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For other authors named Adam Rutherford, see the disambiguation page.

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About the Author

Adam Rutherford, PhD, studied genetics at University College London and was part of a team that identified the first genetic cause of a form of childhood blindness. He has written and presented award-winning BBC programs and writes on science for the Guardian. His hook Creation was shortlisted for show more the Wellcome Book Prize. show less

Works by Adam Rutherford

Associated Works

The Atheist's Guide to Christmas (2009) — Contributor — 350 copies


Common Knowledge



I always enjoy Adam Rutherford and his clear, direct way of speaking about a very complicated topic. I have a mixed reaction to this book. On the one hand I think overall it's easy to read, explanatory but not labored, and wraps up with an argument summary I very much agree with. On the second hand, it took me a long time to read, mostly because I stopped to think very often; about other things I've read, about how much I dislike Galton, or to look up stories I remember or more about certain actors in these historical events. And then on a third hand, I wonder if it could have been more... different. I don't know, I think this final argument could have been more strongly supported by more examples, but that's not really the book he was writing; but if the focus is on this historical explanation then maybe that needed to be a bit more in depth... but would people read that, and can you do that without the argument? I'm not sure.
Anyway, it's worth reading and it's important and because it's Rutherford, it's very readable and occasionally funny.
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Kiramke | Nov 18, 2023 |
I guess I should have read more about what this book was about before actually reading it. I thought I was going to come away with some powerful arguments. Unfortunately, it was more like a thesis paper and what genetics do and don't say about us as people (from a race standpoint). it's not like you can rattle off your academic paper to someone who's calling you racist shitty names.
ankhamun | 14 other reviews | Nov 2, 2023 |
A discussion of mostly human genetics by a British geneticist and broadcaster that looks at genetics from a broad viewpoint with emphasis on modern findings from analysis of our genome. Like many science books for non-scientific readers, there are many digressions and explanations increasing readability and leading to some disorganization.

Topics discussed include:
The seven species of genus Homo that we know about and our relationship to them. So-called cavemen were not hunched over.
The early inhabitants of continental Europe and Britain. Lactose intolerance. Blue eye color. Red hair. The absence of Danish DNA in the British genome.
Iceland. Its history and genetics.
The Plague. Its history and genetics.
American Indians. Their history and genetics. The Havasupai. Kennewick man. Alcoholism.
Genetic genealogy companies. How misleading are their advertisements and results? The web-like nature of any sufficiently long family tree, or we are all cousins. Furthermore, all sufficiently ancient people, if they had offspring, are everyone’s ancestor.
The discovery of the remains of Richard III. An estimate that out of 100 people, two were not sired by their apparent father.
Jack the Ripper.
Inbreeding in the Hapsburg dynasty. The inbreeding coefficient, F. Inbreeding in the Darwin family, Pakistanis, Roma, Icelanders, Jews, Finns, Persians, Indians.
The work of Francis Galton. Eugenics.
The concept of Race and the genetic indications that it does not exist. Adaptionism or Panglossianism. Types of earwax. Linkage disequilibrium. The EDAR gene. Tay Sachs disease. That if a typical Caucasian encounters two random Negroes, the Negroes are likely to be more genetically different from each other than either is from the Caucasian. The fallacy of African American traits deriving from slavery.
The Human Genome Project. The definition of a gene and how many do we have? The exome is less than 2% of our total DNA. Transcription factors, introns, and pseudogenes. An excellent analogy using a progressively modified English sentence to show how our DNA is organized (or how it isn’t).
The evolution of the biblical Hebrew word alma into the Greek Parthenos into the English “virgin”.
The evolution of our understanding of diseases and traits that were formerly thought to be simple
Mendelian, e.g. tongue rolling and cystic fibrosis.
Genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and the mystery of the missing heritability. Manhattan plots.
The misuse of genetic findings in criminal law. Monoamine oxidase A. The examination of the genome of the Sandy Hook murderer. Typical newspaper articles entitled, “Science discovers the gene for...”
Epigenetics. The Hongerwinter. An excellent analogy of the performance of a musical score by an orchestra over time for epigenetics. Methylization of cytosine.
The current and future evolution of our species. Tetrachromatic vision. Sensitivity to succinylcholine in the Vaishya. Infant mortality rates.

Words of interest include: gigglemug and ackamarackus.

Other notes:
The Forer effect (Bertram Forer). People conclude that broadly true statements are accurate for themselves personally. The way that astrology or the I Ching works.

Betteridge’s Law. If a headline poses a question, the answer is likely to be no.

The color scheme of pink for boys’ bedrooms and blue for girls was common in Victorian England.

"In the early 20th century the 5000 meters race was dominated by Finns. A German writer wrote that “Running is certainly in the blood of every Finn...[They] are like animals in the forest.”" [This reminds me of those in the early 20th century in the US who claimed that the Irish had a genetic proclivity for playing baseball, and incredible as it seems today, similar comments were made about Jews and basketball in the 1930s.]
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1 vote
markm2315 | 31 other reviews | Jul 1, 2023 |
There is no news here, but a fairly well-explained review of why human races are a socio-cultural phenomenon and why the genetic data that opponents to this theory cite are bogus. Similarly, the author makes short work of common moronic stereotypes and the armchair science factoids used to justify them. Due to my personal interests, I am usually fascinated by the mention of the genetic isopoint, and the author did not let me down. The genetic isopoint is the time when the entire population is the ancestor of all living people today. For Europe this was in the 10th century, i.e. all people in Europe in the 900’s who had descendants are ancestors of all Europeans alive today. The global isopoint was about 3400 years ago. This certainly throws most ancestry findings that my colleagues have bragged to me about into a cocked hat, and the next time you hear an argument about whether Hitler had Jewish ancestry you may respond that all Nazis have Jewish ancestry and that arguments of racial purity are just a fantasy.… (more)
markm2315 | 14 other reviews | Jul 1, 2023 |



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