Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Mutants by Armand Leroi

"Who are the mutants? We are all mutants. But some of us are more mutant than others."

Variety, even deformity, may seem like an unlikely route by which to approach normality, even perfection. Yet much of what we know about the mechanisms of human development, growth, and aging comes from the study of people who are afflicted with congenital diseases, most of which have genetic causes. Congenital abnormalities reveal not only errors within the womb, but also our evolutionary history.

In "Mutants," Armand Marie Leroi gives a brilliant narrative account of our genetic grammar and the people whose bodies have revealed it, balancing both the science and the stories behind some of history's most captivating figures-including a French convent girl who found herself changing sex upon puberty; children who, echoing Homer's Cyclops, are born with a single eye in the middle of their foreheads; a village of long-lived Croatian dwarves; a hairy family who was kept at the Burmese royal court for four generations (and from whom Darwin took one of his keenest insights into heredity); and the ostrich-footed Wadoma of the Zambezi River Valley.

Stepping effortlessly from myth to molecular biology, this elegant, humane, and illuminating book is about us all.

I loved this. I honestly bought this book about 3 years ago (maybe more?) and never got around to reading it. But I'm super glad I finally did. It is fascinating. And there was plenty to Wikipedia and even new stuff to add to my Life List (visits to the Vrolik Museum in Amsterdam or the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia). There are bits that were a bit too in depth about DNA, but I found this otherwise easy to read and I just skimmed and got the gist of the bits that didn't interest me. I would recommend this to anyone who has an interest in the Human Body, how it is formed or genetics.

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