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The Violinist's Thumb Audiobook

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

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Publisher's Summary

From New York Times best-selling author Sam Kean come more incredible stories of science, history, language, and music, as told by our own DNA.

In The Disappearing Spoon, best-selling author Sam Kean unlocked the mysteries of the periodic table. In The Violinist's Thumb, he explores the wonders of the magical building block of life: DNA.

There are genes to explain crazy cat ladies, why other people have no fingerprints, and why some people survive nuclear bombs. Genes illuminate everything from JFK's bronze skin (it wasn't a tan) to Einstein's genius. They prove that Neanderthals and humans bred thousands of years more recently than any of us would feel comfortable thinking. They can even allow some people, because of the exceptional flexibility of their thumbs and fingers, to become truly singular violinists.

Kean's vibrant storytelling once again makes science entertaining, explaining human history and whimsy while showing how DNA will influence our species' future.

©2012 Sam Kean; 2012 Hachette Audio

What Members Say

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  •  
    Susan FRANKLIN, VA, United States 11-01-12
    Susan FRANKLIN, VA, United States 11-01-12 Member Since 2002
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    "Most Congressmen don't know where their genes are!"

    A leading geneticist addressing congress began his talk by asking the assembly where they thought their genes were. Their answers seemed to indicate they had no idea. One person guessed in the brain someone else suggested in the gonads. You might remember from your high school biology class that genes are in cells so yes there are genes in your brain and everywhere else in the body. The scary thing is that the people responsible for making decisions about the patent-ability of genes and genomes don't seem to understand the basics about genes or genetics. While not the most entertaining anecdote in the book, it was one that stuck with me in this election year.

    Thanks to Sam Kean's book you don't have to be like a member of Congress. You can learn all about genes in this entertaining and informative book. Learn about gene mutation and why inbreeding is a bad idea. Discover how our genetic code indicates that human beings almost went extinct. Be astonished by the amount of virus DNA each human contains and why the whole idea of an Arian master race is not just racist, its unscientific.

    Kean's book really is entertaining. The book abounds in both educational facts and useless but entertaining information. Who knew Gregor Mendel was not just a monk but became a cigar smoking abbot who was so fat he had a difficult time working in his garden. After I listened to the book I may not have mastered the science behind genetics, but I do have a better understanding of DNA, RNA and how it makes me the person I grew up to be. It's pretty fascinating stuff.



    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sparkly SF, CA, United States 10-06-12
    Sparkly SF, CA, United States 10-06-12 Member Since 2010

    interested in history, science, and pulp fiction

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    "One word - 'humanzee'!"

    A delightful and humorous, if disturbing, exploration of genetics for the general public. I'd say it is up there with Bill Bryson's works. It is just the right level of technical for me. (By that, I mean it is technical, but with no prerequisites.) Each chapter is a separate essay, but the collection builds with some strategy towards overall impact, which I appreciated. The author adds a personal context as well, by getting his genome tested, and I enjoyed that. We have overt genetic issues in my family, and the "crap shoot" element of it is a harsh reality that I was glad to see included in this book, to personalize it.

    The book is filled with information that is the best of semi-sensational science. For example, we have another creature interwoven into our every cell, that is somewhat creepy! The Y chromosome has peculiar behaviors that keep making it smaller, but it seems somehow never to disappear altogether. I find that provocative. All the other primates have 48 chromosomes, we only have 46. Hmmm. Toxoplasmosis changes behavior - I knew about that in rodents, but it is fascinating to think about how that works with humans. (And, the aforementioned attempts to create a 'humanzee,' quite disturbing.)

    The narrator takes great delight in sharing these stories, and I thoroughly enjoyed his performance.

