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Acclaimed author Matt Ridley's thrilling follow-up to his bestseller Genome. Armed with the extraordinary new discoveries about our genes, Ridley turns his attention to the nature versus nurture debate to bring the first popular account of the roots of human behaviour. What makes us who we are? In February 2001 it was announced that the genome contains not 100,000 genes as originally expected but only 30,000. This startling revision led some scientists to conclude that there are simply not enough human genes to account for all the different ways people behave: we must be made by nurture, not nature. Matt Ridley argues that the emerging truth is far more interesting than this myth. Nurture depends on genes, too, and genes need nurture. Genes not only predetermine the broad structure of the brain; they also absorb formative experiences, react to social cues and even run memory. They are consequences as well as causes of the will. Published fifty years after the discovery of the double helix of DNA, Nature via Nurture chronicles a new revolution in our understanding of genes. Ridley recounts the hundred years' war between the partisans of nature and nurture to explain how this paradoxical creature, the human being, can be simultaneously free-willed and motivated by instinct and culture. Nature via Nurture is an enthralling, up-to-the-minute account of how genes build brains to absorb experience.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781841157467
ISBN-10: 1841157465
Format: Paperback
(197mm x 130mm x 23mm)
Pages: 352
Imprint: HarperPerennial
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publish Date: 4-May-2004
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

Reviews

UK Kirkus Review » For many hundreds of years, thinkers have been divided on the subject of nature versus nurture. Which is more powerful? Are we merely pre-programmed automatons or free-thinking individuals, moulded by our environment, circumstances and experiences? For Matt Ridley, bestselling author of Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters, the truth is far more complex. We are, he argues, the product of a subtle fusion of both genetics and our environment. Drawing on the work of philosophers, behaviourists, psychologists and geneticists, Ridley builds his argument with panache. Encompassing over a hundred years of scientific experimentation and discussion, including up-to-the-minute research, Ridley's case is a complex one. Darwin, Pavlov, Freud and Dawkins all had something to say on the topic. Yet, Ridley suggests that none of these eminent figures have been completely correct. Neither were they entirely wrong. Genes, Ridley argues, affect human behaviour, and behaviour influences our genetic heritage. Ridley is not the first to make such a claim. He does so with both the benefit of well-advised hindsight and insight into the latest genetic research. Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the double helix, his book stands to radically re-write our pre-conceptions about how DNA works. Studies are only now beginning to allow us to understand how genes 'build' and shape our bodies before birth. What will surprise many is that it seems that they continue to respond to experience and environment throughout our lives - truly nature via nurture. This is an impressive, ambitious and thought-provoking volume which rewards careful reading. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » More on the ongoing debate of whether heredity or environment is in charge of who we are, from the assertive but knowledgeable English science writer Ridley. Rather than just another exercise in stating the mutual dependence/interaction of genetic and environmental factors, the author provides examples of new-found genes that may turn on or off, may be more or less active, may or may not trigger a cascade of other gene actions, depending on circumstances. Nor is "the gene" always well-defined, he states. It can often be spliced in multiple ways, using alternative forms of component parts (the exons) with variable effects in various tissues. So, on the gene side, much variety, and on the nurture side, contexts galore, creating circles of complexity and feedback that render cause-effect statements (a la determinism) moot. Ridley's examples and inferences include genes and their mutations in the course of evolution that influence brain size and neuronal connections, personality, sexuality, language, culture, aggression, and nurturance, but still operate as cogs in the wheel of experience. Ultimately, he declares in favor of free will. He avers that we must replace linear with circular causality, "in which an effect influences its own cause"-sounding just like a physicist talking about quantum mechanics. Before reaching that point, Ridley cites a dozen graybeards over the century who have kept the N/N debate alive, with some kind remarks for Boas and Durkheim, even Lorenz and Tinbergen, but excoriation for Freud, Skinner, and Watson. Trouble is, for all Ridley's celebration of mutuality, some of the evidence he cites, such as twin studies, comes down strongly in terms of genes determining personality; while other data suggest that prenatal and infant experience (albeit via environmental influences on genes) are irrevocable. Certainly not the last word, but a lot of interesting turns of phrase and provocative findings to enrich the all-absorbing study of genes and behavior. (Kirkus Reviews)


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Author Biography - Matt Ridley

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.

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