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review 2018-05-11 15:53
Human Errors
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes - Nathan H. Lents

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley.]

I found this to be both an informative and entertaining read. While the author doesn’t delve very deep into details (each subject in each chapter would probably warrant a book of its own), and although I wish there had been more developed explanations at times, I’m also aware that one book couldn’t tackle everything in one go—and he nevertheless provides enough information for a reader to go on research some more later on a given topic.

I already knew some of the ‘human errors’ presented in the book (such as junk DNA and mutations), but definitely not others, such as why we get so many headcolds (our sinuses placed the wrong way), why we do actually make our own B12 vitamin but can’t use it (same with other vitamins—and this is why we need a varied diet, with all the problems it entails), or why our ways of procreating are, in fact, very inefficient compared to those of other mammals. So, discovering all this was fascinating, and the explanations provided also satisfy the unavoidable ‘why’ questions that rose immediately after (I’m very much a why person; every physician who attended me since I’ve learnt to speak can testify to this). For instance, we lost the ability to make our own vitamin C, whose absence will lead to scorbut and kill us; but the mutation that led to this defect wasn’t erased through evolution because it happened in areas where fruit was easily available, and a diet of fruit would compensate for our rotten GULO gene… until the latter stuck, happily passed around to descendants.

I liked that some explanations went a bit further: it’s not only about this or that physical defect, but also about how we’re still wired for survival techniques and reactions dating back to prehistoric times, and how some of our modern behaviours are thus impacted. An extended example would be gambling, and why people in general have irrational reactions such as ‘now that I’ve lost ten times in a row, I -must- win, there’s no other way’ (though statistically, you could lose an 11th time), or will bet more and more when they’re on winning streak, and risk losing it all or more, rather than save those earnings. Those would go back to the way we interpreted situations to learn from them and survive (man sees a lion in a bush, concludes bushes often hide a lion, and then avoids bushes). Same with optical illusions, due to our brains’ ability to ‘fill in the blanks’.

On the side of actual errors, I noticed a few (redundant words or phrases, that a last editing pass would probably remove). Nothing too bad, though.

Conclusion: Due to the lack of deeper details and general simple writing, this book is probably more for laypeople rather than people with a strong scientific background—but even then, there’s still a chance that some of the ‘human errors’ may still be of interest to them.

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review 2017-12-24 04:11
Genetics gone wild...and woolly
Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures - Ben Mezrich

YES. That is literally what I have written first in my notes for today's book review. Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History's Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich is the perfect mixture of technical science and literary narrative. This book tells the story of Dr. George Church and the Revivalists (a group under his tutelage) who are trying to do what has been thought impossible: Bring back the woolly mammoth from extinction. (I have to wonder if the author received a financial backing from this group because if he didn't then he certainly deserves one. He's a major fanboy.) Mezrich covers not only their attempts at this breakthrough in science but also their competition from Seoul which owns the market on DNA cloning. The company in Seoul believes it is possible to find a complete DNA strand while Church's group thinks that the DNA will be too degraded. They're working from pieces of DNA and splicing together traits unique to woolly mammoths with the hope that a viable fetus can be carried by an Asian elephant. A scientific group dedicated to the reversal of extinction of local flora and fauna in Siberia has begun work on Pleistocene Park which is most likely going to be a functioning reality but will take several years. This is where the woolly mammoths (who wouldn't be technically true mammoths) will reside. The controversy and hubris of scientists (especially geneticists who write DNA/RNA) is extensively discussed and is fascinating to me (and I'd imagine to most laymen). However, this isn't only about the woolly mammoth. It's also an in-depth biography of George Church and how he came to be one of the leading figures in genetics. Total 10/10.


What's Up Next: Everyone's a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun


What I'm Currently Reading: it's 2 days til Christmas so I'm all over the place


Source: Https://readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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review 2017-10-13 07:30
The One - John Marrs

I started reading this a few days ago but put it down again in favour of my library books. I picked it up again yesterday because I didn't have another book right there and finished it in one sitting. I didn't expect to like it as much as I did. It follows the very different fates of several characters who all decide to take a DNA test to find 'the One', their guaranteed partner for life.I just thought it was a brilliant idea although it was a little predictable in some places but that didn't detract from my enjoyment. 

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text 2015-09-15 05:00
Interview with Michael Ransom, author of "The Ripper Gene"!
The Ripper Gene: A Novel - Michael Ransom

About The Ripper Gene:


A neuroscientist-turned-FBI-profiler discovers a genetic signature that produces psychopaths in The Ripper Gene, a thrilling debut novel from Michael Ransom.

