Review published on March 19, 2017.
However, there is nothing particularly special about being unique if everyone else is…
In your 23 base pairs of DNA there are around 20,000 human protein-coding genes. To put this in perspective, a banana has 36,000… The first complete draft of the sequence was published on February 12th 2001. Being able to read this code of T C G A’s is one thing; being able to understand it is another, and we are nowhere near being able to manipulate it yet either. This code is what makes you, you, but hidden deep within it are the countless secrets of our forefathers and mothers, the history of our species including the echoes of past events. There is even small amounts of Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Denisovan genome intertwined within our homo sapiens DNA.
Rutherford takes us on this fascinating journey up and down our collective family trees via the spirals of our DNA. No subject is beyond his gaze, hair and eye colour, to the horrors of eugenics to finding out if a body under a carpark is a deceased monarch or why it seems to be those of European descent are the only ones who can drink milk. There are some amusing parts, such as when he lists just what journalists think that scientists have found the genes for and the genetic peril of being in the Royal family. Given how complicated this subject could have been, and it did occasionally go right over my head, it is written with a refreshing clarity. The anecdotes and stories that are in here add greatly to the book. Thankfully I could understand most of it, which is the principle aim of these books to bring science to the wider audience.
Paul Cheney 4*
A Brief History of Everyone who Ever Lived: The Stories in Our Genes by Adam Rutherford, published on 8 September, 2016 by W&N in hardback
Longlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize 2017
Wellcome Book Prize 2017 longlist: Cure by Jo Marchant
The Wellcome Book Prize 2017 – reviewed
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Important, accessible, beautifully written and frequently evocative