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Steve Jones

The Language of the Genes

Category: Science | Published: 1994 | Review Added: 22-09-2005

Rating: 3 - Worth reading

An interesting, if somewhat lightweight, set of essays describing recent progress made in the fields of biology, medicine, natural history and anthropology thanks to advances in our understanding of genetics.

The book is based on Jones's Reith lectures from 1991. There are numerous humorous asides that probably worked better in the lecture theatre than on the page, and a liberal helping of stylistic flaws and semantic and typographical errors. On the whole I suspect Jones may be a better lecturer than he is a writer. His prose is not always easy to follow, and the complete lack of illustrations and diagrams doesn't exactly help, either.

Finally on the negative side, while Jones's calls for racial and sexual tolerance are admirable, I felt he erred a little too much on the side of political correctness, refusing, for example, even to entertain the possibility of inherited temperamental differences between the sexes. Still, overall I was convinced by Jones's statement that the most variation in the human race is at the level of the individual.

I guess this is an encyclopedic book, that teaches the reader a little bit about a lot of things: illness, human prehistory, genetic modification of plants and animals. Jones devotes a lot of space to the ethical questions raised by genetics, and on the whole seems fairly balanced in presenting both sides of arguments. Personally I'd hoped for a little more hard science - I came away not knowing much more than before about how genes actually work - but still, it was worth reading.

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