Genetic engineering is an incredible technology with many controversial applications. This book as a very approachable primer on those possible applications and the ethical issues they raise. While the science is handled very well and the author didn’t spend enough time on the basics to bore me, I do think the science is written simply enough that someone with no background could understand this book with a little effort. The author does an incredible job starting with the basics. Every biology term is defined. And this allows him to use biology terms and build up to more complicated concepts. For instance, instead of answering the question “what is genetic engineering” in a watered down way, he first explains basic molecular genetics and then the specific methods that people use to alter genomes. Unfortunately, the illustrations were bad enough to be basically useless, but the explanations were good enough that I don’t think the illustrations were needed any way.
I think the aspect of the book most likely to challenge readers is the dense language and focus on philosophy. The book is written in a very intellectual manner, which of course means much larger words than are needed are used. This could be a bad thing but the author did a very impressive job of imbuing the writing with his personality and occasional humor despite the dense language. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that done so well before.
The topics covered were very broad, including everything from genetically modified food to genetically engineering humans. The ethical questions addressed were very interesting, as were the author’s perspectives, and the personal writing style made the questions even more engaging. Honestly, I think this book probably would have been a 4 star review for me under other circumstances, but with getting into school and reading lots of papers on genetic engineering it was kind of a long haul to get through. However, I would highly recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in philosophy or genetic engineering, as the biology is written clearly enough that anyone interested could probably understand the concepts.
originally published on Doing Dewey