"[Kean] writes with a humor and humanity that make him poised to become the next Brian Greene, maybe, or Oliver Sacks-explaining small corners of the universe one case study at a time."
"Sam Kean is the best science teacher you never had... a slew of intriguing tales, which Kean spins in light, witty prose while also placing them in a broader scientific context."
"Sam Kean has started to make a habit of taking scientific subjects that inhabit the outskirts of the popular imagination and reintroducing them with healthy doses of history and humanity....Anyone reading this fine book could be excused for jolting upright...with wide-eyed amazement."
A science journalist with a flair for words...[Kean's] language is fluid and accessible, even for the science-challenged.
[Kean's] new book…takes the same approach to our genetic code that his previous one, The Disappearing Spoon, took to the periodic table of elements. In both books, Kean finds a way to frame complex and terribly important fields of science on a human scale, making them relatable and meaningful…More than a user-friendly explanation of scientific principles, The Violinist's Thumb is a thoughtful work of literature that allows all of usthe non-scientists, the reading publicto grapple with the big questions about the history and future of our genetic code.
As he did in his debut bestseller, The Disappearing Spoon, Kean educates readers about a facet of science, in this case, genetics, with wonderfully witty prose and enthralling anecdotes. The book’s title, for instance, refers to the genetic disorder that afflicted—and aided—virtuoso violinist Niccolò Paganini, giving him “freakishly flexible fingers” and enabled him to play in ways most others could not. (It also caused him joint pain, poor vision, and other problems). Kean explains how scientists use DNA to better understand evolutionary relationships across the animal kingdom, to examine Homo sapiens’s relationship (both genetic and sexual) with Neanderthals. When Kean discusses the work of pioneers like Darwin, Mendel, Watson, Venter, and McClintock, he illuminates both the science and the politics of science. But he also reminds us to be wary of attributing too much to our genes. “We tend to treat DNA as a secular soul, our chemical essence. But even a full rendering of someone’s DNA reveals only so much.” Kean’s thoughtful, humorous book is a joy to read. Agent: Rick Broadhead, Rick Broadhead & Associates. (July)
Named one of Entertainment Weekly's Best Books of 2012
"The DNA molecule, Kean asserts, is the 'grand narrative of human existence'-and he boldly sets out to tell the tale, not only explaining genetics and its scientific history but linking Mendel's pea shoots to the evolution of early humans....He's crafted a lively read packed with unforgettable details." -- Sarah Zhang, Discover
"Kean turns his clever eye and engaging prose to unveiling the secrets of our DNA." -- Denver Post
"Kean's accessible genetic overview, written for the layman, is often as simple and elegant as a double helix." -- Keith Staskiewicz, Entertainment Weekly
"The wonderful thing about Kean...is his ability to focus on a spiraling narrative while he climbs up the double-helix ladder in this history of genetics, remaining more of less at the center of the rungs while he goes from the struggles of Mendel and Miescher to the Human Genome Project....It is a handsome story." -- Jimmy So, Daily Beast
"Kean offers up strange stories of how our genes help and hinder us." -- Newsweek, "Brainy Beach Reads"
"Science is made fun whenever best-selling author Kean...is narrating." -- Susannah Cahalan, New York Post
"Kean's real knack is for digging up strange details most textbooks leave out....More than an assortment of trivia, the book is an engaging history." -- Allison Bohac, Science News
"As he did in his debut bestseller, The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean educates readers about a facet of science with wonderfully witty prose and enthralling anecdotes....Kean's thoughtful, humorous book is a joy to read." -- Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"A science journalist with a flair for words...[Kean's] language is fluid and accessible, even for the science-challenged." -- Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal
"Kean is one of America's smartest and most charming science writers, and his new book could be perfect for summer readers who prefer some substance with their fun." -- Michael Schaub, National Public Radio
Many considered the Human Genome Project complete in 2003, when a complete draft of the human genetic code was released, though scientists continue to revise and analyze their findings. Best-selling author Kean (The Disappearing Spoon) attempts to take the mystery out of DNA by explaining its structure, its historical impact, and how the science of genetics continues to influence our lives. A good portion of the book examines how modern genetic breakthroughs have helped to explain our evolutionary and historical past and discusses the often quirky stories associated with the major players in genetics research. The latter part of the book concentrates on what the future may hold as computer technology and our base of genetic knowledge expands. Kean aptly illustrates the tremendous amount of work that still remains to be done before we can hope to truly understand DNA. VERDICT Throughout, Kean writes in a relatively unbiased, down-to-earth tone and goes beyond the basic biology to emphasize the social implications of DNA research. Light and witty if rambling at times, this book is recommended for all general readers.—Tina Neville, Univ. of South Florida at St. Petersburg Lib.
Science writer Kean (The Disappearing Spoon: and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, 2010) returns with another wide-ranging, entertaining look at science history, this time focusing on the many mysteries of DNA. The author examines numerous discoveries in more than a century of DNA and genetics research, including such familiar touchstones as Gregor Mendel's pea-plant experiments and the double-helix model of Watson and Crick. Kean also explores less-well-known territory, deftly using his stories as jumping-off points to unpack specific scientific concepts. He discusses how DNA discoveries led not only to medical breakthroughs, but also to new ways of looking at the past; they "remade the very study of human beings." Kean delves into theories regarding possible genetic diseases of Charles Darwin, French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and ancient Egyptian King Tut, among others, and how their ailments may have subtly affected developments in scientific, artistic and even royal history. Some stories edge into more bizarre areas, such as one Soviet scientist's dream to create a human-chimpanzee hybrid, but Kean also tells the moving story of Tsutomu Yamaguchi, "perhaps the most unlucky man of the twentieth century," who was near both Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 when the nuclear bombs were dropped--and who, despite almost certainly suffering DNA damage from radiation, lived into his 90s. At his best, Kean brings relatively obscure historical figures to life--particularly Niccolò Paganini, the titular violinist who wowed early-19th-century audiences with his virtuosity, aided by finger flexibility that may have been due to the genetic disease Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Kean's talent also shines in the sections on scientific rivalries, such as that between biologist Craig Venter's private company Celera and the government-funded Human Genome Project, both of which are racing to sequence all human DNA. In an impressive narrative, the author renders esoteric DNA concepts accessible to lay readers.