Book Review: Genome: The Autobiography Of A Species In 23 Chapters

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“We`ve discovered the secret of life”


“The most important investigation of genetic science since The Selfish Gene, from the author of the critically acclaimed and best-selling The Red Queen and The Origins of Virtue. The genome is our 100,000 or so genes. The genome is the collective recipe for the building and running of the human body. These 100,000 genes are sited across 23 pairs of chromosomes. Genome, a book of about 100,000 words, is divided into 23 chapters, a chapter for each chromosome. The first chromosome, for example, contains our oldest genes, genes which we have in common with plants. By looking at our genes we can see the story of our evolution, what makes us individual, how our sexuality is determined, how we acquire language, why we are vunerable to certain diseases, how mind has arisen. Genome also argues for the genetic foundations of free will. While many believe that genetics proves biological determinism, Ridley will show that in fact free will is itself in the genes. Everything that makes us human can be read in our genes. Early in the next century we will have determined the function of every one of these 100,000 genes.” 

My Review: 

I picked up this book in a recent haul post. Genome is a 19-year-old science book, which in this day and age makes it very out of date. That said the majority of topics chosen have remained relevant since the publication of the book.  
As far as making science nice and digestible Matt did a pretty good job, that said there was still a fair amount of scientific jargon that someone without a background in science may struggle with. I went into this read with a high level of expectation as I have heard amazing things about this author’s other books (I.e. The Red Queen), this led to a slight disappointment for me when some of the chapters were unengaging, I think this may have been more down to how topics were broached rather than the subject material.   
My favourite part from Genome is chapter 21 titled Eugenics. In this section, I learned about the pre-WW2 popularity of Eugenics which focuses on improving the genetics of the human race and the moral and ethical questions this raises. I was surprised to find that many western countries had laws permitting sterilisation and even Winston Churchill was pro-eugenics! As this gruesome side of biology was not something I touched on in university, I found the subject novel and fascinating.  
I think the format of the book with a different focus per chromosome/chapter had the benefit of if you just want to cherry pick a chapter you wouldn’t need to have read anything other than the introduction. On the flip side when reading the book as a whole the chapters didn’t necessarily flow well together and felt a little un-cohesive at times.  

To Conclude: 

Despite some of the content now being outdated, I would definitely recommend this to anyone with an interest in human biology and a base knowledge of genetics.  I did overall enjoy the content. If nothing else it provides some great material for conversations with colleagues and friends.  Happy Reading! 

My Rating: 3.8

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