Dr. Lucas Madden is a neuroscientist-turned-FBI profiler who first gained global recognition for cloning the ripper gene and showing its dysfunction in the brains of psychopaths. Later, as an FBI profiler, Madden achieved further notoriety by sequencing the DNA of the world's most notorious serial killers and proposing a controversial "damnation algorithm" that could predict serial killer behavior using DNA alone.

Now, a new murderer-the Snow White Killer-is terrorizing women in the Mississippi Delta. When Mara Bliss, Madden's former fiancée, is kidnapped, he must track down a killer who is always two steps ahead of him. Only by entering the killer's mind will Madden ultimately understand the twisted and terrifying rationale behind the murders-and have a chance at ending the psychopath's reign of terror.


Interview with Michael Ransom:


  • Knowing your scientific background before reading your book, I had thought there might be parts that would be over my head.  I was very impressed with the clarity and simplicity of your scientific explanations.  Was it difficult for you to tone it down for the general public?


Thank you! No, it’s not difficult.  I do tend to include more information than necessary in earlier drafts, but that’s just because I’m working through exactly how the science might work in my own mind.  Once I know how it works out in the novel, I’m able to go back and rewrite the scientific explanation passages down to the bare bones necessary to educate the reader while still keeping the pace moving at a good clip.  I’ve been asked this in several interviews now and I usually just refer to the fact that I’m a professor at Penn and enjoy teaching genetics and genomics to entry level graduate students there… so in all honesty I’m accustomed to going back to basics to explain the science in this field.


  • You’ve written numerous scientific books and articles.  How difficult was it to change that style of writing into a creative thriller?


Well, I don’t find it difficult at all because I’ve learned to write in both ways.  I think it’s now harder for me to write scientifically, because then you have to be very succinct and to the point, sort of “just the facts” if you will.  It’s different of course with fiction, where you can be a bit more baroque and descriptive.  So it’s actually more difficult to go back to writing science and keeping my summaries as succinct as possible. I’d rather have the freedom to express exactly what I want to say in however many words I want, but that’s just not acceptable in scientific communication.


  • The first chapter of The Ripper Gene is completely engrossing and chilling.  I read that it’s based on an incident from your childhood.  Can you tell us more about that?


Yes- it comes from a single Halloween night I experienced when I was about the same age as the young version of Lucas in the novel.  My mother was driving us children around in the back roads of Mississippi for trick-or-treating and she came up on several teenaged boys stumbling about in the middle of the gravel road in the dark forest. I never forget how they looked in the headlights, with blood all over their shirts and jeans.  My mother, being a no-nonsense sort of lady, simply floored it and drove to the next neighbor’s house and called the police from there…which is a big, boring departure from the tragic prologue I created based on my memory of that night.  But I’m glad things worked out and that my mother’s still with us, all these years later!


  • The question “is a serial killer made or born?” is raised in your book.  You’ve been quoted to say “Many studies now suggest that a significant portion of an individual’s tendency to exhibit anti-social behavior is inherited.  In other words, it’s in our genes”.  Do you believe that our genetic inheritance overrides free will?


No, I personally don’t believe that one’s genetics can “over-ride” free will completely.  But what I do believe is that our genetic inheritance can “modify” our individual capabilities to control aggression, to respond in fear or flight, and other capacities that seem to roll-up into the decisions that influence what we know as “free-will”.  And that, in and of itself, is enough to make me really question whether everyone is created equal or not.  Not equal in terms of their right to a life of freedom (everyone is), but equal with respect to their ability to choose right from wrong. And I think that question frames an interesting and important societal discussion that will only continue to grow as we sequence more genomes on the planet in the coming decades.


  • How much truth is there in The Ripper Gene and the Damnation Algorithm?  Are they a possibility or does some similar form actually exist or did you take some literary license?


The scientific premise for The Ripper Gene is actually a real-life gene known as monoamine oxidase A, abbreviated MAO-A, which is also known as the “warrior gene”.  It was identified as being mutated in a family of individuals with behavioral issues like hyper-aggression and other deficits.  Most studies (not all, but most) have now shown a link between MAO-A genotype and antisocial behavior in the context of childhood maltreatment.  That is, if two groups of children, some who have normal copies of MAO-A, and others who have mutated versions of MAO-A, are all raised in abusive homes… studies have shown that children with mutated versions of MAO-A will typically have a higher incident of aggression, antisocial behavior, and criminalization. 