    The best of popular science, for me, includes this 'wow' factor. I love being reminded of how interesting our world is, and how many more mysteries there are to solve. I have no doubt it won't be for everybody - but I liked it quite a bit.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Sean BELVEDERE TIBURON, CA, United States 08-19-12
    Sean BELVEDERE TIBURON, CA, United States 08-19-12 Member Since 2014
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    "A book about the history of DNA"

    Apparently, there was a violinist with a really strong thumb. It may or may not have had to do with his genes. That's the level of insight you can expect about "Lost Tales of Love, War and Genius."

    The book is an excellent history of the science and discovery of DNA. He also talks about the controversies surrounding the human genome project. However, I was expecting more information about how our genes shape our behavior in interesting ways. Something like "so-and-so discovered an argument gene prevalent in lawyers..."

    The performance is engaging and the history is complete but the book was not what I was expecting.

    5 of 7 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andrew Hong Kong, Hong Kong 10-02-12
    Andrew Hong Kong, Hong Kong 10-02-12 Member Since 2010

    Andrew Bruce

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    "DNA interesting? Whoda thunk it"

    This book was so very interesting. My genetics knowledge was marginally post-Mendel. If you are interested in matters scientific you must not pass this book by. If you think you might be interested in matters scientific but have either never tried or (somewhat predictably) tried Hawking's book as the entry then this is the book for you. This book has the wonderful combination of teaching you something and doing it in an interesting way.

    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CJFLA 09-29-12
    CJFLA 09-29-12
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    "Where is Carl Sagan when you need him?"
    What did you like best about The Violinist's Thumb? What did you like least?

    Though science interests me, I find books -- even the ones that try to explain things "simply" -- fall short of their goal. This is another case of a topic that grabbed my attention, but the writing and narrative were less than understandable. I listen to most audiobooks while driving. This one certainly doesn't lend itself to that. You have to listen closely, then replay parts, then listen, then replay. In then end, it is just a disappointment.


    2 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    E. Claesson 07-09-16
    E. Claesson 07-09-16 Member Since 2013
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    "Not what I expected"

    While this was still an interesting read, I didn't enjoy it as much as the "Disappearing Spoon." There was too much about Neanderthals and evolution. I wanted to hear more about what makes people what they are and real life examples from modern history.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlotte Blank Atlanta, GA 03-17-16
    Charlotte Blank Atlanta, GA 03-17-16 Member Since 2015

    CharlyB

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    "Fascinating science and expert narration"

    Another readable science book from Sam Kean. Best of education and entertainment. Narration was perfect - I love his voice and he nails the comedic timing of the content.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    serine 01-23-16
    serine 01-23-16 Member Since 2011
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    "Fresh perspective"

    I read quite a number of biology books and am often put off by the old gene jocks who focus on DNA, to the exclusion of epigenetic and other environmental factors that challenge the old and tired narrative of the gene centered theory of evolution. When I saw the title of this book, I felt pretty sure I wasn't going to like it, but many of my friends gave it high ratings. So, I thought I would give it a shot. Loved it!

    Just as he did with Disappearing Spoon, Kean brought a fresh perspective to an ordinary subject. Among my favorite aspects of this book were:

    - The names fruit fly scientists gave various genes, on example being the Cleopatra gene that, when mutated, kills other flies when it interacts with a gene named Asp.
    - Machiavellian microbes that turn humans into cat hoarders and ants into big berry-like creatures birds want to eat, all so microbes can make it into the guts of animals and mate.
    - Wonderful history of Barbara McClintock
    - How the human placenta came to be, how fetuses are really parasites, and how viruses are brilliant.
    -Einstein's brain
    - Painting chimps
    - Women who lust after rock (or violin) stars
    - And how genes proved and disproved myths of days gone by

    Great read!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Daniel Burgon Kansas City 07-06-15
    Daniel Burgon Kansas City 07-06-15 Member Since 2014

    DannyBoi01

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    "Entertaining science"

    I am a huge fan of Sam Kean and enjoy his first book and this one immensely!

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amanda Doane-Johnson 06-10-15 Member Since 2016
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    "amazing!"

    captivating! I couldn't put it down .... the information was both interesting and clear to understand.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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