Our book for February was near the top of innumerable lists of best science books of 2018, including those of The New York Times and The Guardian. Publisher’s Weekly called it “a magnificent work exploring virtually all aspects of heredity.” In it, journalist Zimmer, who regularly writes on science for The Times as well as other publications, “masterfully blends exciting storytelling with first-rate science reporting. Although he lucidly explains the basics of Mendelian genetics-which address inheritance and biological diversity-he goes far beyond that topic to explore the complexities of genetic inheritance. For example, he notes that there are at least 800 genes influencing height in humans, but collectively they explain only about one-quarter of the heritability of that trait.”
Zimmer does not shy from taking on such controversial issues as how to biologically define race. He states incontrovertibly that there are no “genetic fingerprints for race (‘Ancient DNA doesn’t simply debunk the notion of white purity. It debunks the very name white’)” and proceeds to make the case that “it is currently all but impossible to draw significant conclusions about the roles genes play in overall intelligence. He also probes the developing field of epigenetics (changes in gene expression rather than alteration of genetic code) as well as the role of genetics in developmental and cancer biologies. Zimmer’s writing is rich, whether he’s describing the history of the field or examining the latest research and ethical issues certain to arise. His book is as engrossing as it is enlightening.“
The book selection for March 21 is The Darkening Age: The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey.