Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Book Review: The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Out Genetic Code- Sam Kean

I don't remember how I stumbled across Sam Kean's first book, The Disappearing Spoon, but it was probably something like, me just browsing the new science books and/or science audiobooks [500s in the Dewey Decimal System].  It was by and far the best book about the elements I had ever read.  I know that sounds like a very narrow statement, but I have read at least a dozen, and I have read all of Theodore Gray's Wooden Periodic Table Table before he purchased  Ever since I have fallen in love with the subject of chemistry I have read as much as possible about it, and especially the elements.  His first book was so good though, I found reasons to go drive and work so that I could just spend more time listening to the book.  Sam Kean's follow-up book was just as good.  In the Violinist's Thumb he focused on stories of DNA, genetics, and inheritance.  He told more personal stories than I remember in his first one, including the humorous fact that his parents are Gene & Jean Kean and about his own experience going through a genetic testing through 23andMe or a company like it.   Personally since I do not specialist in biology I learned a lot from this book.  It was fun to hear more stories of the RNA club, which I originally heard about through the book Surely You're Joking Mr. Feynman.  The most startling story from the book, I heard originally in an interview that Sam Kean did with Radiolab (and I encourage you to listen to the podcast, which is great due to good sound editing, a very curious nature, and Robert Kurlwhich), to entice you to listen to the podcast, only one man [lucky or unlucky you can decide] is known to have survived both the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bomb blasts.  There are only three complaints I have about this book: 1)  there were times when DNA strands were being read and it was hard to following [this complaint obviously applies to the audiobook and not the book], 2) it spent a little too much time (last 1-2 chapters) on the emerging field of epigenetics which was a lot of "we don't know or understand this fully and this might change" and I think it would have been OK if this section had been left out, and 3) even with these minor complaint and the recommendation to cut chapters, it still suffers from the same problem every Mary Roach book has- it was too short.  I want more of this book, and am already impatiently waiting to read his next book The Dueling Neuroscientists [having trouble finding it on audio].  Also, while browsing his webpage I just found out that he's going to be speaking in Ohio twice soon, once in Toledo in November, and again at the SECO Conference in January, which I am already approved to go to.

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