My WaPo review of Carl Zimmer’s new book

I wrote a short-ish review of Carl Zimmer’s new book on heredity, She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Powers, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity, for the Washington Post. It appeared online today and will be in the paper newspaper on Sunday. You can read it for free by clicking on the screenshot (and please do, so the Post knows people have read it!).

If you can’t access it for free, a judicious inquiry will yield a copy.

The review speaks for itself: the book is good (albeit a bit long for my taste), and shows Zimmer’s qualities as both a science popularizer and someone who cares deeply that what he writes is true. It’s important that every person who professes to be scientifically literate know about advances in genetics, and the best way to get up to speed is to read Zimmer’s book or the other two I mention in the last paragraph of my piece. Not knowing about CRISPR is, to a layperson, equivalent to a scientist not having read any Shakespeare.


  1. Posted June 8, 2018 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for this

  2. rgsherr
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Terrific review! Thanks very much.

  3. Steve Pollard
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    Well, I learned quite a bit from your review alone, so I am looking forward to the book itself! Many thanks for such a clear and perceptive piece of writing.

  4. Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    That stuff about girls with Y-chromosome-carrying cells inherited from their brothers via their mothers is really going to screw up sports day when the activists get wind of it.

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Can any Brits get to the article?

    I couldn’t get past the window offering a free look for limited number of articles.

    I’m in the UK
    No cookies on one of the browsers I tried

    Maybe to do with the new EU privacy regs?

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

      As I said, judicious inquiry to certain Ceiling Cats will yield you a copy.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        I saw that thanks Jerry, but I was curious as to why I can’t access it – I now know it’s my PC settings such as anti-virus or ISP-related. I have a similar problem with Forbes & a handful of other US sites, but this seems to be unrelated. Will make a judicious inquiry shortly.

        • Pierluigi Ballabeni
          Posted June 8, 2018 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          A couple of weeks ago, I read that a few US newspaper were going to stop access from Europe, due to the new EU privacy rules. The Washington Post was one of those mentioned. However, I could access Jerry’s review from Switzerland; a privilege for not being in the EU?

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted June 8, 2018 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

            A good thought. Although Speaker [in the UK] can access it. This article says the WaPo is upselling subscriptions to EU readers as a response to the GDPR requirement:

            The Washington Post, rather than block readers, introduced a “Premium E.U. Subscription.” The new level of subscription costs $9 every four weeks or $90 a year, as opposed to the basic subscription rate of $6 ever four week or $60 a year

            So I’m confused!

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I accessed it okay on both my iPhone and Kindle Fire.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Speaker.

    • Posted June 9, 2018 at 1:01 am | Permalink

      I’m in the U.K. and I was able to read the (excellent) review without difficulties. The Washington Post does NOT seem to be one of the U.S.-based newspapers that have over-reacted to GDPR by refusing access to European readers.

  6. Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    If a younger sibling inherits some of my chromosomes via my mother, but that sibling has a different father than me, would that mean they had some of my father’s DNA as well as their own? In other words two biological fathers, albeit one of whom made a smaller biological contribution?

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

      Some cells with my chromosomes, that is.

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

      The answer is “yes” so long as some of the DNA that got into your sibling came from your father rather than your mother. Also, the amount of the first father’s DNA would, as you noted, be miniscule compared to half of your DNA from your biological father.

      • Posted June 8, 2018 at 3:26 pm | Permalink


        • Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

          I got in too, just by clicking on the FREE panel on the splash page, then accepting [✓] the privacy policy.


          • Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

            * Sorry: This was meant to be a reply to Michael Fisher above! ☹

          • Michael Fisher
            Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

            “I got in too, just by clicking on the FREE panel on the splash page, then accepting [✓] the privacy policy./@”

            I click the FREE panel button which takes me to the [✓] the privacy policy page momentarily [1/10 second] – it then reverts to the FREE panel page.

            • Posted June 9, 2018 at 4:06 am | Permalink

              It just doesn’t like you, then. Try flushing recent cookies.


  7. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Nice review, Jerry. Self-evidently you write very well on a post-by-post basis on this website. But when you publish something more formal in the popular press, your prose really hum — like a well-tuned 327 Chevy V8 with an overhead cam. 🙂

  8. Posted June 8, 2018 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    So why didn’t you choose a favorite from among the three books you mention? Is it that all three are equally good but for different reasons? If so, what are the reasons? What about the balance between history and science? Just wondering which one I should read and why.

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      I went through all three before I wrote my review. Yes, they are all very different. Sid Mukherjee’s is more coherent, with each topic in a separate chapter, while Carl has chosen to go back and forth (eugenics, for instance, pops n and out of the book). Watson’s is more personal since he was involved in a lot of that stuff and was, for a while, head of the Human Genome project. It’s really a judgment call. Go to the bookstore and look at all three and see which one appeals.

  9. Rob Munguia
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the post PCC(e). I already ordered the book.

  10. BJ
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    Well done!

    There are very few things that make me more excited for the future than CRISPR.

  11. Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

    A very lucid review, Jerry! Thanks.


  12. Diane G
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating review of a fascinating subject! Such great writing, with a title bound to draw interest. I do hope it’s read widely.

  13. kelskye
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    I’ll have to add this book to my “to read” list. Thanks!

  14. Rupinder Sayal
    Posted June 9, 2018 at 12:28 am | Permalink

    Great little review, Jerry!
    I have pre-ordered it here in India. The book releases on 14th of June here, and has a much more mundane cover alluding to Mendel’s peas, as compared to the gorgeous Circos plot-like cover for the US edition. Well, apart from that little bibliophilic annoyance, I am really looking forward to reading it as soon as I can get my hands on it!

  15. Andrea Kenner
    Posted June 10, 2018 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    Quick question for PCC(E)… Did Uncle Frank inherit any genes from Sir Francis Drake? In other words, were you referencing a cross-species inheritance?

    Just wondering…

  16. Posted June 11, 2018 at 12:26 pm | Permalink

    Sounds like a good complement to some of _Behave_. Putting it into the queue.

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