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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars thoughtful and pragmatic view of biology, 15 July 2009
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Andrew Dalby "ardalby" (oxford) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism and Environment (Paperback)
Richard Lewontin presents a view of biology that goes beyond the current gene is verything dogma, pointing out that all biologists know this is true even if they have been caught up in the genome whirlwind. The book was written before the genome was completed and it is perhaps even more relevant now that then.

It is easily accessible and not just for the biologists (although more biologists should read it), although the last chapter is a bit harder and has some sections that need careful reading. I think that he puts too much faith in structural biology. As a structural biologist I know its limitations, structure is not everything, and structure is not always about function. Where he is strongest is emphasizing the heterogeneous nature of biology and the importance of space and the environment.

He is also rather too critical of obscurationist holism as I do not think any holist argues you need to only consider the whole and never to be reductionist. Another view can be found in Denis Noble's books and he has a more pragmatic approach to holism and reductionism.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An antidote to genome triumphalism, 25 Feb. 2012
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This review is from: The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism and Environment (Paperback)
I have just read this book for the second time. I am not a biologist but, sometimes with a bit of effort, I understood every word (well, not quite there is just a half page that I couldn't follow).

What I found most helpful was Richard Lewontin's explanation about how theoretical and practical work can become focussed on part of a problem to the exclusion of other essential elements. In particular I found his analysis of concepts like adaptation and environment enlightening. He shows that, while Darwin's account of evolution was fully justified in terms of the problems he had to solve, it is now necessary to move on and refine his ideas. Thus the idea that organisms adapt to a given environment is shown to be misleading since organisms change their environment and the changed environment in turn reacts on the organisms. He also shows that environment is not the same thing as physical surroundings but should be thought of in terms of what aspects of those physical surroundings actually matter to the organism. Different organisms can have quite different environments even when in the same physical surroundings.

Similarly the discussion of functional levels of an organism and how to decide what they are in terms of size, shape and activity was very interesting. Likewise for the discussion of problems of protein folding.

Above all what I like was that Lewontin puts biological knowledge in perspective and gives a feel for what is not yet understood. This is a useful antidote to the constant stream of broadcasts and publications that give the impression that now we have "decoded" the human genome all the major problems are solved.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 27 April 2015
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When I studied Darwin's theory of evolution in year 10, in mid 80's, my Biology teacher mentioned that the theory was very easily misunderstood and misinterpreted, and the choice of words used to explain it was very important in avoiding pitfalls.
I found Prof. Lewontin's books after my stupefaction at the 'hijacking' of genetics and Darwin's theory by the likes of E. O. Wilson, S. Pinker and R. Dawkins, and other dishonest populists with legions of fans. "Thank goodness" their stupidity is not in their genes!

History will tell apart brilliant scientists and thinkers like Prof. Lewontin, from opportunistic determinists that found their voice in the strongly ideological environment that nurtured them. I recommend 'Not in Our Genes' by Lewontin, Rose and Kamin to understand the social historic background to the mediatic success of deterministic theories in general.
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The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism and Environment
The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism and Environment by Richard Lewontin (Paperback - 2 Nov. 2001)
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