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The Violinist's Thumb: And other extraordinary true stories as written by our DNA [Paperback]

Sam Kean
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

28 Feb 2013

Did the human race almost go extinct? Can genetics explain a cat lady's love for felines? How does DNA lead to people with no fingerprints or humans born with tails? And how did the right combination of genes create the exceptionally flexible thumbs and fingers of a truly singular violinist?

Unravelling the genetic code hasn't always been easy - from its earliest days, genetics has been rife with infighting, backstabbing and controversial theories - but scientists can now finally read the astounding stories inscribed in our DNA. As we make advances into DNA mapping and modification, genetics will continue to be the hottest topic in science, shaping the very make-up of our bodies and the world around us.

With the same masterful combination of science, history and culture he brought to The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean untangles the secrets of our genetic code, explaining how genetics has shaped our past and how DNA will determine humankind's future.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Black Swan (28 Feb 2013)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 055277751X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0552777513
  • Product Dimensions: 20 x 13 x 3.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 60,293 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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"Summer's must-read non-fiction book" (Huffington Post)

"The Violinist's Thumb is one of the Ten Books to Look Out for in 2012" (New Scientist)

"A fast-paced, breezy romp through history using DNA as a unifying theme... it's nerd-vana" (New Scientist)

"Explored in his Bryson-esque style, [The Violinist's Thumb] provokes fascinating stuff, full of oddball stories and amazing facts. Kean's book is full of wonderfully weird anecdotes, but it's also an accessible history of the discovery and mapping of DNA... compellingly entertaining" (Daily Mail)

"Sam Kean is the best science teacher you never had" (Entertainment Weekly)

Book Description

The epic true story of human DNA and what it can tell us about our world

Inside This Book (Learn More)
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review 21 July 2012
*A full executive-style summary of this book is now available at the website newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com.

In a sense the story of DNA has two strands. On the one hand, as the blueprint of all that lives and the mechanism of heredity, DNA tells the story of life (and the history of life), from the smallest, simplest microbe, to we human beings, who have managed to figure all of this out. Of course, there is still much about DNA that we don't know. But given that we didn't even know of its existence until a lowly Swiss physician and biologist named Friedrich Miescher stumbled upon it in the 1860's, you have to admit we've come a long way in such a short time. And this is just where the second strand of the story of DNA begins: the story of our unraveling the mystery. While perhaps not as grandiose as the story of life itself, this detective story is significant in its own right, for it has transformed how we understand all that lives--including ourselves. This is especially the case given that the latest chapters in this story have revealed not only our own genomic blueprint, but the (deeply daunting) fact that we have the power to change this blueprint and thus became the masters of our own future as a species. While each of the strands of the story of DNA could fill a book in their own right (if not several), the author Sam Kean has managed to weave the two together and fit them both in his new book `The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code'. Kean's project may seem like a particularly tall task, but he manages to pull it off by way of focusing in on only the main (and/or juiciest) moments and characters throughout.

Kean divides his tome into four parts.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Educational and entertaining 28 July 2012
By Curiosity Killed The Bookworm TOP 500 REVIEWER
DNA. It's in all of us but did you know it tells a story? Both of the human race and its own story of discovery. The Violinist's Thumb is not only an introduction to the science of DNA but a trip through history from Mendel to the Human Genome Project and Neanderthals to crazy cat people.

My knowledge of DNA comes from high school biology, Jurassic Park and numerous crime shows and books, so I'm by no means in a position to understand high-brow scientific tomes. Instead, Sam Kean manages to entertain and educate. The conversational tone dips into more technical territory now and then but just as you think it's about to go over your head, it returns to an amusing anecdote. I fell I have a better understanding of how DNA works and how it's shaped us as humans.

I learned so many fascinating facts. That there could be a biological reason that otherwise sane people turn into crazy cat hoarders; toxoplasma gondii (a parasite caught from cats) will release dopamine into the brain when the infected individual smells cat pee. So cats make them happy. The case study here, were a couple that held the world record for most cats in one home; 689! I could go on all day about the things I picked up but I need to leave some for you to discover yourself.

What is often left out of scientific history, are the people behind the discoveries. We may know all about Mendel's peas but not that his research was destroyed because of his politics and not his science (I'm pretty sure his fellow monks were appreciative of his pea improvement). It's also quite common for geneticists to try and explain historical figures through their genes, what does Einstein's brain say about his genius?
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Kean writes with passion, humour and insight 13 Jan 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
I readily admit to being a bit of a science geek. That’s not to say I’m good at science – I actually have to work very hard to understand the concepts – but I love science books, particularly ones that show science in more ‘human’ terms. The Violinist’s Thumb is one such book. Kean takes the history and science behind DNA and our study of it so far and uses it to show – in very real terms – what the human consequences are.

Particularly fascinating – to me – was the story behind a parasite that can infect cat owners (contracted via litter). It affects around a third of humans but some to extremes, so much so that this might be one potential physiological explanation for some instances of cat hoarding.

The book looks at some aspects of the historical study of DNA and the conclusions – both correct and incorrect – that pave the way to further theories and knowledge. Added to that an introduction to some of the characteristics, flaws and merits of the scientists themselves and this is far from a dry tome on scientific theory.

The Violinist’s Thumb provides a remarkable insight into this incredible area of knowledge and research, one that still has a long way to go. Kean writes with passion, humour and insight that makes this an excellent read.

**I received a copy of this title from Netgalley in exchange for my fair and honest review.**
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought Provoking 10 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
For me this book offers a superb perspective: Really gets you thinking about so many things and challenges archetypal routes.
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0 of 6 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Violinists Thumb book by Sam Kean 21 Oct 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Really interesting account of where genetics is at now. Suitable for general reader with an interest in the topic. Anecdotal style makes for easy reading.
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