This book is awesome. It's going on my favorites shelf. I've been reading books I've had laying around for years, in an effort to make space on my shelf and also to hopefully earn some credits on PaperbackSwap ;) I'm not sure I succeeded with this particular book though, because I'm definitely hanging on to it.
First, what I didn't like: No footnotes, references, bibliography, or suggested further reading!!! Seriously?!?!?! WTF!!! I almost want to knock her down a star on principle. Jen, I understand that citations can be a pain in the ass, especially when a person reads as much and as widely as you probably do, but readers like myself find them terribly useful... I haaaate when authors don't cite, especially with science. It makes me gnash my teeth & stuff. I think it's a really bad habit in our society, not to cite. I won't read Newsweek or Time or any of those stupid magazines because people can just basically pull SHIT out of their ASS and slap it on the page, and it's up to the reader to try and figure out where they're getting the information from. Not cool. Make a claim, back it up. Snarl snarl dlakdfj. That said...she DOES list sources, in fact 30 pages are devoted to them, HOWEVER they are not organized in any recognizeable format and they are haphazard and patchy. For instance (fresh in my mind): on page 215, Ackerman writes: "In nearly every genome studied to date, in creatures from bacteria to Drosophilia, a quarter to a third of the genes bear no resemblance to anything we've seen before. 'Orphan' genes of 'unknown function' with 'no obvious homologues'..." Wow, that sounds pretty interesting and I would like to read up more on that! So I turn to the sources, aaaand...NOTHING! Okay, I'm pretty sure that doesn't count as common knowledge, so please cite it. Annoying.
The other quibble I have is that she mentions her family just a touch too many times. At first I thought the personal references to her family were charming, insightful, and relevant...but she just mentions them one too many times, after they've illustrated the point. It's not a ~*~bad~*~ thing and I wouldn't say it's overdone or that she takes it too far, it was just something I noticed.
That said...yes, this book is stupendous! :D It's about genes, heredity, evolution, life, full of wonders and curiosities on every page. Ackerman covers a lot of ground here, with sections on basic DNA information and how amazing it is, pregnancy, how our bodies perceive time, disorders and diseases, aging, speculations on how life evolved and our ancient earliest ancestors, how eyes evolve, our sense of smell, immune systems, shared genetics and the repurposing of genes, this book is FULL of awesome information on such interesting topics. I was SO pleased with it. That's one reason I was pissed about the lack of citations...WHERE DID YOU GET THIS INFO, I wanted to know. I WANT YOUR BOOKSHELF.
And the writing, goodness the writing. It is beautiful writing. In fact, the richness of the topic combined with the skillful use of words put me in mind of Carl Sagan. :) I would get really excited and read passages out loud to Peter every now and then and he said, "Wow, I can see what you mean about her writing style." Yes it is that good. I will definitely be reading anything else by this author that I come across.
One reviewer said that it was a little on the technical side--what they said was "You really have to be interested in the biology of genetics and how our genes work chemically to read this book" and I disagree. I really don't think there's too much of that here, honestly. Besides taking high school biology, once in an anthro class we studied DNA (mixed in with a bunch of other stuff) for about a week. That smidgen of primer was more than enough to handle all the "chemical" information in this book, and honestly even without it you'd probably be fine. For example, I had zero knowledge on how small proteins are, how they're shaped, how they work in the body, etc., but the section of this book that details proteins was really engaging and easy to follow. As the author stated, she was trying to write a "popular" account of genetics, and it is not heavy on technical details. I'd just hate for anyone to be scared away from this book because they think it might be too dense or require a certain level of knowledge to even make sense of it. Definitely not the case.
tl;dr version: This book is full of incredibly mind-blowing information, and it's all presented in gorgeous writing. So glad I read it, plan on keeping it to reread it. :)