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4.2 out of 5 stars14
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 30 September 2002
If you haven't read 'the language of the genes' by the same author then I thoroughly recommend it. 'The language of the genes' is wider ranging but more tight and lucid than this one and is an undoubted 5 star book.
Having said that Y is a cracking read which takes the author's ruminations on the nature of masculinity way beyond his specialist area of genetics.
Steve Jones has a real talent for rendering fairly difficult scientific concepts both interesting and digestible, even for a science dullard like myself.
The book contains a leg crossing chapter on circumcision (which he contends, rather controversially, is a form of ritualised child abuse) as well as castration and other forms of mutilation. The hard facts about erection are revealed, as well as discussions of new research into sexual behaviour, penis size and sperm donation.
Aside from the welter of sexual statistics from the animal kingdom, eg the Zebra who emits half a gallon of sperm in a single ejaculation, Jones contextualises human sexual behaviour and anatomy by comparing us with our animal cousins and draws some surprising conclusions about the innate sexual nature of humankind.
This book is really the antidote to the kind of woolly 'Men are from...' type pop-psyche nonsense that abounds these days. Jones presents the facts as he sees them based on current research and avoids drawing spurious conclusions. His discussion of the genetic basis of Homosexuality seems to end with a kind of 'but we're still not really certain at the moment'.
Of course Steve Jones is a man and so am I so there is an inevitable bias, but this seems like an exceptionally even handed discussion of masculinity, if Jones isn't certain then he leaves the questions open, and the book is all better for it. Y doesn't contain the kind of radical central thesis that propels a book to the top of the bestseller lists, but for those interested in a readable account of the research as it stands it is indespensible.
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on 27 September 2013
Professor Steve Jones is Professor of Genetics at University College, London. He has the happy facility of translating some quite complex science into ideas that the layman can understand, even, if you have to read the science part again. The result is that you can end up understanding why we are and what we are and how some of it works. He also surprises the reader with the occasional quirkiness of his similes. I now understand why my sons and grandsons are what they are. Also, you must choose very carefully with whom you decide to breed; and certainly never with your first cousin! All very challenging and interesting, as well as worth reading.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 March 2016
I found this for the most part to be a very readable review of maleness with an interesting blend of genetics, sociology, and anthropology, with a nice touch of wry humour thrown in. Most of the focus is is on humans but lots of comparing and contrasting with other species including, of course, apes, but also birds. seals, fruit flies, and many more.

I found the chapter on genetics to be bewildering - just when i think i have got it, I realise that I don't really - but the rest of the book was a joy to read, and I learned rather a lot about why men live shorter lives, are more prone to disease, and are most certainly now being eclipsed in achievement - there are 2 million more women than men in university in the USA, and three times as many from poorer households. As Jones says this has little to do with genetics and rather more to do with nurture, environment and life choices. Interesting stuff, well worth reading and thinking about.
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HALL OF FAMEon 24 December 2002
An episode in Star Trek - The Next Generation portrays the Enterprise crew encountering a planet populated entirely by androgynes. The cast representing these creatures is clearly composed of only women. As clones, their appearance and outlook is nearly uniform and gender becomes a social ill. If Steve Jones is correct, this condition is the future of the human species. In this book Jones gives a full account of the rise and descent of masculinity, from the formation of the Y [male] chromosome to the current decline in sperm count in human society. As Jones makes clear, we all start in the womb as neuters, but various processes dictated by the father's chromosomes, turn some of us into males.
Jones opens his account with a touch of irony - it was a woman, Nettie Stevens, who identified the male chromosome in 1905. It took nearly a century to perceive the gene controlling sex determination - the SRY [sex recognition gene]. From there Jones explains the role of that short, 20 gene DNA string and its impact. Embryo development relies on sperm-borne chemicals. This input is part of the reason maleness drives the pace of evolution. Sperm is an invader, and the body resists invaders. The chemical changes reflect that fundamental dichotomy and there's nothing universal about male sperm. Its variety reflects the rapid evolutionary pathways taken by various organisms. And few species have evolved as rapidly as humans, Jones reminds us.
That haste, however, has led to vulnerability. Male lines, particularly in our own species, die out quicker. Jones' example is expressed in the recognition that all the family lineages since William the Conquerer had died out. Nor are his examples confined to humans. Hermaphroditic slugs in the French Pyranees are exhibiting an increase in female-only lines. Given his evidence for this happening in modern men, one can only wonder at the cause of this unisex phenomenon.
For it's modern men that are the target of this book. Whatever forces in evolution have reduced the size and impact of the Y chromosome, modern civilization has exacerbated its decline. Clinics in various nations record reduced sperm counts, notably in Italian taxi drivers, American businessmen, Scots shopkeepers. Jones isn't applauding these trends as some proto-feminist. He wants, through this book, for males to become aware of the fate their descendents will confront. Maleness is likely to disappear, and offers pointers to prevent that extinction. More focus, he stresses, needs to be made on the impact of various foodstuffs and industrial chemicals.
Depressing as much of this sounds, there is much to be learned from this book. Jones' ability to impart good science in a readable style makes this book an ideal acquisition. While facts galore are presented here, pedantic stumbling blocks are not. He has no more axe to grind than the desire to increase our awareness of ourselves, both male and female. As he notes, understanding of the operations of sexual mechanisms is still in its infancy. This book will stand for some time until more of our body's hidden secrets are revealed. For we men, let us hope it's not too late.
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This is a fascinating look at male genetics and biology and makes for enlightening reading. I think it may be of more interest to males due to the very gender specific content, but saying that women may well find it an interesting read for an insight into the male condition. I agree with an earlier review where it says this is a touch long winded and I have to say that after the superb 'Language of the Genes' by the same author, I've felt disappointed by every thing I've read of his since. This has plenty to say, but it could have been said so much better (hence the four stars). Overall, a good read about those of us with that 'y' chromosome and worth sticking with for some interesting facts.

