- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 754 KB
- Print Length: 354 pages
- Publisher: William Collins (27 April 2017)
- Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B06Y6248H5
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Customer reviews: 372 customer ratings
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #79,176 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters Kindle Edition
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About the Author
Matt Ridley received his BA and D Phil at Oxford University researching the evolution of behaviour. He has been science editor, Washington correspondent and American editor of The Economist. He has a regular column in the Daily Telegraph. He is also the author of ‘The Red Queen’ (1993) and ‘The Origins of Virtue’ (1996). Matt Ridley is currently the chairman of The International Centre for Life.--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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This is a quite informal read, as he uses the central idea of 23 chromosomes as a vehicle without being hidebound over where the content goes. It is very entertaining as well as being informative and inevitably leads to more reading, of other authors, as ideas open up.
Ridley not only succeeds but does so in a rather cute fashion. This is ‘an autobiography of a species in 23 chapters’. The number 23 is no random selection – it corresponds to the number of chromosome pairs we have, and Ridley picks out a gene to feature from each chromosome pair in each chapter.
This approach enables his book to be far reaching, looking at our relationship to other owners of the gene, from bacteria to great apes, spanning from the earliest forms of life to the genes that could be responsible for intelligence and language.
Evolutionary theory, biology’s great triumph, is put across very effectively alongside good background material on genetics, and of the many books around the human genome, this has to be one of the best.
Particularly attractive is Ridley’s style – effortlessly informative, yet light enough to almost always be enjoyable. If there’s anything to criticize it is an over use of something to the effect of “to go through all of this would bore you to tears, but I just want to show you this little bit because…” – but that is a very minor moan.
This reviewer has a physics background and expects biology-based popular science to often be an necessary chore rather than a pleasure – this is a definite exception!
It’s interesting to read it alongside Andrew Brown’s In the Beginning was the Worm.
New snippets of the evolutionary story are revealed. Head-tail and back-front differentiation genes are very similar throughout the animal kingdom, implying a common ancestry. Infidelity is a highly prevalent behaviour in many species.Genes from different animals (including humans) are to a surprising extent actually interchangeable.
We glean further insights into the nurture/nature interplay. Environmental triggers can actually switch genes on and off; genes in turn can make us more or less sensitive to our environment. Ridley relates how, with age, as we often become increasingly able to select our own influences, the `genetic' proportion of our intelligence thus tends to increase. In another chapter again, he explores the construction of intricate `genetic geography' which reveal some racial `characteristics'.
Conundrums are explored: why do inherited diseases persist in the gene pool? Because gene mutations (changes in the base sequence) often have two separate effects, one beneficial and one harmful. What is the function of all the `junk' (seemingly useless) DNA? A lot of it is random, `phenotype-free' : `hitch-hiking' a ride from generation to generation, on the back of the genes that bother to make the survival machines(bodies)that serve to reproduce DNA so effectively.
What you learn depends on what you already knew; but there'll certainly be something for everyone here. I found most gripping the sections towards the end, as we become gradually more aware of the fantastic possibilities of genetic engineering. The account of the (gene-carrying) retrovirus therapy and other genetic `engineering' tricks was riveting. The principles of what had seemed a highly esoteric field became much clearer and more straightforward.
He extends his discussions into philosophical areas also. I discovered that many countries - including the US and the UK - took significant steps towards developing and supporting eugenic customs and laws in the 20's and 30's. In another section Ridley briefly discusses the relationship between behavioural genetics and the problem of free will - does chaos theory have a relevance here, explaining the smaller scale unpredictabilities in our decisions ?
Overall, this is a key modern topic to obtain some kind of grasp of, and Ridley's book must be as good a way as any of achieving that.
The book would be improved if the author stayed away from socio-biology and enormously improved if he kept his political opinions to himself.
My only criticism is aimed at Amazon. When I bought the book, I did so on the understanding that it was published in 2017, therefore relatively recent. In fact this book was written 20 years earlier! And I only found that out when reading it (use of the term World Wide Web is a clue)
Top international reviews
Cada capítulo, encabezado por un potente titular y una cita, te engancha con fuerza.
Red queen, nature vs nurture & the evolution of every thing are also must reads