Posts Categorized: Backlist Love

Backlist Love | Two Books About Genetics

February 19, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

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The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA by James D. Watson (Touchstone Books, 2011; c. 1968)

The Seven Daughters of Eve: The Science That Reveals Our Genetic Ancestry by Bryan Sykes (W.W. Norton & Co., 2001)


The Double Helix

The classic personal account of Watson and Crick’s groundbreaking discovery of the structure of DNA, now with an introduction by Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind.

By identifying the structure of DNA, the molecule of life, Francis Crick and James Watson revolutionized biochemistry and won themselves a Nobel Prize. At the time, Watson was only twenty-four, a young scientist hungry to make his mark. His uncompromisingly honest account of the heady days of their thrilling sprint against other world-class researchers to solve one of science’s greatest mysteries gives a dazzlingly clear picture of a world of brilliant scientists with great gifts, very human ambitions, and bitter rivalries.

The Seven Daughters of Eve

One of the most dramatic stories of genetic discovery since James D. Watson’s The Double Helix — a work whose scientific and cultural reverberations will be discussed for years to come. In 1994 Professor Bryan Sykes, a leading world authority on DNA and human evolution, was called in to examine the frozen remains of a man trapped in glacial ice in northern Italy. News of both the Ice Man’s discovery and his age, which was put at over five thousand years, fascinated scientists and newspapers throughout the world. But what made Sykes’s story particularly revelatory was his successful identification of a genetic descendant of the Ice Man, a woman living in Great Britain today. How was Sykes able to locate a living relative of a man who died thousands of years ago?

In The Seven Daughters of Eve, he gives us a firsthand account of his research into a remarkable gene, which passes undiluted from generation to generation through the maternal line. After plotting thousands of DNA sequences from all over the world, Sykes found that they clustered around a handful of distinct groups. Among Europeans and North American Caucasians, there are, in fact, only seven. This conclusion was staggering: almost everyone of native European descent, wherever they may live throughout the world, can trace their ancestry back to one of seven women, the Seven Daughters of Eve.

Why I liked them

Seven Daughters of Eve is a combo of genetic science for the lay person + imaginative speculation about the lives of humanity’s shared ancestors. I know the science in this book is about a decade and a half old at this point, but it’s a great intro to mitochondrial DNA and how it can be used to help us make educated guesses about our family trees.

To be honest, my interest in The Double Helix was purely historical. I read Seven Daughters of Eve first and just wanted to know a little more about how DNA became a “thing” originally. Despite Watson’s complete dismissal of Rosalind Franklin’s work, his voice is engaging and his memories of this momentous discovery are just fascinating.

Who I’d recommend them to

The Double Helix is, I think, a book best appreciated by people who already have at least a basic background in biological sciences. And you have to realize that it’s basically the recollections of a single person — a brilliant person, but a fallible one.

Seven Daughters of Eve has a broader appeal. Anyone interested in human evolution should definitely pick this up, but it will also be a great read for anthropologists and even genealogists who are interested in the impact of DNA on their family history research.

Links

The Double Helix

The Seven Daughters of Eve

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Backlist Love | A Novel About a Blogger in Texas

February 5, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.

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Lone Star Legend by Gwendolyn Zepeda (Grand Central Publishing, 2010)

Lone Star Legend

If she can find the time, Sandy Saavedra will stop to breathe. New management has turned work upside down and her father’s upcoming marriage — something he forgot to mention to Sandy — means there’s no peace at home, either. But it’s okay. No matter what’s thrown her way, Sandy can deal. Because Sandy has a secret, and his name is Tío Jaime.

A short drive out of Austin delivers Sandy into the wide-open spaces of the Hill Country, to the front porch of grandfatherly hermit Tío Jaime. There, in the company of pepper plants, a shaggy dog, and fresh squeezed lemonade, the old man imparts down-to-earth advice. Overbearing boss? Work smarter; she’ll leave you alone. Disrespectful boyfriend? Pack your bags; a real woman tolerates only a real man. His simple perspective reminds Sandy she can make her own choices – something she’s been forgetting lately.

Feeling inspired, Sandy posts their chats online. But as she introduces the world to her personal Eden, her own life heads straight to hell . . .

Why I liked it

My fond feelings for this book may be colored by its status as one of those books I devoured like a starving person after not being able to read for pleasure during an intense semester at grad school. Anyway, this is a fun contemporary fiction with a fun kind of “Texican” flavor to it and a fairly satisfying character arc.

Who I’d recommend it to

Anyone who needs a quick, fun-but-not-too-fluffy read, especially if you’re looking for something beyond plain ol’ white bread chick lit. But you don’t have to take my word for it… the Texas Library Association included Lone Star Legend on its Lariat List (Best Adult Fiction of 2010) a few years ago.

Links

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Backlist Love | Two Books about Evolution

January 22, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

Backlist Love is an informal series on “older” books that I hope you’ll find interesting. These aren’t so much reviews as quickie recommendations, so check out Goodreads or your favorite book review sources if you want more info.


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Your Inner Fish: A Journey Into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body by Neil Shubin (Pantheon, 2008)

The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by Richard Dawkins (Bantam Press, 2009)

Your Inner Fish

Why do we look the way we do? What does the human hand have in common with the wing of a fly? Are breasts, sweat glands, and scales connected in some way? To better understand the inner workings of our bodies and to trace the origins of many of today’s most common diseases, we have to turn to unexpected sources: worms, flies, and even fish.