So while there’s a “warrior gene”, to date at least, there’s no analogous “ripper gene” in the sense that no similar gene has been identified as more frequently altered in serial killers. And there’s no scientific equivalent of a damnation algorithm (a group of genes that when analyzed together would indicate higher likelihood of a serial killer phenotype).  But I don’t know if the appropriately sized genetic and genomic studies have been performed yet, to determine if there are or are not significant differences in certain genetic loci between highly psychopathic individuals and the control population.  With more sophisticated techniques that allow us to look at features of the human genome that we’ve previously ignored, we may find differences.  We’ll have to wait and see.


  • The way you insert the scientific facts into your novel without slowing down the fast-moving plot at all is admirable.  Are there certain writing techniques that you use to accomplish that?


There’s one technique that I use which is pretty standard.  Whenever there’s a particularly important but complex concept that needs to be used or referenced in the novel, I’ve found it helpful to insert an extra character into the scene.  That individual wouldn’t normally need to be present for the action to take place, but having them there means the main character needs to “explain” what they’re doing to the additional character.  That way, the break in the story where your main character “explains” what they’re doing or how something works seems believable and doesn’t interfere with the pace because the explanation occurs organically through dialogue which, if written crisply enough, doesn’t tend to slow the pace too much.


  • You’ve written a very intelligent, thought-provoking work of literature that at first glimpse seems to be a typical thriller but there is much more buried beneath.  Yet this is your first novel.  It’s hard to believe that writing scientific papers would prepare you to produce this caliber of work.  What do you attribute your literary skill to? 


My father is a writer so it’s probably genetic. Beyond that I would mainly credit the creative writing program at the University of Idaho.  I did take a creative writing class or two during my undergraduate career but after I graduated college and decided against going to medical school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. My parents had moved to Idaho so I moved to their hometown, took a job at the University of Idaho as an analytical chemist and then, as a university staff member, was able to audit one course a semester.  So for nine semesters (fall, spring and summer) I essentially took graduate level creative writing courses there.  Most of them were in poetry, but the last one or two were in fiction writing and they had a profound effect on me.  Even though I went on to graduate school at Penn in the biomedical sciences, the foundation for fiction writing had been laid.


  • Who are your literary role models?


My literary role models are diverse and include William Faulkner (impossible for me to be from Mississippi and say otherwise), Albert Camus, Flannery O’Connor, J.D. Salinger, Kurt Vonnegut, Dashiell Hammett, and Stephen King, just to name a few. 


  • Are you currently working on another novel?  Any hints for your readers of what’s to come?


I am indeed; in fact, I’m working on three new novels at present- a follow-up to The Ripper Gene, a literary mystery set in 1980’s Mississippi, and a biomedical thriller set in and around Manhattan. I usually work on multiple projects and then let one take off so we’re in the early stages currently.


  • Your book would make a great movie.  Any particular actor you would like to see take on the role of Lucas Madden?


I’d always thought Matthew McConaughey would be perfect, but the role of Lucas Madden might be too close to his recent True Detective role for him to be interested.  But you never know- he’s a Southern boy at heart and this is a Southern story to be sure. I think Brad Pitt or Sean Penn might be interested as well, given their close ties to the setting of the novel on the Mississippi and Louisiana gulf coasts.  I think any of them would do a fantastic job with the role, but I’m sure many other actors would be exceptional in the role as well.  I’d like to think actors would be attracted to the role of Agent Lucas Madden in The Ripper Gene not only due to its interesting scientific premise, but because of the deeper theme of genetic determinism and implications for free will that run beneath the surface of the entire novel.


  • Are you part of any social media sites where we can follow your work?


I’m on several platforms, which I’ve listed below.  Right now I’m mainly promoting “The Ripper Gene” (new reviews, etc.) on social media, but hopefully soon will begin sharing current progress on various projects.  Stay tuned!

 Author Website  |  Publisher Website  |   Goodreads  |  Facebook  |  Linked In  |  Twitter





About the Author:


MICHAEL RANSOM is a molecular pharmacologist and a recognized expert in the fields of toxicogenomics and pharmacogenetics. He is widely published in scientific journals and has edited multiple textbooks in biomedical research. He is currently a pharmaceutical executive and an adjunct professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Raised in rural Mississippi, he now makes his home in northern New Jersey. The Ripper Gene is his first novel.


The Ripper Gene [Forge Books / Macmillan] is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and in brick-and-mortar bookstores across North America.


Thank you, Mr. Ransom, for taking the time to answer these questions for my readers and thank you, too, to Smith Publicity.



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