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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

Average Customer Ratings

Overall

  • 4.2 out of 5.0
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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.

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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.

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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!

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Entertaining science

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

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amazing!

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

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Not worth my time

I'm sure that this book would appeal to people who are interested in a book with an entire chapter filled with the history and excruciating details about DNA, but it's simply not for me.

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Great introduction to genomics and evolution

Genetics had a profound mystery: why the difference in DNA sequences is minimal between species. The author explains the reason clearly in plain English. I really enjoyed it.

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sort of like reading text book

Although there are some interesting facts, this is about as interesting as reading a text book

2 of 4 people found this review helpful

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Worth two listens

Would you listen to The Violinist's Thumb again? Why?

I don't think I have ever read a book twice, and I certainly have not listened to a book twice, but in this case I will make an exception. "The Disappearing Spoon" was a delightful compendium of intriguing scientific anecdotes, but "The Violinist's Thumb" is so rich with truly remarkable information, that I have to listen again.

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

Kean's description of the research into our DNA as it relates to our fellow primates is probably the most fascinating part of the book, particularly as the news continues to contain new discoveries on the human family tree.

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Interesting, but not as quirky as you might like

If you could sum up The Violinist's Thumb in three words, what would they be?

Interesting detailed scientific

Would you be willing to try another book from Sam Kean? Why or why not?

Yes. I enjoyed his book about the periodic table more, but The Violinist's Thumb was worth a listen.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

No. It's very episodic. Great for short car rides.