11 August 2012

The Violinist Thumb by Sam Kean, Book review

Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
ISBN-13: 978-0316182317

From New York Times bestselling author Sam Kean comes more incredible stories of science, history, language, and music, as told by our own DNA.

In The Disappearing Spoon, (see my review here) bestselling author Sam Kean unlocked the mysteries of the periodic table. In THE VIOLINIST'S THUMB, he explores the wonders of the magical building block of life: DNA.
There are genes to explain crazy cat ladies, why other people have no fingerprints, and why some people survive nuclear bombs. Genes illuminate everything from JFK's bronze skin (it wasn't a tan) to Einstein's genius. This book will grab you!

My thoughts:

Some of you might remember Sam Kean's best seller 'The Disappearing Spoon' (see review here) and know instinctively you are in for a treat. This time, the subject is DNA and how science can now decipher this fascinating genetic code despite controversial theories abounding.

For someone like me, it means simply that DNA has shaped our past and will determine our future. I admit to be in the infancy stage when it comes to science and will not try to expend on the subject leaving it to charismatic Sam Kean and his latest book, 'The Violinist Thumb'. 

Since I much prefer to stick to facts rather than my interpretation of the author's notes, let me explain this book is divided in 4 parts:

- Part 1: How to read a genetic score
- Part 2: Our animal past - making things that crawl and frolic and kill
- Part 3: Genes and geniuses: How humans became all too human
- Part 4: The oracle of DNA: Genetics in the past, present and future.

And before I lose anyone out there let me reassure you that this author has such a knack for applied science, you will just get into it and come out the better for it even at 416 pages.
Sam Kean does not leave anyone behind and will quickly grab your interest with his approach to life genetics. He is that good!

This is not a boring text book and reads as a well researched biography of DNA and what we have discovered so far on the subject. And there is so much more yet to be discovered!
With a storyteller like Sam Kean however, even the initiated will find themselves challenged to check out everything he describes, proving the subject to be that interesting. Let's call this the mark of a great teacher shall we?!

With interesting documentation including twenty six photos and illustrations, Sam Kean leads you to understand what we can expect in this wonderful universe we dwell in his epilogue or Genomics gets personal. Notes and Errata were a bit more difficult to understand as they are complex but I found myself none the less fascinated by his rationale.

All in all, I would qualify this a wonderfully researched tome which holds an in depth bibliography sure to delight serious readers!

And less I forget, here is a little something of note for interested parties:
Sam Kean has hidden a DNA related acrostic (incognito message formed by stringing together the initial letters of lines or paragraphs or other units of composition in a  work...are you still with me?) in The Violinist Thumb - described by the author as a genetic "Easter egg' if you will.

If you decode his message, be sure to email him at his website (see below). And if you don't...
email him for the answer. Now that's what makes Sam Kean the sort of teacher you wished you had in High School!

No hesitation: This is 5 stars material!

And just in case you don't know him, meet Sam Kean:

Sam Kean spent years collecting mercury from broken thermometers as a kid, and now he's a writer in in Washington, DC. His work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, and Science, and has been featured on NPR's "Radiolab" and "All Things Considered.
" The Disappearing Spoon, his first book, was a New York Times national bestseller.

For more on this gripping storyteller, visit his website (here) including excerpts!

I received this ARC from HACHETTE BOOK GROUP as part of their blogger review program.
I am disclosing this in accordance with the FTC 16 CFR, Part 255 'Guides concerning the use of endorsements and testimonials in advertising. I was not asked to write a positive review and all opinions expressed are entirely my own.


  1. Not to sound shallow, but you regretted to mention he's a bit of a hottie too :) Did you find something new about yourself? Sounds like a fascinating read - so many books, so little time!

  2. I am sure Sam Kean would appreciate the compliment but I rather think he would much preferred his enthusiasm for science to be appreciated. And yes, it is a fascinating book! I hope you have a chance to give it a try and perhaps find the acrostic!
    Thanks for stopping by,


I love to share dreams and always enjoy meeting kindred spirits!
Thank you for stopping by!