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Stocking Filler Book Review: The Book of Man

The Book of Man, by Walter Bodmer and Robin McKie. Abacus, 1995, 353pp. £8.99. ISBN 0-349-10620-7.

Genetics can be like video recorders - dead easy for a nine-year old, but more difficult for the forty-something parents. The pace of change has been so great that even relatively new graduates of science or medicine see their knowledge rapidly being made redundant. What hope for the rest of us?

Perhaps not much, but with books like this one, there is some hope of keeping up. It is the result of a collaboration between one of the UK's most distinguished scientists and the science correspondent of the Observer. The result is an immensely interesting and readable book which makes the journey along the road carved out by the new genetics relatively painless.

The key to this book is that each new twist in the spiral is illuminated by real examples - of patients and their problems, from history and from pre-history. Like many good things it is people orientated, so that the science and the medicine become part of their human perspective. Some of the scientific nuance may be lost in this, but it gains so much more from being accessible to all.

Those of us of a certain age who were galvanised by Jim Watson's story of the discovery of the structure of DNA - The Double Helix - will recognise the same sort of feelings being engendered with The Book of Man. It is a book for every age, from the precocious 11-year old to their grandparents. It could also be a useful aid in helping to inform patients with genetic problems come to terms with the knowledge about themselves. Definitely one for the bookshelf.

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