The Triumph of the Embryo Paperback – 1 Dec 2008
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About the Author
Lewis Wolpert is Professor of Biology as Applied to Medicine, University College, London. He is the author of The Triumph of the Embryo and coauthors of A Passion for Science.
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Through this book I've found that embryology is absolutely fascinating. Embryos exist through the most biologically astonishing parts of human (or any animal) life. I can't even begin to relate how many interesting things are in this book. To me the whole book is worth the jaw-dropping description of 'gastrulation', a process I had never heard of. When I looked this up in my anatomy and physiology textbook, it was scarcely (and quite uninterestingly) covered. And yet "it's been said that I claim that gastrulation is, far more than birth, marriage, or death, the one important event in your life", Wolpert says, and I'd say he's right on. Other things like fertilization, DNA, implantation, and the development of body structures are readily explained.
This book seems to presume no prior biological or medical knowledge. I have little scientific background and I followed it well. It is not drily written like textbook, but told more like a narrative. I highly recommend it for the average science reader and for the beginning student of biology.
The writing style, in British English, is at times awkward and clumsy, with attempts at humor that seem rather precious to American ears. Certain key words like 'homeobox' are also casually tossed around several chapters before they are actually defined. The writing level varies rather widely, at graduate biology level in some places while in other areas the discussion was quite simplistic - far too much so, with important points in late emybryonic development, cancer development, and genetic mutation being glossed over or completely left out.
I think the concept of writing a readable embryology text is a good one, and this was a brave attempt - it's certainly better than most of the available dry textbooks on the subject. However, this book struck me as trying too hard to satisfy both the layman and the scientist, and comes up short for both audiences - half of one and six dozen of the other, so to speak.
I would love to see this book expanded to include more detail on the stuff people really want to know - what about human genetic issues and mutations? What about cancer genes? The book also needs a style overhaul to speak at the same level throughout. That being said, it is a mostly an enjoyable book, if embryology is something you like.
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