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Nature via Nurture


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Matt Ridley received his BA and D Phil at Oxford researching the evolution of behaviour. He has been science editor, Washington correspondent and American editor of The Economist. He has a regular column in the Daily Telegraph. He is also the author of The Red Queen (1993), The Origins of Virtue (1996) and Genome (1999). Matt Ridley is currently the chairman of The International Centre for Life.


There is no shortage of books on the nature vs. nurture debate, but with the rapid pace of new discoveries in genetics and neurobiology, even a few years enlarges the body of knowledge so much that it changes the interpretation of how we work. More recent titles on this issue tend to focus on psychology or politics more than the basic science. Journalist Ridley (Genome; The Red Queen) concentrates on genes and what they contribute to the development of our brain and neurons and how that contribution is changed or modified by the environment in which they are expressed. Ridley traces the history of various schools of thought, moving between one extreme and the other to make his point for the middle of the road. He references primary literature and personal interviews rather than newspaper or magazine articles while using archaeological and anthropological evidence to suggest how language and culture evolved. Ridley's engaging writing style makes this an excellent choice for public libraries, and its scholarly content makes it a good choice for academic libraries as well. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/03.]-Margaret Henderson, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Lib., NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

'This clever and ambitious book is full of novel insights and reflections.' James Le Fanu, Sunday Telegraph'Ridley belongs to the coterie that truly pushes science forward and brings it within the broader purlieus of "culture". Nature via Nurture is another fine contribution to an already outstanding oeuvre.' Colin Tudge, Independent Magazine'An unrivalled view of cutting-edge research into the roots of human behaviour.' Clive Cookson, Financial Times'A balanced, entertaining gallop through the world of environmental influences and genetic impulses.' Robin McKie, Observer'Eminently readable.' Dylan Evans, Evening Standard'Profoundly intelligent and persuasive.' John Cornwell, Sunday Times'Nature via Nurture will not end the debates about human nature between those who look to biology and those who prefer the social sciences. In his plunge into the fray however, Matt Ridley offers and excellent view of the battlefield.' The Economist'Characteristically for a book by Ridley, there is much fascinating material here, lucidly and entertainingly presented...Elegantly written and highly instructive' A C Grayling, Literary Review'Nature via Nurture sets the modern terms for an ancient debate, and at the same time delivers a superb tutorial on contemporary genetics; the feedback loop that embraces genes and environment is generally not well understood. And yet this plasticity, this elegant mutuality, seems crucial if our new understanding of human nature is to inform public policy. These times need a book like this.' Ian McEwan'Lucidly explains the most recent discoveries on what makes us what we are, and how we should think about these discoveries as we ponder who we want to be...A treat, written with insight, wisdom, and style.' Steven Pinker, author of The Blank Slate'Bracingly intelligent, lucid, balanced -- witty, too. Nature via Nurture is a scrupulous and charming look at our modern understanding of genes and experience.' Oliver Sacks'A real page-turner. What a superb writer he is, and he seems to get better and better.' Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene

"Nature versus nurture" sums up in a nutshell one of the most contentious debates in science: Are people's qualities determined by their genes (nature) or by their environment (nurture)? The debate has only grown louder since the human genome has been found to comprise only 30,000 genes. Some scientists claim that we don't have enough genes to account for all the existing human variations. Ridley, author of the bestseller Genome, says that not only are nature and nurture not mutually exclusive, but that "genes are designed to take their cue from nurture." Genes are not unchanging little bits of DNA: their expression varies throughout a person's life, often in response to environmental stimuli. Babies are born with genes hard-wired for sight, but if they are also born with cataracts, the genes turn themselves off and the child will never acquire the ability to see properly. On the other hand, stuttering used to be ascribed solely to environmental factors. Then stuttering was found to be clearly linked to the Y chromosome, and evidence for genetic miswiring of areas in the brain that manage language was uncovered. But environment still plays a role: not everyone with the genetic disposition will grow up to be a stutterer. Ridley's survey of what is known about nature-nurture interactions is encyclopedic and conveyed with insight and style. This is not an easy read, but fans of his earlier book and readers looking for a challenging read will find this an engrossing study of what makes us who we are. (May 1) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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