Round up


Denis Noble

Oxford University Press, 12.99

The science of molecular biology has yielded some remarkable results in the past 50 years or so - from the discovery of DNA to the sequencing of the human genome. In this short but very rich book, Denis Noble, a professor of physiology at Oxford, attempts to do for so-called "systems biology" what Richard Dawkins has done for the field of molecular genetics. Noble's claim is that the molecular approach, which is concerned with describing the constituent parts of organisms, is incapable of answering the fundamental question "What is life?" Living organisms are complex systems and understanding them requires abandoning the deterministic idea that the genome is a programme that "causes" life.

Also try: Brian Goodwin, How the Leopard Changed Its Spots


Judith Rich Harris

Norton, 16.99

Our human natures are shared but our characters or personalities are not. Until now, evolutionary psychology has concerned itself with human nature, with what we all have in common. It has left character to the novelists and philosophers, who have described its many guises, without ever explaining it; without, that is, figuring out how and why individuals are different from each other. This is the "mystery" that Judith Rich Harris sets out to solve. Harris is not a professional scientist and isn't afraid of ranging widely across disciplines in search of an answer. She writes with breezy good humour too, as she attempts to explain variations in personality that can't be attributed to variations in genes.

Also try: Matt Ridley, Nature Via Nurture


Donald McRae

Simon & Schuster, 17.99

Scientists aren't just disinterested seekers after truth. They're also professionals with ambitions, resentments and anxieties just like the rest of us. Donald McRae's gripping book about the race, in the mid-1960s, to transplant the first human heart is a reminder of this and also of the role that the vagaries of fortune play in most great scientific discoveries. Late in 1967, after mishearing a radio report, the South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard became convinced that he had lost the race to a team in California and immediately despatched a colleague to find a donor. By the end of that year he was an international celebrity, having beaten the three American surgeons also straining to perform the first heart transplant.

Also try: Chris Logan, Celebrity Surgeon

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