26. Your favourite type of non-fiction book.
Have I mentioned that I quite like science?
Specifically genetics and extra-specifically evolutionary genetics. But given that I spend all day doing science I don’t actually read a lot of books about it. Having said that I do have a few of my favouritest books to share with you.
Obviously there’s The Seven Daughters of Eve by Prof Bryan Sykes which I listed as one of my top 10 books ever back on day 1 of this challenge. I first read it when I was 17 and searching for a direction in life and was inspired to choose genetics. I’ve since chosen a different branch of genetics to pursue but my passion is still ancient DNA and the stories it can tell us.
Through the book Prof Sykes goes on a journey around the world, discussing the uses of ancient DNA in finding the origins of Polynesian Islanders, identifying Czar Nicholas II and, of course, proving the “Out of Africa” hypothesis. Not only this but he then explains how everyone in Europe is descended from 7 different women. The final part of the book describes lives these women could have led (and as such is relatively fictional) which is what got me really interested in ancient people. It is possible to have your DNA tested to discover which lineage you belong to but given that the test costs £200 and I have a relatively boring and incredibly British family tree, I haven’t taken this offer up yet. Yet.
Then there’s The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey in which Spencer Wells expands on the theme but rather than tracking maternal lineage as Prof Sykes does in his book, Wells looks at the male lineage and how we can map the spread of the Y chromosome, not just across Europe, but across the world. In addition to discussing genetics, this book also looks at archaeological finds and how they support the genetic data making it more 3-dimensional than Sykes’ work and giving another element of excitement.
To bring the genetic theme bang up to date I recently read (and reviewed) My Beautiful Genome by Lone Frank which is a personal journey through the author’s own genome, what it can tell us about who she is and the way her life could pan out. It is packed full of all the latest technologies, hypotheses and ethical dilemmas and was a fascinating read which showed the promises and pitfalls of our neverending quest for science to do bigger and better things.
In a non-genetics vein there’s Bad Science by Ben Goldacre which I discussed yesterday; the works of Gerald Durrell, the famous naturalist and of course the legendary essays of the one and only Charles Robert Darwin whose writings aboard The Beagle provide and informative and entertaining account even today.
Of course I could go on but I think I’ll stop there before I tell you that the textbook Genomes by Prof Terry Brown is an enjoyable read, especially the section on ancient DNA. Ooops. And I keep saying I’m in the wrong job!