Monday, 8 October 2018

Book: She Has Her Mother's Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity

I've just finished reading, or rather listening to the audiobook version of this recent book by science writer Carl Zimmer.
It's long, 672 pages in hardback, 20 1/2 hours in the audiobook version which I listened to at 1.5 times speed. That's too much to review, and not everything spoke to me. There were passages where I drifted off while listening. Some historical context I found ponderous. Some was familiar material — as you go back through the generations you have genealogical ancestors who likely contributed nothing to your genetics. Some took me into medical matters, totally unfamiliar frontier territory such as gene-drives.
Chapter 13, Chimera, particularly held my attention as it dealt with people, and other beings that have DNA from more than the two parental sources we generally think of. You may have DNA predominately from one source in your heart and less so in your brain. Twins can exchange DNA in the womb. My mother, whose twin brother died at birth, may well have carried some of his DNA throughout her life meaning that I may have some of his too. Y-DNA has been found in a mother's brains from her son, apparently the placenta allows flow both ways. There's some possible truth in "Insanity is heredity, you get it from your children."
Elsewhere the book ranges from the history of eugenics, gut microbes, to environment and social inequality and, the conservatism of the legal system when faced with new science findings.
One issue with the audiobook was not having access to the glossary, notes, bibliography and index which are nearly 100 pages in the printed book — and wouldn't have made for good audio content.
Overall I'm glad I listened, but sad that only a small part will stick. I might have grasped more if Zimmer had been more careful to target his audience.

Hardcover: 672 pages
Publisher: Dutton; 1st Edition edition (May 29, 2018)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9781101984598
ISBN-13: 978-1101984598

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