The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture

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9780060006792: The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture

Armed with extraordinary new discoveries about our genes, acclaimed science writer Matt Ridley turns his attention to the nature-versus-nurture debate in a thoughtful book about the roots of human behavior.

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. With the decoding of the human genome, we now know that 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.

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In the follow-up to his bestseller, Genome, Matt Ridley takes on a centuries-old question: is it nature or nurture that makes us who we are? Ridley asserts that the question itself is a "false dichotomy." Using copious examples from human and animal behavior, he presents the notion that our environment affects the way our genes express themselves.

Ridley writes that the switches controlling our 30,000 or so genes not only form the structures of our brains but do so in such a way as to cue off the outside environment in a tidy feedback loop of body and behavior. In fact, it seems clear that we have genetic "thermostats" that are turned up and down by environmental factors. He challenges both scientific and folk concepts, from assumptions of what's malleable in a person to sociobiological theories based solely on the "selfish gene."

Ridley's proof is in the pudding for such touchy subjects as monogamy, aggression, and parenting, which we now understand have some genetic controls. Nevertheless, "the more we understand both our genes and our instincts, the less inevitable they seem." A consummate popularizer of science, Ridley once again provides a perfect mix of history, genetics, and sociology for readers hungry to understand the implications of the human genome sequence. --Therese Littleton

About the Author:

Matt Ridley is the author of several award-winning books, including Genome, The Agile Gene, and The Red Queen, which have sold more than 800,000 copies in twenty-seven languages worldwide. He lives in England.

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