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

Booklist Reviews 2012 July #1
The violinist alluded to in the title of this comprehensive survey of DNA's many surprising attributes is the late Niccol├▓ Paganini, whose own genetic anomaly of extraordinary finger dexterity contributed to his famous musical virtuosity. Best-selling science-author Kean follows his acclaimed debut, The Disappearing Spoon (2010), about the periodic table, with an equally engrossing collection of facts and anecdotes that, along with the Paganini snippet, includes a wealth of information from the front lines of contemporary genetic research. In addition to revisiting and enlivening many seminal moments leading to DNA's discovery, such as Augustinian friar Gregor Mendel's pea experiments and the cutting backlash Darwin endured regarding natural selection, Kean also focuses on the many secrets forensic gene mapping discloses about human evolution. Some highlights include the revelations that Homo sapiens almost went extinct twice and the unnerving fact that one's ability to survive a nuclear war can actually be inherited. Kean's superlatively readable, jargon-free prose will captivate even normally science-phobic readers. Copyright 2012 Booklist Reviews.

Kirkus Reviews 2012 June #1
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 Niccol˛ 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. Copyright Kirkus 2012 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2012 February #2

There's enough DNA in a single body to stretch nearly to the moon, and that DNA can tell us not only how humans evolved from the muck but why a few of us turn into brilliant violinists while others adore cats. Kean, who scored a New York Times best seller with The Disappearing Spoon, is a science journalist with a flair for words; from what I have seen, the language is fluid and accessible, even for the science-challenged. With a four-city tour.

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Library Journal Reviews 2012 March #2

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.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2012 February #2

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 Niccol├▓ 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)

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