Genome: the Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters - Matt Ridley A really great introduction to genetics. One of my friends, who studied chemistry in college, recommended the book to me. The book is divided into 23 chapters, representing the 23 different sets of chromosomes in the human body. The concept fascinated me, and I thought that if the author had enough of a sense of humor to write a book this way, why not give it a try?

I'm not going to pretend that I understood 100% of the book, but the parts I did understand, I appreciated. While the writer does provide an introduction on how genes and DNA work, for most people who don't have a background in genetics, the amount of material will be overwhelming. My best advice is to skim to get the general idea and continue on. The principles will be repeated as you progress along the book, and this time they'll stick because they are illustrated using real life occurrences (for example, I now have a clearer understanding of how stress biologically affects our bodies). The concepts are intricate, but Matt Ridley does a great job breaking things down into digestible portions.

Despite the title, each chapter does not go into a detailed account of the function of each set of chromosomes. Good thing, too, since each chromosome serves a variety of different functions. Instead, each chapter is divided up into themes. For example, the chapter Fate, which I found the most fascinating, sought to prove that a good portion of our lives is written in our genetic code. Ridley uses Huntington’s Disease to prove this point: he explains how Huntington’s is caused, why it happens in some people and not in others, and describes in detail how a repeating sequence of CAGs can determine at what age you start to show symptoms. What I appreciated the most, though, was that Ridley also pushes further to describe the ramifications of the disease—should doctors tell a patient that they have the disease and that they will develop symptoms at a certain age? Should patients inquire about whether or not they have the incurable, unavoidable disease?

The book, while informative and intellectually stimulating, encourages us to ask very difficult questions that result from such issues. Rather than the detached scientist studying life through a microscope, Ridley actively engages with life, challenging and observing and questioning. Instead of the coldly yet carefully studied discourse on genetics it could have been, the book joins human life and genetics together in a compassionate way.

Definitely recommended, and not just for the science-y people.