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The Red Canary: The Story of the First Genetically Engineered Animal [Paperback]

Tim Birkhead
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

6 May 2004
In 1921, forty-year-old schoolteacher Hans Duncker set off through the streets of Bremen. Near the cathedral, he heard a nightingale singing - but this was August and no one had ever heard a nightingale sing in the middle of the town at this time of year. In fact, the bird he heard was extraordinary - it was a special canary (a nightingale-canary) that Karl Reichs, a bird keeper, had engineered through a decade of dedicated breeding. With Reich's knowledge of birds and Duncker's expertise in genetics, the two joined forces and devised the audacious plan to create a brand new bird - a red canary. Favoured originally for their voices, canaries were once so rare that they were worth more than their weight in gold and had been exported in their millions. With Duncker and Reich's research, the canary once more took centre stage - this time in the race to create a genetically engineered animal. But it wasn't until an Englishman and an American recognised that the red canary would need to be a product of both nature AND nurture that the project was finally brought to fruition.

Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Phoenix; New Ed edition (6 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0753817721
  • ISBN-13: 978-0753817728
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 x 30 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,436,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tim Birkhead is an award winning author, scientist and university lecturer. He is Professor of Zoology in the Department of Animal & Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield, UK. He is known for his research on sperm competition in birds, for his effective undergraduate teaching (voted UK Biosciences Teacher of the Year in 2013) and for his popular science books. His book 'The Red Canary' - the story of the first genetically engineered animal (first published in 2003, re-issued in 2014) won the Consul Cremer Prize. 'The Wisdom of Birds' (2008) won Best Bird Book of 2008, and 'Bird Sense: What it's like to be a Bird' (2012) was voted best natural history book of the year by both the Guardian and Independent. His most recent book is: 'Ten Thousand Birds: Ornithology since Darwin' (with J Wimpenny and R Montgomerie). He was awarded the 2015 Eisenmann Medal by the Linnaean Society of New York for excellence in ornithology and encouragement of the amateur.

Product Description


Rich in historical detail, studded with curious characters - some of them human - and brimming with scientific insights. The Red Canary reads like a fine novel (Matt Ridley)

Takes a small episode from history and draws a surprisingly important lesson from it, in an elegant and diverting way (Sunday Telegraph)

His grasp of the science involved is to be expected from a professor of behaviour and evolution. What is more surprising is his capacity to make it not just comprehensible but fascinating, but making his own genetic cross of science, philosophy, history, sociology and narrative (New Statesman) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Book Description

The compelling quest to turn the green canary red --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
Inside a tiny cage a small, blood-red bird flutters and calls. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One man's attempt to control Nature 20 Dec 2003
This book should not be judged by it's rather lurid cover. While it is indeed based on the fascinating story of how Dr. Hans Dunker set out to breed the first red canary, it is much more than a treatise on canaries. Just as Duncker used his red canary project to demonstrate his mastery of genetics, so does Tim Birkhead use Duncker's story to investigate how Man's relationship with other animals can be traced through the process of domestication; how amateur breeding experiments have contributed to the science of genetics; and ultimately how our understanding of genetics has influenced our political and social attitudes, sometimes with disastrous disatrous.
To anyone unfamiliar with the world of bird keeping, this may sound far fetched, but Tim Birkhead provides convincing evidence to the contrary. Duncker, through his bird-breeding experiments became an advocate of the theories of genetic determinism, and when these coincided with the politics of pre-war Germany, they were to have profound and disturbing consequences.
The range of Tim Birkhead's research is remarkable, but it is his ability to weave historical facts and scientific information into the fabric of his narrative that makes this book so enjoyable and rewarding. Highly recommended.
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3.0 out of 5 stars book 27 Mar 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was not what i expected but is still verry interesting still reading at the moment on chapter 2
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars  1 review
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Genetics and canaries 20 July 2006
By Ruben Agrelo - Published on
This book is the first one that describes how the red canary was created or "engineered".Genes coming from the "cardenalito de Venezuela" were incorporated into canaries...

It combines genetics,science history and passion for canaries.Very well written the story begin in the pre war times in Germany where the experiments were performed.

The title is also very suggestive as the bird was engineered before the DNA molecule structure was described and of course before the genetic engineering revolution.
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