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VINE VOICEon 12 July 2004
Following on from Genome (which I've reviewed), I find Matt Ridley very easy to read.
Here he selects 12 'Hairy Scientists', some famous (eg Freud, Pavlov, Darwin), some not so famous, and weaves a wonderful story as he takes us through the highs and lows of their research & that of their contemporaries, bringing us right up to date with the Genome. With interesting anecdotes he brings each individual to life.
The 7 moral conclusions at the end were particularly useful, especially No. 2 'being a good parent still matters.'
Given I'm now in the process of reading a similar book with some very poor illustrations, it was only afterwards looking back, that I see that I was entertained & educated without the need for any sketches or diagrams, and yet didn't feel cheated, deprived or confused.
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on 1 June 2017
Genome from the same author was great to read, however I struggled to start that one and gave up around 25%. I'm sure some other people will like it though.
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on 26 April 2017
Very "scientific" but fascinating. Don't read it if you'd rather not know what can go wrong with our bodies via DNA...
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on 22 August 2017
Uninspiring and boring. Stopped reading it after the first chapter. Didn't find it useful at all.
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on 1 August 2017
Wonderful read !
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Only partly read.
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on 13 October 2004
Having bought this along with Nature via Nurture (a wonderful book) I was surprised to discover that it's the *same* book, it just has a different name.
Perhaps this is obvious from the available information, but since I managed to miss it, I thought it was worth warning others. I love Matt Ridley's books (hence the 5), but not enough to want two copies...
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HALL OF FAMEon 4 January 2005
Many similes have been used to introduce us to our genome; our DNA. It's a plan. It's a recipe. It's a blueprint. It's a code. Ridley shows how these metaphors miss the point - they're all too fixed to compare with the dynamics of the fundamental molecule of life. He shows how our genome, indeed, the genome common to all life, uses the same elements to say many things. Instead of terms identifying fixed elements, he suggests the image of language. The genome has a limited lexicon of phrases with which to build bodies and personalities, yet manages an immense variation in the results. How like a chimpanzee are you?, he asks. Depending on how you make the comparison - very little or very much. If you count the entire number of "base pairs" making up chimpanzees and humans, the difference is minimal - perhaps 30 thousand out of 3 billion. If, instead, you visit the zoo [or, better, Gombe] the differences are striking.
In Ridley's view, the striking differences are due to "word order" contained in the genome. All the words are essentially the same, but different locations and different interactions produce different characteristics. Including behaviour. In the six or seven million years since the chimpanzee-human line diverged, lifestyles, diet, social structure and living environment have helped guide how the genome produces a body and how that body will likely act in a given situation. Environment and the genome, then, are in a constant interactive flux. They feed signals through the organism to determine whether the organism will survive and reproduce. Nature isn't in the driver's seat, and if we fail to learn or adapt to the vagaries of environment, we won't survive to have descendants. Nature, then, is achieved via nurture.
All this should seem self-evident in today's world, but Ridley shows we have yet to fully understand and accept our role in Nature. There are few writers as articulate and expressive in dealing with these issues as Ridley. His grasp of the science involved is firm, yet he maintains a conversational tone throughout the narrative. While you will encounter much that is new to you in this book, you may close it [the first time], confident that his explanations have neither overwhelmed you nor left you unsatisfied. Of course, as Ridley points out, there is much work remaining in understanding the genome's impact on life. With luck, this book may impel others to follow his lead and uncover more of life's mysteries. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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HALL OF FAMEon 4 January 2004
Ridley opens this superb summation of the impact of genetics and environment with a literary allusion. How can J.D. Salinger and Charles Dickens ever be compared? Easily - they both write in the same language. A few terms used today won't appear in Dickens' work, just as words common in the Victorian era have been abandoned. The root language remains the same, but is in constant flux. Ridley uses this metaphor to disabuse us of the ideas that either genes or environment are the sole drivers of our development. Rather than separating those two elements, Ridley wants to integrate them. From the literary metaphor, he moves on to a vivid overview of the latest finds in genetics and how environment can impact their operation.
Ridley's incomparable command of language is applied in explaining arcane concepts. Ridley relates hard science with a touch of humour. In avoiding jargon, he introduces catchphrases aiding explanation. Instead of weaving scientific terminology into his descriptions, he provides unforgettable little terms to guide the reader. Genes, he notes, are merely "cogs" in a complicated machine - the organism. In explaining how these cogs interact to produce bodies and minds, he conceives the Genome Organizational Device [work out the acronym]. All these tools of Ridley's trade turn puzzling mechanisms into easily comprehended biological functions.
Of the many facets introduced by this book, Ridley's summation of the causes and impact of schizophrenia is the most informative. Not long ago, he notes, "the gene" causing this disturbing affliction seemed to have been isolated. Ridley wants to "throw the whole concept of 'cause' into confusion". He devises a schema to present a string of "witnesses", each presenting a "position" on schizophrenia. After historical, ideological and biological "testimony" is presented as individual views, Ridley concludes with a updated explanation for each. Perhaps all the factors cited have impact in some way. When brought together in an unfortunate individual, schizophrenia in one of its many forms is the result.
Ridley's aim is to end a war - a conflict he finds both misconceived and misdirected. Peacemaking is not his aim. Rather he wishes to integrate the two sides and initiate a fresh approach to a contrived problem. Are genes or environment more important in driving how we behave? Ridley eschews either and both in isolation. His descriptions of gene interaction, using something he terms promoters, are shown to be both innate and relying on external signals. He shows how researchers investigating genetic roots of behaviour are confronted with new examples of how genes perform their feats under direction from nature, and vice versa. Ridley finds the combatants in the "nature versus nurture" wars are merely troops of the species Homo stramineous - "straw men". It's to their mutual benefit to enter into a treaty written in his reasonable tone, based on updated knowledgeable and relying on his exhaustive portrayal of what's going on in our bodies. As he states in conclusion, "even the fiercest warriors in this battle" have stumbled on the ideas he presents. They have failed to reach a settlement, for which this book provides an unshakeable foundation. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
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on 15 May 2005
This book will get you thinking, guaranteed. The accesible writing style combined with the analogies, stories, and up to date views on the origins of so much of what makes us human is fascinating and it is barely an exagerration to say there is a revelation on every page for the reader new to the subject. Doing Pavlov, Skinner, and others for A Level Biology, the book provides an interesting view of the big names of behavioural science from a perspective outside a textbook. Deconstructing both science and accepted folk wisdom on the origins of personality, psychosis and homosexuality among so many other topics, 'Nature via Nurture' presents the cutting edge of its topic in an endlessly intriguing style.
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