The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code

The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code

by Sam Kean
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The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 24 reviews.
RonnaL More than 1 year ago
THE VIOLINIST'S THUMB by Sam Kean is a fabously told non-fiction book about genes and DNA, expounding on the history, science and scientists, and varied discoveries of the make up of living beings.  It's a great 'every man's' overview that is remarkably thorough in it's facts, and even more fantastic in it's ability to entertain.   So many things are discussed from why some people can survive atomic bombs to why there are hoarding cat people.  The politics and infighting stories of the human genomes projects is as thrilling as any world history debates and wars.  There are scientific studies of people from the past---what was the real truth about JFK's health; why was King George so crazy; and why were the Egyptian Pharos so misshapen.  Perhaps one of the most interesting proven theories for me was Ziff's Law:  the most common word in any language is used twice as much as the next most common word in that language in any book. The most common word is then used three times as much as the third most popular word, etc, until the least most common word. This discussion of genetic make-up is not out to prove any particular point.  Everything is discussed and the final conclusion remains that all living things are a combinations of multiple bits and pieces that makes everything unique and similar.  Surely science will continue with this troublesome and fascination exploration for years to come.  One big hope is to help cure and prevent devastating diseases.  Though I am not necessarily a non-fiction book reader for pleasure, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Were that all learning was this easy and entertaining!!!  Now on to his first book on the chemical elements---THE DISAPPEARING SPOON.  I hope Sam Kean has more books like this in his future!!
janedit More than 1 year ago
Kean's earlier book (The Disappearing Spoon) had the periodic table of elements as a natural way to organize the material. This is simply not possible with the topic of DNA. Still, I enjoyed reading it, as the writing is lively and only occasionally gets a bit complex for the non-scientist audience this book will appeal to.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book after getting sucked into one of the stories the author shared on "The Slate." And I discovered a compelling read that relates all sorts of interesting information about DNA and what it tells us about our history via personal stories that highlighted those details. If you're in the mood to improve your mind, grab this book!
autumnbluesreviews More than 1 year ago
Being a lover of science I was drawn to this book and not only by my interest in the genetic code. Reason is The Violinist’s Thumb reminds me of a scientific version of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, so shockingly true. Sam Kean takes the reader on a trip through DNA land. From the start you get to meet those famous and not so famous, yet monumental people who took those first initiatives in working with genes and the sequencing of DNA. Knowing very little about DNA I did find some codes Sam listed in regards to DNA sequencing to be slightly confusing. But those were few and far between and Sam succeeds to keep genetics as interesting as possible throughout this book. For example I found the chapter on Einstein and what actually happened to his brain very entertaining. While I was quite surprised that a nun by the name of Sister Mary Michael Stimson was a researcher throughout the 1940′s in the study of DNA, and how before turning to genes, Sister Stimson even helped create the well know hemorrhoidal cream “Preparation H.” Some interesting knowledge I came away with included how human genes make up less than 2% of the current total human DNA. Even more intereting yet in a creepy way is how humans have descended from viruses. This enlightenment came to be during the “Human Gnome Project.” Where at that time about 200 hundred biologists learned that a mighty big chunk of our gnome consists of virus genes. If that is not enough to creep you out how about the parasite Toxoplasma Gondii. You know that parasite that can be found in any cat lovers litter box. Toxo has been popular in the news scene lately. However what CNN fails to tell you is how scientists have discovered that two of its eight thousand genes have adapted to building dopamine. Humans infected by Toxoplasma grow cysts in their brains. Those infected with it find it difficult to part with their cats as the scent of cat urine provides a turn on and addiction. Which makes complete sense when you take into account the behavior of a cat hoarders. It’s no secret that humans have been genetically engineering animals and more so plants since the beginning of agriculture which spans thousands of years through our past. But who could forget the birth of Dolly the first sheep clone in 1997. Who knew that Dolly actually went on to birth six little lambs of her own naturally, I sure didn’t. In all I found the book mighty fascinating and if it wasn’t for the few times Sam seemed to forget people like me with no genetic background would be reading this book, I would have given him another sparkly star. Information on DNA coding brought back memories for me. I remembered when I had first heard about the HGP (Human Gnome Project), and how DNA sequencing might be used in the future to help those with medical conditions and illnesses. Later not long after news that the Human Gnome had been decoded the scientific community seemed to have gone silent. Part of the reason could be that we humans do not have as many genes as once thought, just slighting less than 26, 000. While sequencing has help scientist in many ways the irony is that because of the small amount of genes humans contain it has made it even more difficult for science work with.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved every minute of reading this book.  I think Sam Kean does a great job of relating genetics to everyone, while still hitting the important scientific points.  I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who's interested in genetics, even just a little. 
