Genome by Matt Ridley

Previously, I read Matt Ridley’s book The Rational Optimist. This book, Genome, is no less sanguine about science, humans, and the future. Fascinating stuff, even if the completion of the mapping of the human genome is old news now. The scientific mysteries of 1999 are by no means all solved.

See below for what stood out and a list of related books as well as when and why I read this one.

What Stood out in Genome

One fact I learned, which I feel like I should somehow already have known, is that tumours are called “cancer” because they cause crab-claw-like arteries to grow around them (page 238). If you know your Western zodiac, you know that “cancer” is Greek for “crab”, so the name suddenly makes sense.

Ridley delivers a brilliant analogy for science:

The fuel on which science runs is ignorance. Science is like a hungry furnace that must be fed logs from the forests of ignorance that surround us. In the process, the clearing we call knowledge expands, but the more it expands, the longer its perimeter and the more ignorance comes into view. (271)

That reminds me of this insightful illustration of what earning a PhD supposedly feels like.

Personally, I’ve never felt called to push the edge of the circle back. I’m more inclined to try to color in as much of the circle as I can, rather than color as far as I can in one direction. I may not know anything that no one knows, but I know a lot of stuff that a lot of people don’t know. Hence the market for popular science books.

When and Why I Read Genome

I’m interested in popular science topics like evolutionary psychology, and I read and enjoyed another book by Matt Ridley, The Rational Optimist.

Genre: non-fiction (biology)
Date started / date finished:  23-Jun-17 to 29-Jun-17
Length: 313 pages
ISBN: 060932902
Originally published in: 1999
Amazon link: Genome

Books Related to Genome

Books I’ve read that are mentioned in the text:

  • How the Mind Works by Stephen Pinker
  • The Language Instinct by Stephen Pinker
  • The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
  • The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley

Books I have that are mentioned in the text:

  • The Bell Curve by Richard J. Hernstein and Charles Murray
  • The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins
  • Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond
  • Consilience by E.O. Wilson
  • The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

Other books by Matt Ridley:

  • The Red Queen
  • The Evolution of Everything
  • The Origins of Virtue
  • The Agile Gene