Review & Giveaway: The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publish Date: July 17, 2012
Format: Hardcover | 416 pages
Rating: 5 of 5
In The Violinist’s Thumb, Sam Kean has done an extraordinary job of taking a complex subject and presenting it in an engaging, witty and conversational style without a lot of scientific jargon. It is filled with interesting stories and anecdotes written for the layman.
The book is structured so that each chapter is inclusive and covers one topic. Skimming a chapter or moving along to the next one does not compromise understanding the material. I confess, I skimmed through some of the information on recombinant DNA and was none the worse for it. Yes, there is ‘science’ in here but there won’t be a test. This is science to be enjoyed!
I had no trouble understanding the material and it’s been many years since I had taken a biology class. I was struck by how much new information had been discovered in the past 20 years. This is fascinating stuff, and easy to comprehend. I realize I’m gushing about a science book, but it’s not all facts and figures; nothing text-book-like at all. One doesn’t even have to understand the science of genetics and DNA to enjoy this book. There are many fascinating stories and real-life examples that keep the pages turning.
The title of the book comes from the story of violinist Niccolo Paganini. He could play a thousand notes a minute due to a genetic disorder that gave his fingers extraordinary strength and dexterity. Unfortunately that ability came with a price as the disorder also caused a host of other health problems and a shortened lifespan. This is just one of the many anecdotes.
- Did you know that a prominent DNA researcher and pioneer in the field was a Dominican Nun? And that she was the inventor of Preparation H? I didn’t.
- Modern cryptology has its roots in genetics as a former genetics researcher built on the statistical skills he gained in genetics as a code breaker for the US government.
- Due to a DNA mutation in polar bears, we never want to dine on polar bear liver. Not much of a problem for most of us but arctic explorers found this out the hard way.
- 8% of our genome is not human. It’s viral and there’s a good reason why that happened.
- Learn about a fascinating theory on the cause of animal hording and the story of a couple that once owned 689 house cats.
I could go on and on but if you are still reading, you get the picture. This is a book that’s accessible and enjoyable for everyone. Even if you don’t love science, I’m sure there is someone you know that does. I guarantee thy will thank you for pointing them towards this book.
About the Author
Sam Kean spent years collecting mercury from broken thermometers as a kid, and now he is a writer in Washington, D.C. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, Air & Space/Smithsonian, and New Scientist. In 2009 he was a runner-up for the National Association of Science Writers’ Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award for best science writer under the age of thirty. He currently writes for Science and is a 2009-2010 Middlebury Environmental Journalism fellow.
The publisher has generously provided two copies for me to give away to my readers.
- Contest is open to those with an address in the US or Canada (No PO boxes).
- To enter fill out the form below. For an extra entry, tweet or blog the giveaway prior to 8/23.
- The deadline for entry is Friday, August 24th. I will draw two random winners who will be contacted by email and will have 48 hours to respond with a mailing address. One winner per household.
[Contest Has Ended]
Winners: Natalie and Stacy
Source: Review copy.
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