Monday, January 26, 2009

Genome by Matt Ridley

An excellent science book! Genome takes the form of 23 chapters, each of which represented a chromosome, with the content of each chapter based upon how a gene on that chromosome related to a larger topic of genetics, people or society. For example, some chapter titles are Disease, Intelligence, Personality, Death, Eugenics, Sex and Free Will.

The book succeeds because Ridley provides an appropriate amount of information such the reader will likely be as informed as they would like to be from such a general work, and could explore more if desired. Some chapters will seem fascinating, while others more verbose, but that is only because of the wide range of topics covered and readers will likely have variable interest in the topics presented.

Genome also succeeds because Ridley repeatedly presents a balanced view regarding the influence of genes in relation to the influence of culture and how our nurture influences our nature. He qualifies and expands upon what statements mean in a manner that most authors should, but few rarely do (see More Daughters). One would hope the silly false dichotomization (i.e., nature vs. nurture) that plagues many debates would finally be committed to the flames, but it seems to be fireproof and lives on; Genome assists in demonstrating why the bipolar rhetorical fight is fallacious and things are far more complex and nuanced.

I was worried the work would be outdated, as it was published in 1999 and it is a work on genetics, but my concerns were unnecessary as I found the material very interesting, historically important and foundation enough such that the passage of time would do little to diminish the worth of the content.

In sum, a reasoned and reasonable assessment of the genome and what genetics means for our species. Go read it.

A Few Tidbits:
-In an egalitarian society, genetics will hold sway over who succeeds.
-There may be IQ differences between the groups of blacks and whites, but this doesn’t mean it is genetic.
- Job rank is a better predictor of heart attack than obesity, smoking or high blood pressure (it is thought less control at work leads to greater stress, which increases likelihood of heart problems).
- Jewish people in America have used voluntary selective breeding to remove the incidence of genetic diseases (how ironic, but in another sense, predicatable).
- Parenting matters (much) less than genetics and culture regarding the personality of children.
- There is intense competition among genes and this leads to numerous tensions, including between the X and Y chromosome.
- The more older brothers one has, the more likely they are to be homosexual (but the percentage is still low).
- We have a lot less control than we think we do (but his coverage of Free Will could only be cursory at best).


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