15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Much more care needed
, 3 July 2013
This review is from: Creation: The Origin of Life / The Future of Life (Hardcover)
I really wanted to like this book (or these books, if you prefer), but was let down so frequently that it was all I could do to finish it/them.
First the good points. Despite his very brief career of actually doing science, Adam has a reasonable breadth of knowledge of evolutionary genetics and synthetic biology, and quite of a lot of experience, through his job as a media editor at the journal Nature, in pitching his discussions for the intelligent lay person. He doesn't do the job badly, certainly. One should not underestimate this - there are many professional academics who cannot do this, and if people like Adam do not have a stab, who is going to? Full-time academics like Dawkins, Jones and Stringer who can really write are rare - and one wonders how on earth they find the time. So far so good.
However, IMHO Adam has let himself down, and he has been let down by his publishers. Let me explain.
The first problem is that Adam thinks he has to jazz up the narrative with wordy trickery. I lost count of the number of times that an obscure word or metaphor was helicoptered in where there were several more usual alternatives. I have to say this is regrettably a common criticism of popular science authors - showing above all that they do not have faith that the material they are discussing can hold the readers' interest without these little explosions of verbal dexterity. For heaven's sake, if the origin and evolution of life, and its potential to be recreated in the future are not already topics of HUGE interest, something is seriously wrong.
Secondly, I am sorry to say Adam has suffered from a lack of competent copy-editing and proofreading. Any serious author knows that (despite the sexing-up and hero-ising of authors generally) the production of a first-class book is the result of a collaboration between the author, a sympathetic and knowledgable editor, and a similarly qualified proofreader. A copy editor may (largely) be said to "correct errors in spelling, grammar, punctuation, style and usage" while a proofreader "uses care, judgement, skill, knowledge and experience in checking that the work of author, editor and designer/typesetter is satisfactory" - to catch any final errors including but not restricted to typos. It is rare that an author's draft does not benefit hugely from quality advice and revision in order to clarify the message. By definition, both editor and proofreader need genetics expertise, otherwise they cannot help.
There are enough examples of sloppiness to really get under my skin. A typical case off the top of my head is the repeated use, in discussion of the "O" level chemistry of amino-acids, of the Victorian term "carbolic acid" (also known more commonly as phenol, C6H5OH) instead of "carboxylic acid" meaning the acidic -COOH group possessed by all amino-acids. This is possibly an easy slip to make in the white heat of authorship (but not one any author would wish to be reminded of) but to be missed by everyone down the line is shocking.
Naturally I can only speculate from a reading of the final published book. But that is all any of us can do.
Finally I would take issue with what some nameless PR hack has written to adorn the dustjacket: "Dr Adam Rutherford is a geneticist, writer and broadcaster...". Adam is not a geneticist. He WAS a geneticist for a short time and duly completed a PhD in genetics some ten years ago, but since then he has not carried out any research work in this field and appears to have just one publication dating from his PhD project on Pax6. It is very wrong to describe an author in this way as it does a disservice to those working research academics who do find the time to write books for the interested lay public - who really ARE geneticists (this does not include me, in case you think I am carrying out special pleading). I should stress this is absolutely not to criticise Adam for the career path he has taken and been successful in: science desperately needs popular and engaging characters to spend quality time with researchers, intelligently interpret their latest work and present it in a way that is grown-up but accessible.
Oh, and the "flip-book" conceit of this book or books is genuinely horrible. A real triumph of marketing style over usabilty and good sense. What's wrong with a book that has two sections? Never again please.
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