The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean

The Violinist’s Thumb : and other lost tales of love, war, and genius, as written by our genetic code

By Sam Kean

HSL Amesse/1st Floor, 572.8 KEA  

The words deoxyribonucleic acid, or simply DNA, are familiar to the vast majority of people and most likely invoke images of a double helix, chromosomes, and Gregor Mendel and his pea plants.  But the story behind DNA and the men and women who uncovered its secrets is far more interesting than one might imagine.

Sam Kean brilliantly relays this fascinating history in The Violinist’s Thumb.  From Artic explorers discovering that their skin will fall off after indulging in polar bear liver to an unfortunate Japanese man who not only survived the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima but also of Nagasaki, Kean sheds light on the endlessly amazing journey of DNA.

The reader will meet:  Columbia’s “Fly Boys” who worked tirelessly with Drosophila during the day while one of whom worked tirelessly to chase women by night;  Paganini, the inspiration for the book’s title, the violinist who could play music like no other before or since because he suffered a genetic disease that allowed his ligaments to be looser than the average musician; Charles Darwin, not only was he the man that gave science the theory of evolution, but he was also a man who suffered an extraordinary amount of conditions, such as frequent vomiting and irritation of the bowels; the rival scientists and consortia working on the cut-throat business of the Human Genome Project through public and private endeavors; and many more amazing men and women in the pages of the history of DNA.

Genes and chromosomes may be enthralling by themselves, but discovering the people behind the missteps and discoveries of genetics is a continuously intriguing journey.  Kean’s writing brings this story to life in a charming and enjoyable manner that will make the reader crave more.

[Brittany Heer, Library Technician II ]