Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Here is a Human Being: At The Dawn of Personal Genomics by Misha Angrist

I confess...although I tend to be a fiction gal, the topic drew me to Here is a Human Being: At The Dawn of Personal Genomics by Misha Angrist as a book to receive (and then review) from the folks at Harper. I never really focused on science studies but I was always intrigued by genetics and fulfilled one of my natural science requirements in college with a course titled Human Genetics, Ethics and Public Policy. I was in college in the later 90s so obviously there has been change since then. I say all this to provide more information about my background...I think I'm a smart gal and I've had more than passing exposure to genetics issues but I'm really a lay-reader in this realm. I'll also admit I read this with a nasty head cold which limited my ability to focus intelligently.

That's important context for my review. I found the book very interesting, but I had a lot of trouble following it. It felt a bit jumbled to me. The book explores both the technology of studying human genomes and the ethics and other human issues surrounding it. The main focus is a project that sought to sequence and make public the genomes of 10 individuals who were selected because of their knowledge and understanding of the field. Angrist does try to explain the technology and science but I got a bit lost in it at times. I was more drawn to the ethical issues and thought they were well explored. I was drawn to a few individual stories (esp. a young girl whose father was trying to identify the condition that caused her health struggles. I cared less about the battles between different companies and different techniques for gene study.

There's a lot of information in this book, a lot of good information, and I'd give it high marks for content. But the form was hard to follow and made the reading experience much more difficult. It might be better suited for someone a bit closer to the scientific realm or with a bit more patience for pushing through the information.


JAG said...

i agree ethical issues will outstrip the science

The Rambling Blogger said...

he does cover the ethical and also psychological issues well including whether we can promise confidentiality, how to deal w/ "bad" results, how people cope with news (like being at very high alzheimers risk), etc.

it seems that a large bit of the takeaway is that this CAN be useful stuff but it needs a critical mass of data first...and that's complex...