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Armed with extraordinary new discoveries about our genes, acclaimed science writer Matt Ridley turns his attention to the nature-versus-nurture debate in a thoughtful book about the roots of human behavior. Ridley recounts the hundred years' war between the partisans of nature and nurture to explain how this paradoxical creature, the human being, can be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture. With the decoding of the human genome, we now know that genes not only predetermine the broad structure of the brain, they also absorb formative experiences, react to social cues, and even run memory. They are consequences as well as causes of the will.
If, as Matt Ridley suggests, science is simply the search for new forms of ignorance, then perhaps it follows that with science's advances come new questions. Will human genetic engineering become commonplace? Will human cloning ever be safe? Are there many universes? How much will the climate change during the coming century? The Best American Science Writing 2002 gathers top writers and scientists covering the latest developments in the fastest-changing, farthest-reaching scientific fields, such as medicine, genetics, computer technology, evolutionary psychology, cutting-edge physics, and the environment. Among this year's selections: In "The Made-to-Order Savior," Lisa Belkin spotlights two desperate families seeking an unprecedented cure by a medically and ethically unprecedented means -- creating a genetically matched child. Margaret Talbot's "A Desire to Duplicate" reveals that the first human clone may very likely come from an entirely unexpected source, and sooner than we think. Michael Specter reports on the shock waves rippling through the field of neuroscience following the revolutionary discovery that adult brain cells might in fact regenerate ("Rethinking the Brain"). Christopher Dickey's "I Love My Glow Bunny" recounts with sly humor a peculiar episode in which genetic engineering and artistic culture collide. Natalie Angier draws an insightful contrast between suicide terrorists and rescue workers who risk their lives, and finds that sympathy and altruism have a definite place in the evolution of human nature, David Berlinski's "What Brings a World into Being?" ponders the idea of biology and physics as essentially digital technologies, exploring the mysteries encoded in the universe's smallest units, be they cells or quanta. Nicholas Wade shows how one of the most controversial books of the year, The Skeptical Environmentalist, by former Greenpeace member and self-described leftist Bjorn Lomborg, debunks some of the most cherished tenets of the environmental movement, suggesting that things are perhaps not as bad as we've been led to believe. And as a counterpoint, Darcy Frey's profile of George Divoky reveals a dedicated researcher whose love of birds and mystery leads to some sobering discoveries about global warming and forcefully reminds us of the unsung heroes of science: those who put in long hours, fill in small details, and take great trouble. In the end, the unanswered questions are what sustain scientific inquiry, open new frontiers of knowledge, and lead to new technologies and medical treatments. The Best American Science Writing 2002 is a series of exciting reports from science's front lines, where what we don't know is every bit as important as what we know.
Francis Crick--the quiet genius who led a revolution in biology by discovering, quite literally, the secret of life--will be bracketed with Galileo, Darwin, and Einstein as one of the greatest scientists of all time. In his fascinating biography of the scientific pioneer who uncovered the genetic code-the digital cipher at the heart of heredity that distinguishes living from non-living things-acclaimed bestselling science writer Matt Ridley traces Crick's life from middle-class mediocrity in the English Midlands through a lackluster education and six years designing magnetic mines for the Royal Navy to his leap into biology at the age of thirty-one and its astonishing consequences. In the process, Ridley sheds a brilliant light on the man who forever changed our world and how we understand it.
"A fascinating tour of the human genome. . . . If you want to catch a glimpse of the biotech century that is now dawning, and how it will make life better for all of us, "Genome" is an excellent start". --"Wall Street Journal". Includes a new Foreword by the author. NPR sponsorships.
The human genome, the complete set of genes housed in twenty-three pairs of chromosomes, is nothing less than an autobiography of our species.
Life is getting better--and at an accelerating rate. Food availability, income, and life span are up; disease, child mortality, and violence are down -- all across the globe. Though the world is far from perfect, necessities and luxuries alike are getting cheaper; population growth is slowing; Africa is following Asia out of poverty; the Internet, the mobile phone, and container shipping are enriching people's lives as never before. The pessimists who dominate public discourse insist that we will soon reach a turning point and things will start to get worse. But they have been saying this for two hundred years. Yet Matt Ridley does more than describe how things are getting better. He explains why. Prosperity comes from everybody working for everybody else. The habit of exchange and specialization--which started more than 100,000 years ago--has created a collective brain that sets human living standards on a rising trend. The mutual dependence, trust, and sharing that result are causes for hope, not despair. This bold book covers the entire sweep of human history, from the Stone Age to the Internet, from the stagnation of the Ming empire to the invention of the steam engine, from the population explosion to the likely consequences of climate change. It ends with a confident assertion that thanks to the ceaseless capacity of the human race for innovative change, and despite inevitable disasters along the way, the twenty-first century will see both human prosperity and natural biodiversity enhanced. Acute, refreshing, and revelatory, The Rational Optimist will change your way of thinking about the world for the better.
Referring to Lewis Carroll's Red Queen from Through the Looking-Glass, a character who has to keep running to stay in the same place, Matt Ridley demonstrates why sex is humanity's best strategy for outwitting its constantly mutating internal predators. The Red Queen answers dozens of other riddles of human nature and culture -- including why men propose marriage, the method behind our maddening notions of beauty, and the disquieting fact that a woman is more likely to conceive a child by an adulterous lover than by her husband. Brilliantly written, The Red Queen offers an extraordinary new way of interpreting the human condition and how it has evolved.
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