Life in code

Genome

By Matt Ridley

The genome is a treasure trove. Full of both mystery and truth, it has to be one of the most fascinating artefacts of nature. The complexity of the genome makes it a difficult subject to tackle, but Ridley is brave and smart enough to give it a shot. In this book, he hits the nail on the head.

Genome is already over a decade old, and you can hear Ridley’s acceptance that very soon after his book is to be published, the science will have moved on. And that is indeed the case: gone is the excitement around Dolly the sheep and the hysterical response to CJD. These are but two examples of how times have changed, but Ridley’s book is still deeply useful. It is a historical account of the all the major discoveries to do with the genome and, what makes this book very special, the alarming interplay between genes, culture and behaviour.

You would be forgiven for picking up this popular science book and expecting just genetics. But Ridley’s far too brilliant for that – he acknowledges that people are more interested in the influence of genes on our behaviour, and vice versa. That’s the real story of the genome. So every chapter here reveals yet another secret of the genome’s science, but also its impact on our cultural development. Ridley leaves no stone unturned as he pulls together science with psychology, evolution and sociology.

Ridley takes his reader on an extraordinary journey into the very heart of what it means to be human – that is no overstatement.

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