Thursday, February 28, 2013

ReView of THE VIOLINIST THUMB: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius as Written by Our Genetic Code by Sam Kean

       NonFiction / Science -  401 pages
Little Brown & Company (first published in 2012)

I previously read Sam Kean's book The Disappearing SpoonI love it!  Now, I decided to read The Violinist's Thumb for the same reason I loved The Disappearing Spoon, and that's because I love Sam Kean's writing.  He definitely has a talent for writing about science.  There's something really special about the way he tells human stories, especially when it comes to science.  I thoroughly enjoyed, both of his books, even though the second lacked a little bit in my expectations.  Netherless, you have to read what I'm about to say about The Violinist's Thumb!

Same Kean definitely has the human touch when it comes to science writing.  He focuses on human stories, rather than the science elements he's trying to talk about.  The Disappearing Spoon was definitely like that.  The Violinist's Thumb on the other hand was a bit dry.  He has this tendency to go on tangential discussions, especially when he was talking about Zipf's Law... you will see when you read the book.  Even still, I have to say it's still a great book, but it is a little drier than The Disappearing Spoon.

These are some of my favorite stories from the book.  First and foremost, it's the story of how the title gained its existence, from the violinist Paganini whose thumb could bend at really bizarre angles due to a genetic condition he had.  Tsutomu Yamaguchi is the one and only person who survived exposure to TWO nuclear blasts, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  I'm curious to know if anything will happen to his future offspring in the third or fourth generation.  And, wow, what about the explorers who got sick from eating polar bear livers due to their inability to process vitamin A.  Now that's a story you have to read about.

The book is filled with little tid-bits you'll find interesting and often funny. Let's mention the little tid-bid that 1 gram of DNA is equivalent in information as 1 trillion CDs of information.  A scientist I had already known about from before is Johannes Miescher actually discovered DNA in white blood cells from something so accessible it left an impression on me.  In a a day and age where we have to get permission for everything we want to get an experiment on, Miescher studied the pus of freshly removed would dressings and came onto a revolutionary discovery.  Now that's a scientist!

Sam Kean also talks a little bit about future projects: Clonning and Genome Splicing Project.  That's something I'll let you all read about in the book.  The reason I bring it up is because Sam Kean brings these two topics up for discussion, two topics we've seemed to stopped talking about more or less...

I love Sam Kean's writing, even if The Violinist's Thumb fell short of my expectations.  The Disappearing Spoon is just really good! 

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