The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War, and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code

Posted: Tuesday, October 22, 2013, 8:39 am

In brief


This book should be mandatory reading for humans.

Sam Kean is an amazing writer and his book, The Violinist's Thumb, which explores the history of DNA research, is extraordinary.

My review could end here, saving you the trouble of reading more so you could simply reserve it and find out for yourself what an absolute delight it was to read about gathering pus, the hazards of eating polar bear liver and how cat hoarding may be a viral affliction. I understand, however, that some of you may need more convincing, so here goes.

When I say it was delightful to read about things you would normally avoid discussing in polite conversation, I mean it. Sam Kean writes about biology and genetics with the voice of a seasoned storyteller. Simply put, he makes this stuff, which could be boring as all get out, interesting. Interesting to the point where I regaled my husband with facts about toxoplasmosis while he was trying to eat his morning toast (he went hungry that day).

As if that weren't enough, The Violinist's Thumb is also laugh-out-loud funny. Kean has a dark sense of humor and, as the lives of scientists are often filled with more eccentric behavior than the average human engages in, he has rich fodder for exercising it here.

Beyond the humor and say-what-now facts, Kean's real genius is sharing the human story behind DNA research and what it means for all of us. Guided by relentless curiosity as well as feuds and failures, the researchers Kean highlights, from Mendel to Venter, are rendered in living color and are, as you may suspect, as provocative as their discoveries.

Now, please reserve this book. You won't be sorry.

Sam Kean will be in Worthington on Thursday, November 14, 2013 as part of the library's Hear & Now author series!