Book Update: 2Q2006

Cactus So many great books, so little time! This posting is to recommend two books that were extremely interesting and enjoyable. First is Genome by Matt Ridley. After the Computational Biology panel at Demo in February, I asked the panelists what book I could read to learn more about the mapping of the twenty-three pairs of chromosomes that make up the human genome. All three experts recommended Matt Ridley’s book. Genome is organized into twenty-two chapters as a convenient way to tell the incredible unfolding story of what we are all about. Each chapter is like a story unto itself describing the characteristics of some of the more important genes that are part of that chromosome. The twenty-third chromosome pair is what we learned in high school — two large X chromosomes in women and , one X and one small Y in men.
Ridley explains in almost excruciating detail how some of the genes work and the implications of having a particular gene that doesn’t work. For example, there is a family of genes called the apolipoprotein genes, or APO genes, that comes in four basic varieties — A, B, C, and E. If you happen to carry of the E variety genes, your probability of getting Alzheimer’s disease is dramatically higher than the population at large. Whether you would actually want to know that you have propensity to get a disease that for which there is no cure or prevention steps is another question. One thing for sure is that by reading Genome you get an appreciation for how much is actually known about genes and how incredibly fast the knowledge base is growing. There is no doubt in my mind that the improvements in medicine over the next ten years will surpass what we have seen in the past 100 years.
Equally intriguing but much more entertaining is Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. To call it a techno-thriller is an understatement. It is riveting and chilling from the first page to the last. I could not put it down. Like The Da Vince Code, you will question how plausible some of the happenings are and you may question the validity of the details of the inner workings of the NSA. The core theme of the book has to do with one of my favorite topics, cryptography. After designing a computer that could break any encryption, the NSA found itself hostage to the technology. Highly recommended read.