SewSewStephanie More than 1 year ago
Very good read. Entertaining. A melding of science and history together. Non-fiction to please everyone. Read this before seeing Sam speak at Sanford Research Center in Sioux Falls SD. Wished he could have talked for more than hour.
Quatre More than 1 year ago
Sam Kean continues his brilliant work of combining science topics with historical stories that are fun to read and educational as well. The Dissapearing Spoon was all about the elements and The Violinists Thumb is all about genetics. The stories are both well researched and expertly written and each chapter continues a quest to both entertain and enrich the reader. If you are a fan of science this is a book that you must pick up and read.
Jen48 More than 1 year ago
This book has a lot of interesting information, but I found it a bit of a slog toward the end. It was often hard to follow, even with a background in chemistry.
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Sam Kean has become one of my favorite authors. He manages to relay complex scientific concepts in language that is informative, intelligent, entertaining and enlightening. And explains WHY these concepts are important and how they affect our everyday lives. Yes, it is "deep" in places--I have to take "breaks", then come back to it. But it is well worth it.
popscipopulizer More than 1 year ago
*An executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com by July 30, 2012. In a sense the story of DNA has two strands. On the one hand, as the blueprint of all that lives and the mechanism of heredity, DNA tells the story of life (and the history of life), from the smallest, simplest microbe, to we human beings, who have managed to figure all of this out. Of course, there is still much about DNA that we don't know. But given that we didn't even know of its existence until a lowly Swiss physician and biologist named Friedrich Miescher stumbled upon it in the 1860's, you have to admit we've come a long way in such a short time. And this is just where the second strand of the story of DNA begins: the story of our unraveling the mystery. While perhaps not as grandiose as the story of life itself, this detective story is significant in its own right, for it has transformed how we understand all that lives--including ourselves. This is especially the case given that the latest chapters in this story have revealed not only our own genomic blueprint, but the (deeply daunting) fact that we have the power to change this blueprint and thus became the masters of our own future as a species. While each of the strands of the story of DNA could fill a book in their own right (if not several), the author Sam Kean has managed to weave the two together and fit them both in his new book `The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code'. Kean's project may seem like a particularly tall task, but he manages to pull it off by way of focusing in on only the main (and/or juiciest) moments and characters throughout. Kean divides his tome into four parts. The first part explores the basics of DNA and heredity, and the earliest discoveries thereof. Here we are introduced to the aforementioned Miescher, as well as Gregor Mendel, who teased out the basic laws of heredity using his famed peas. We also learn of Thomas Hunt Morgan and his team of eccentric lab assistants who managed to marry Mendelism (genetics) with Darwinism (evolution by natural selection) to develop the theory of genetic evolution, which stands as the main pillar of modern biology. Part II of the book explores DNA's role in the beginnings and evolution of life. In particular, Kean focuses on the major leaps in evolution, from the first microbes, to microbes with complex internal specialization, to multi-celled organisms with specialized cells (which includes all plants and animals), to mammals, to primates, to us. Part III turns to human DNA in particular, and what sets us apart as a species. Here we learn about some of the genes that have contributed to the evolution of our big brains--the one thing that separates us most as a species. And we also learn about the role that DNA plays in our peculiar attraction to art. The fourth and final part of the book gets into the intricacies of the structure of DNA, and how our unraveling these intricacies (through the work of Watson and Crick, and the Human Genome Project) has allowed us to manipulate life forms. While these discoveries have opened up enormous opportunities, they have also led to some very poignant questions about just how we should be using this knowledge--especially when it comes to ourselves and our own species. An executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot wordpress dot com, by July 30, 2012.
sudbury60 More than 1 year ago
It starts out so strong, but I am not a scientist. I found myself taking a break from this book, sadly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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