The Violinist's Thumb

The Violinist's Thumb

And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code

Book - 2012
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From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes incredible stories of science, history, language, and music, as told by our own DNA.

In The Disappearing Spoon , bestselling 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.
Publisher: New York : Little, Brown and Co., c2012.
ISBN: 9780316182317
Characteristics: ix, 401 p. :,ill. ;,25 cm.


From the critics

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Mar 12, 2018

I really enjoyed this book, but my main takeaway was do not eat the liver of any arctic predators because the Vitamin A will kill you.

Nov 18, 2016


Nov 15, 2016

This is a good read. I liked the effort to make a complex, but fascinating, area of science manageable for those of who are not scientists. I did find that every now and then the author would get a little carried away with the details (probably from excitement of what was being learned), but found I could easily skip over those parts and keep the thread.

Jul 02, 2016

The authors writing style and expressions took some getting used to at the beginning, but complements the telling of groundbreaking discoveries and background information well, it added a fun sceptical layer. He points out what we still don't know, with some good ideas for further reading.

Oct 02, 2015

To those readers who rated this book 4 stars and even 3 and a half: what else do you need to bestow a 5-star rating? This is a master piece both in scope and style. Don't hold your breath waiting for something better.

Aug 21, 2015

Despite its fairly advanced and highly complex technical content, this book is very readable and at times even amusing. It includes so many intriguing side issues, references and acecdotes that I actually found myself reading every one of the numerous footnotes. The many biographical vignettes of the researchers and theorists who've contributed to our current understanding of genetics over the years greatly enrich the story. Kean even succeeds in explaining the seemingly mysterious mechanism whereby creatures such as butterflies are able to accomplish, untaught, things that their ancestors did before their birth. And he gives us a new understanding of what it may mean to be human, even including some DNA that may derive from viruses.

Jul 17, 2014

This is a review of genetic discoveries. One finds humanity is only 2% of our makeup, most of us are virus's, or junk. An entertaining easy to read explanation which seems more up to date then; it appears, some of our research laboratories. Especially when it comes to degenerative diseases.

Jul 16, 2014

I heartily agree - this is a great book.

-a fun read. Kean is witty and irreverent. There are some great yarns in The Violinist's Thumb. He's also remarkably adept at elucidating complex scientific concepts for non-scientists.

Mar 08, 2013

As Mr. Kean states in the introduction, "this is a book about DNA." I appreciated learning a lot of new information that has been added about genetics since I took a course in the '80s. It is written in a lively style, accessible to most readers, although some of it seemed overly sensational. Scientists have retroactively diagnosed illnesses and explained unique abilities of famous people, such as Paganini, Darwin, Lincoln, Einstein, John Kennedy, among others. Overall, it's a very good book with an extensive bibliography included for further reading.

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