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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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  • Story
  • Rachel
  • YAKIMA, WA, United States
  • 11-29-12

Highly recommended

I quite enjoyed this story. I'm a teacher, so I don't get to listen often during the academic year, but this book had me listening avidly while getting ready for work, on my way home and in all the little moments in between other obligations

The story was very interesting and full of bits of information and anecdotes and stories I didn't already know. I enjoyed Kean's last book, The Disappearing Spoon, and this one is at least as good. I've read a reasonably good amount of popular science books on heredity and biology, but this one was fresh and accessible with a wealth of fascinating information.

Good narration. I highly recommend it. And I wan't to read more like this.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Susan
  • FRANKLIN, VA, United States
  • 11-01-12

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

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  • Sparkly
  • SF, CA, United States
  • 10-06-12

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

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  • Andrew
  • Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • 10-02-12

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

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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

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good but a hard to follow at times in audiobook

was good but hard to follow as an audiobook with gene IDs and the like

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Amazing Book

Would you consider the audio edition of The Violinist's Thumb to be better than the print version?

No, I like print better than audio but I can listen to audio while driving.

What was one of the most memorable moments of The Violinist's Thumb?

The section on art and mutations

Have you listened to any of Henry Leyva’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

fine

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

no

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This book is better than the Disappearing Spoon

I've read two of Kean's books nearly back to back because I found The Disappearing Spoon so entertaining. At first I had my doubts about a book on DNA, but found it even more riveting than the first one! Third book is in queue.

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Excellent overview

It is well-nigh impossible to write a book for a general readership whose background ranges from no concept of the cell theory of living things to a PhD in molecular cytogenetics; nevertheless the author has provided an excellent overview for the interested reader. A previous commenter asking for Carl Sagan might be interested to know the he and Lynn Margulis (endosymbiosis) were once married. The only chapter that was a difficult listen was possible Genetic Disorders of Famous People, which I am sure was difficult to write. Five

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A fabulous education !

Sam Kean has done an excellent job in providing a sufficiently scientific education in an enjoyably lighthearted fashion! I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in genetics, nature nurture, or human evolution on a molecular level. No background is required, the author provides it more than adequately. The narrator rises to the challenge of narrating a science book with spunk. I look forward to the next book!