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Monday, May 1, 2017

The Cartoon Guide to Genetics (Graphic Novel)

By: Larry Gonick & Mark Wheelis 

Publisher: Harper Collins (July 25, 2014) (Original version 1983 by Barnes and Noble Books)

Softcover 224 pages 

Finished 4/27/2017

Amazon Listing

          Larry Gonick, author of the wonderful Cartoon Guide to the Universe, has found his niche with educational comics and this book is a great example of it. He’s tackled many subjects and I found this to be thoroughly researched and presented in an easy to understand manner. And a bibliography is provided if you want to delve deeper into the subject- which I did not.
          This is as much a history of genetic research as it is about the basics of the subject. He begins with primitive man, moving on to the early philosophers such as Aristotle, before arriving at the real breakthrough moment with the research of Gregor Mendel- the Catholic monk, gardener and scientist.
Larry Gonick
          The book is a good primer and the basics of genetics- DNA, amino acids, proteins etc.- are not going to change. When I was a middle school English teacher I used to stock up my classroom library with his books: The Cartoon Guide to the Universe, to the Modern World, Statistics, Biology and so on. And they were always well received by my students, often being one of the first ones stolen from classroom.
          What I disagree with in this text is that he promotes the “theory” that “primitive man”, whether he means homo sapiens or an ancestor species is unclear, could not differentiate between sex and procreation. After reading his source material, this is about as spurious a theory as I’ve ever read. Evidence is nearly nonexistent and conjecture abounds. It’s almost conspiracy level leaps the author takes to piece this together.
1983 edition of the book
          The other problem with the book is that often the information is out of date or, most common, there are discoveries and breakthroughs not recorded by the text. The version I have is from 1991 so there is a gap of 16 years of information. For instance it states that it was believed by scientists to be over 200,000 genes, but it is now known to be only around 20 to 30,000 of them.
          Still as a beginning delve into the subject, this would be a good place to start and, apart from what I mentioned earlier, the bibliography is solid. Offering a person a good point to keep learning if they are so inclined.
           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

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