too far, too often, to the exclusion of the science. The author refers to hidden colours, and scents. What is wrong with a more correct scientific terminology? The use of a single colour to represent a certain cellular territory within a developing embryo etc also seems to risk suggesting an over-simplification. Surely it isn't just one gene / master protein / colour that is active.Coen was at pains to flog the artistic analogy for all it was worth even when it was not really worth it. To be honest my heart sank when forced to encounter another lengthy tract about Velasquez or Picasso or Leonardo or the artists interaction with the canvas.The problem with the whole analogy is the presence of the artist i.e. there is a conscious intelligence guiding the creative process which does not occur with the development of an organism from a fertilised egg cell.
However this is a fascinating subject and - on balance - a useful contribution.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 Feb 2001
Format: Paperback
I have a bad habit of starting popular science books and not getting through to the last page. I had no problem with this book - it makes a complex topic highly accessible. I'm looking forward to reading more books on Bio development.
Highly recommended.
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By Dr. JP Marney on 22 July 2008
Format: Hardcover
I am taken aback to say the least, to find that this book is out of print. I read it while touring India in 2000 and thought it one of the best popular science books I had read. Eventually my battered travel-stained copy fell apart, so currently seeking another.

Enrico - if you ever read this, well done. You made a big impression on me. Easily up there with the likes of Dawkins.
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