The Wonder of Genetics: The Creepy, the Curious, and the Commonplace

Richard V Kowles, Author
Richard V. Kowles, Prometheus, $25 (210p) ISBN 978-1-61614-214-8
Reviewed on: 12/20/2010
Release date: 09/01/2010
For those who are unacquainted with the basics of genetics, Kowles (Solving problems in Genetics) provides a helpful primer, but when he goes beyond the nuts and bolts to tackle concerns about the widespread bioengineering of seeds (which he endorses), his complacent, conventional views reduce complex subjects to simplistic notions. His explanations of the genetic code, how genes work in clusters, the way that the extra-nuclear genes in mitochondria function, and varying methods for genetically modifying organisms are comprehensive and informative, but he ignores potential dangers to heath and ecology (embracing salmon that "grow four times faster and larger than normal," for instance) and adheres to a narrowly conservative view of environmental issues, equating the belief held by people living 90 years ago that absorbing radiation deliberately added to food was "a metabolic rejuvenation" to a "mood today [that] may be better described as radiophobia." Moreover, by ignoring the implications of statistics showing that an "estimated 70% of processed food in the United States contains products of genetic engineering," Kowles does the general reader, in search of unbiased information, a disservice. (Sept.)