Neanderthal Man: In Search of Lost Genomes

Svante Pääbo. Basic, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-465-02083-6
In 2010, Pääbo, the head of a team of more than 50 collaborators, published a landmark scientific paper that changed the way we think about human evolution. For the first time, the genome of an extinct form of human, a Neanderthal, was sequenced and offered to the world. Pääbo passionately chronicles his personal story, from graduate school through the culmination of the Neanderthal project 30 years later, and the scientific implications of this exciting research. Readers will despair with him over technical setbacks, agonize over possible methodological complications, and celebrate his final success. In accessible prose, Pääbo presents the science so that laypersons will understand the nature and import of his work. But it’s his discussion of the scientific process that steals the show. As he explains, “Science is far from the objective and impartial search for incontrovertible truths that nonscientists might imagine.” He discusses what it took to build a case tight enough to convince even the most skeptical of colleagues and he goes on to demonstrate that scientific knowledge is cumulative and ever-evolving, explaining why he freely released the entire genome: “I wanted everyone to be able to check every detail of what we had done. And I wanted them to do a better job if they could.” (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 11/11/2013
Release date: 02/01/2014
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