Neil Shubin, a leading paleontologist and professor of anatomy who discovered Tiktaalik — the “missing link” that made headlines around the world in April 2006 — tells the story of evolution by tracing the organs of the human body back millions of years, long before the first creatures walked the earth. By examining fossils and DNA, Shubin shows us that our hands actually resemble fish fins, our head is organized like that of a long-extinct jawless fish, and major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and bacteria.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Charles Darwin’s masterpiece, On the Origin of Species, shook society to its core on publication in 1859. Darwin was only too aware of the storm his theory of evolution would provoke but he would surely have raised an incredulous eyebrow at the controversy still raging a century and a half later. Evolution is accepted as scientific fact by all reputable scientists and indeed theologians, yet millions of people continue to question its veracity.

In The Greatest Show on Earth Richard Dawkins takes on creationists, including followers of ‘Intelligent Design’ and all those who question the fact of evolution through natural selection. Like a detective arriving on the scene of a crime, he sifts through fascinating layers of scientific facts and disciplines to build a cast-iron case: from the living examples of natural selection in birds and insects; the ‘time clocks’ of trees and radioactive dating that calibrate a timescale for evolution; the fossil record and the traces of our earliest ancestors; to confirmation from molecular biology and genetics. All of this, and much more, bears witness to the truth of evolution.

Why I liked them

First, Your Inner Fish was required reading for a class I took on evolutionary biology, and frankly it’s the best nonfiction book I’ve ever been “forced” to read for school. It’s engaging from page one and easy to follow even if you know next to nothing about evolution or paleontology. Shubin manages to cover a lot of scientific ground within a narrative of his own experiences out in the field.

The Greatest Show on Earth was just something I picked up because, honestly, I thought the cover was pretty (yeah, shame on me, whatever). I feel pretty ambivalent about Dawkins in general, but in this book in particular I think he does a pretty good job summarizing the evidence for the evolution + natural selection and debunking some of the more common “Young Earth” creationist and “Intelligent Design” arguments in a very accessible, sometimes rather funny way.

Who I’d recommend them to

It might seem odd to start this section with a negative, but I absolutely do not recommend the Richard Dawkins book for creationists, at least not for creationists who are just making their first foray into the study of evolutionary biology. Dawkins gets very snarky and is not shy about his atheism, and I fear that this can detract from his actual arguments. Putting science newbies on the defensive right out of the gate is not a good way to help them understand this complicated issue. Rather, I recommend this book only as a “refresher” for those of you who are already at least somewhat familiar with / accepting of the theory of evolution.

Neil Shubin, by contrast, is not out to ruffle any feathers. Your Inner Fish is more focused on describing the physical evidence for evolution than fighting anti-science philosophy. I would recommend this book to anyone who’s even a little bit curious about how a giant fish with legs (and its ancestors, and its cousins) somehow morphed into the huge variety of terrestrial animals, include humans, extant on our planet today.

Links

Your Inner Fish

The Greatest Show on Earth

 

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New Series: Backlist Love

January 3, 2016 Backlist Love, Books 0

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Most book blogs I follow focus on reading either new releases and ARCs or books that fit some kind of theme, whether it’s “classics” or all the titles from some list or other. Something I’d like to see more of? Backlist titles.

Don’t get me wrong, I like reading about new stuff. And those folks who focus on a theme have produced some of the most thoughtful blog posts I’ve seen on in the bookternet.

But one thing I miss about working at the public library, about being able to walk down to a bookshop during my lunch break, or even being able to spend my lunchtime at the school library as a kid is that I don’t really have that opportunity to serendipitously stumble across interesting titles that I would never have heard about otherwise. Some of my favorite books have come to me this way.

Rather than just sit around feeling bummed about it, I decided to “be the change” and do my own backlist-focused thing here at Lone Star on a Lark. So for the next year (maybe more?) I’ll occasionally do features on some of the books that really grabbed me once upon a time, in hopes that maybe someone else out there will see something they think is worth reading, too.

Even though this isn’t exactly a “challenge” I do have just a few rules to follow for this series:

  • The book must be at least 5 years old.
  • I will give priority to books that I actually own, though the series isn’t necessarily limited to that.
  • Books that I’ve previously reviewed don’t count.
  • Books that are on any challenge list (like Classics Club) don’t count.

Since I’m focusing on books that my husband and I currently own, a lot of the titles I feature will be from the following categories:

  • History or biography
  • Science nonfiction
  • Science fiction
  • Fantasy
  • General fiction
  • YA
  • Children’s fiction
  • Children’s nonfiction

Some of these titles are already well-loved, even “classics” by some estimations. Others will be a little more obscure or forgotten by the general public after a brief stint in the spotlight.

Please note: Yes, I am aware that other websites and blogs have features with the name “Backlist Love” — someone even uses this as their Twitter handle! I am not affiliated with any of those people, nor am I trying to steal their content.

Do you like to fit backlist books into your blog, too? Do you think it’s important to share recommendations for older titles, or would you rather stick to the new stuff or a particular theme?