Is our nature—as individuals, as a species—determined by our evolution and encoded in our genes? If we unravel the protein sequences of our DNA, will we gain the power to cure all of our physiological and psychological afflictions and even to solve the problems of our society? Today biologists—especially geneticists—are proposing answers to questions that have long been asked by philosophy or faith or the social sciences. Their work carries the weight of scientific authority and attracts widespread public attention, but it is often based on what the renowned evolutionary biologist Richard Lewontin identifies as a highly reductive misconception: “the pervasive error that confuses the genetic state of an organism with its total physical and psychic nature as a human being.”
In these nine essays covering the history of modern biology from Darwin to Dolly the sheep, all of which were originally published in The New York Review of Books, Lewontin combines sharp criticisms of overreaching scientific claims with lucid expositions of the exact state of current scientific knowledge—not only what we do know, but what we don’t and maybe won’t anytime soon. Among the subjects he discusses are heredity and natural selection, evolutionary psychology and altruism, nineteenth-century naturalist novels, sex surveys, cloning, and the Human Genome Project. In each case he casts an ever-vigilant and deflationary eye on the temptation to look to biology for explanations of everything we want to know about our physical, mental, and social lives.
These essays—several of them updated with epilogues that take account of scientific developments since they were first written—are an indispensable guide to the most controversial issues in the life sciences today.
Though challenging for the layman, his book will reward persistent readers with a better understanding of the most controversial scientific issues of our day.— Christine Kenneally, The New York Times Book Review
If you read only one book on genetics this year, make sure it is this one.— The Sunday Times
Well-written, insightful, and a useful reminder of the complex issues still unsolved in the biological sciences.— Kirkus Reviews
A bracing, lucid collection of essays…Lewontin is a formidable critic of simplistic, flawed biological determinism.— Publishers Weekly
His book will reward persistent readers with a better understanding of the most controversial scientific issues of our day.— The New York Times Book Review
This is a fine and important book, and a very necessary corrective to all sorts of popular fallacies….everyone who reads news stories explaining the importance of the decoding of the human genome should immediately take a chapter of this book as an antidote.— The Guardian