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About the book
  • Published: 16 May 2013
  • ISBN: 9780552777513
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $19.99
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The Violinist's Thumb

And other extraordinary true stories as written by our DNA


Formats & editions


The epic true story of human DNA and what it can tell us about our world

Did the human race almost go extinct? Can genetics explain a cat lady's love for felines? How does DNA lead to people with no fingerprints or humans born with tails? And how did the right combination of genes create the exceptionally flexible thumbs and fingers of a truly singular violinist?

Unravelling the genetic code hasn't always been easy - from its earliest days, genetics has been rife with infighting, backstabbing and controversial theories - but scientists can now finally read the astounding stories inscribed in our DNA. As we make advances into DNA mapping and modification, genetics will continue to be the hottest topic in science, shaping the very make-up of our bodies and the world around us.

With the same masterful combination of science, history and culture he brought to The Disappearing Spoon, Sam Kean untangles the secrets of our genetic code, explaining how genetics has shaped our past and how DNA will determine humankind's future.

  • Pub date: 16 May 2013
  • ISBN: 9780552777513
  • Imprint: Black Swan
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 496
  • RRP: $19.99

About the Author

Sam Kean

Sam Kean spent years collecting mercury from broken thermometers as a child and now he is a writer in Washington DC. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, Air & Space/Smithsonian and New Scientist. In 2009 he was a runner-up for the National Association of Science Writers' Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award for best science writer under the age of thirty. He currently writes for Science. His first book, The Disappearing Spoon, was a New York Times bestseller and was shortlisted for the Royal Society's Winton Prize for science writing.

Also by Sam Kean

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Praise for The Violinist's Thumb

“Summer’s must-read non-fiction book”

Huffington Post

“The Violinist's Thumb is one of the Ten Books to Look Out for in 2012”

New Scientist

“A fast-paced, breezy romp through history using DNA as a unifying theme... it’s nerd-vana”

New Scientist

“Explored in his Bryson-esque style, [The Violinist's Thumb] provokes fascinating stuff, full of oddball stories and amazing facts. Kean's book is full of wonderfully weird anecdotes, but it's also an accessible history of the discovery and mapping of DNA... compellingly entertaining”

Daily Mail

“Sam Kean is the best science teacher you never had”

Entertainment Weekly

“[Kean] writes with a humor and humanity that make him poised to become the next Brian Greene, maybe, or Oliver Sacks - explaining small corners of the universe one case study at a time”

Washington Post

“An excellent book – highly readable and with lots of great stories”

Popular Science

“Kean’s real knack is for digging up strange details most textbooks leave out … the book is an engaging history”

Science News

“Though his subject is a serious one, Mr. Kean enlivens his narrative with an appealing sense of humor... Kean’s witty style nicely blends facts and stories in an engaging package”

Wall Street Journal

“The wonderful thing about Kean… is his ability to focus on a spiraling narrative while he climbs up the double-helix ladder in this history of genetics… It is a handsome story”

The Daily Beast

“Enthralling... wonderfully witty... Kean's thoughtful, humorous book is a joy to read”

Publishers Weekly

“Anyone reading this fine book could be excused for asking, with wide-eyed amazement: is there anything DNA can’t do?”

Boston Globe


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