Feel free to check out my blog which can be found on my profile page.
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on 16 November 2013
A wide-ranging survey of male decline, from er hard-core biological fact to sociological observation, all done in the learned Professor's trademark drily acerbic style. The unexamined life may well not worth be living but when it comes to those passages that give the low-down on their most sensitive parts, some males may be tempted to wonder, as they dab their eyes and cross their legs, if after all, there are things it is better not to know...
An important and dare one say it - seminal work.
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on 1 March 2013
I borrowed this book from my boyfriend with no prior expectations and found it fascinating. The book is crammed with facts and statistics on not only human males but also the animal kingdom, ancestry, different societies etc...There were lots of surprising things in the book which I had to tell other people about, I thoroughly enjoyed it, found it easy to read and have recommended it to others.
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on 22 September 2008
I've always liked Steve Jones for his enthusiasm and punditry around science. He's done more than anyone to make genetics and biology seem an interesting thing to be involved in, and something worth doing really well.

But this book missed every task it set itself. It wasn't readable, it didn't explain things well, and didn't work as an "update" of Darwin's book the Descent of Man The Descent of Man: Selection in Relation to Sex (Penguin Classics).

The worst thing is the style. Jones wants to make science "readable". He thinks that that means plastering "non-scientific" language and metaphors all over it, and jumping from subject to subject as quickly as possible, so we don't get bored.

That doesn't make the book readable - it makes it almost completely unreadable.

For instance, on p.23, he jumps from one paragraph about parasites and the leprosy bacillus, and starts the next one as follows: "Australian males are a model of virility, but the average native has a rather small version of what makes him what he is." Huh? The "model of virility" bit refers to a cliche about Australian men, so is he saying Australian men have small penises? Or if he's talking about "natives", does he mean Aborigines?

No, the next sentence starts "Kangaroos split from our own ancestors..." so he's talking about Australian animal species and, it turns out, their Y chromosomes. Why didn't he just say so in the first place?

He over-uses a couple of adjectives designed to jolly us along, particularly "erotic" "genetical" and "genital". He slaps them all over the place, treating us to sentences like: "Perhaps Homo sapiens once danced to the same erotic tune as did his relatives, but it is hard to work out what the melody might have been and whether it has much relevance to the genetical gavottes of today."

There's some sort of random chapter structure with clever-clever titles that don't tell you what they're about. This throws up some decent stuff - mostly when he's outside his home turf of genetics. The chapter on circumcision is actually interesting, and includes castration too.

The genetical chapters are the pits, though. You cannot do genetics in a popular science book without diagrams - even if you ARE Prof Steve Jones.

I came away with the idea that the ageing and changing of DNA was telling scientists all sorts of things, but with very little idea what those things are. The next time my daughter came to me with GCSE work to look at, I should have been armed with facts and insights to push us both onwards - instead I was still anxiously checking the pictures in her crib notes.

The book has a bizarre subtext in which it is supposed to be an "update" of Darwin's Descent of Man. Yet it only mentions the Darwin book a couple of times, quoting some chunk or other that makes the older book seem completely irrelevant.

Other reviewers clearly wanted this to be an accessible book that explains and discusses manhood from a scientific point of view, and counters the overwhelming profusion of New Age bollocks.

I wish it were that book, because we really need it. Instead Jones gives us a few interesting ideas cobbled together and encrusted with the kind of writing that makes it virtually indistinguishable from those other books.

I give it a star for the things it doesn't do too badly, and because Prof Jones' heart is, as always, in exactly the right place. It's a missed opportunity though.
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on 31 October 2010
If I could remember things better, this book would have provided me no end of factoids to share at drinks parties. The topic is certainly interesting, but the book fails to hang together with a strong theme. There are too many detours to zoological curiosities, and not enough scientific summation and correlation to the book's title. Some zebras may produce half a gallon of semen and some fruitflies only a single cell, but how is this interesting and relevant to the topic of human male ejaculation? Additionally, in an attempt to be humourous and upbeat the author uses far too many clever phrases, which pile up on each other until the point of the paragraph is completely lost. My book group gives this one a thumbs-down.
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I suspect this book was written for those people who are into highbrow reading as although this book is very rewarding, it is hard to get through. Tales of the human genome & phisiology and where & how they're developing are facinating. The writing is basic, but longwinded, I found a lot of beeting around the bush. This is a great book, informative & interesting but you have to be really determined to get through it.
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