by Ridley, Matt
Science writer Matt Ridley's Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters is an elegant reflection on the significance of being able, for the first time in history, to read our own genes. The book is loosely organised around the stories of one gene per chromosome, rather than the whole genome. This enables Ridley to take in most of the usual topics associated with genes--our relations with other species, the nature of intelligence, the origins of behaviour--and add some new ones. Ridley is a fine writer and explains his selection of genetic stories exceptionally well. This is especially helpful when he is dealing with the intricacies of evolutionary theory or the tangled webs of genes influencing biochemistry influencing behaviour, influencing biochemistry influencing genes. His libertarian-right politics (state intervention bad, individual choice good) cut through many traditional worries about screening, testing and eugenics. The generally even tone only deserts him in a rather bad- tempered discussion of BSE (which starts with the gene for the protein implicated in the disease) and public attitudes to beef-eating. Otherwise, he is almost always persuasive, always interesting. By the time they finish cataloguing all our DNA, there look like being as many books on the subject as there are human genes. This is one of the ones worth having. --John Turney
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