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The Notebook.

A bunch of possibly interesting things.

All the Light We Cannot See.

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Price (as of writing): £6.29

Publisher Synopsis: 

A beautiful, stunningly ambitious novel about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.’

For Marie-Laure, blind since the age of six, the world is full of mazes. The miniature of a Paris neighbourhood, made by her father to teach her the way home. The microscopic layers within the invaluable diamond that her father guards in the Museum of Natural History. The walled city by the sea, where father and daughter take refuge when the Nazis invade Paris. And a future which draws her ever closer to Werner, a German orphan, destined to labour in the mines until a broken radio fills his life with possibility and brings him to the notice of the Hitler Youth.

In this magnificent, deeply moving novel, the stories of
Marie-Laure and Werner illuminate the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Thoughts:

This is a hauntingly beautiful book, showcasing a juxtaposition between the horrendous nature of war with the kind caring nature of both Marie-Laure and Werner. It also shows how different people do not necessarily act as would be expected in their situations. I initially bought this book without reading any synopsises or reviews, to avoid even the minutest spoiler, and I was blown away by what I found. I am going to read more of Anthony Doerr's books, and I would wholeheartedly recommend this book.

The Great Soul of Siberia.

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Price (as of writing): £8.99

Publisher Synopsis: 

There are five races of tiger on our planet and all but one live in tropical regions: the Siberian Tiger Panthera tigris altaica is the exception. Mysterious and elusive, and with only 350 remaining in the wild, the Siberian tiger remains a complete enigma. One man has set out to change this.

Sooyong Park has spent twenty years tracking and observing these elusive tigers. Each year he spends six months braving sub-zero temperatures, buried in grave-like underground bunkers, fearlessly immersing himself in the lives of Siberian tigers. As he watches the brutal, day-to-day struggle to survive the harsh landscape, threatened by poachers and the disappearance of the pristine habitat, Park becomes emotionally and spiritually attached to these beautiful and deadly predators. No one has ever been this close: as he comes face-to-face with one tiger, Bloody Mary, her fierce determination to protect her cubs nearly results in his own bloody demise.

Poignant, poetic and fiercely compassionate, The Great Soul of Siberia is the incredible story of Park’s unique obsession with these compelling creatures on the very brink of extinction, and his dangerous quest to seek them out to observe and study them. Eloquently told in Park’s distinctive voice, it is a personal account of one of the most extraordinary wildlife studies ever undertaken.

Thoughts

This is a beautiful book. Park's writing made it feel as though I was actually there, and makes it feel all the more real. Despite essentially telling the end of 'the story' at the beginning (which in some books could spoil it, in this one it only makes it feel even more special), it is a gripping read, and without ruining the ending it really provides an insight into the lives of these tigers, and the dangers and troubles they face. Through some extremely detailed prose Park takes you on a journey through the lives of these tigers, gripping you at every corner. I would strongly recommend this book to anyone, but be careful when reading the last few chapters!

Junk DNA

Junk DNA

Price (as of writing): £8.99

Publisher Synopsis: 

For decades, 98 per cent of our DNA was written off as 'junk' on the grounds that it did not code for proteins. From rare genetic diseases to Down's Syndrome, from viral infections to the ageing process, only now are the effects and the vital functions of these junk regions beginning to emerge. Scientists' rapidly growing knowledge of this often controversial field has already provided a successful cure for blindness and saved innocent people from death row via DNA fingerprinting, and looks set to revolutionise treatment for many medical conditions including obesity. From Nessa Carey, author of the acclaimed The Epigenetics Revolution, this is the first book for a general readership on a subject that may underpin the secrets of human complexity - even the very origins of life on earth.

 

Thoughts

I originally purchased this book as a follow up to Epigenetics Revolution and immediately I noticed the similarities. Both are similar both in content and in style (which in all honesty is to be expected given they are about very related topics by the same author). Like with the Epigenetics Revolution I was impressed - Carey explained the main theories behind epigenetics well in a manner which was easily readable, and provided examples of different effects of the different modifications. The Agouti mice made a reappearance, however the explanation of these was very similar to in Epigenetics Revolution.

I found the information within the book interesting as it followed on from genetics at school in which introns are taught as being useless waste - Carey does a good job of dispelling this and providing an explanation of what they do and how they affect life - from telomeres and longevity to inactivation of the space X Chromosome in females by Xist and Tsix.

 

I am currently reading 'The Blind Watchmaker' by Richard Dawkins but will probably not write a review on this (it has been out for ages and is pretty well documented).

p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code

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Recently I have been reading the book titled 'p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code' by Sue Armstrong. I am now reading 'General Chemistry' by Linus Pauling (do not expect a review on this one, it isn't really that sort of book - regardless, it is a very good textbook) and 'The Little Book of String Theory' Steven S. Gubser.

p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code

p53

Price (as of writing): £16.99 on Amazon

Publisher Synopsis: 

All of us have lurking in our DNA a most remarkable gene, which has a crucial job - it protects us from cancer. Known simply as p53, this gene constantly scans our cells to ensure that they grow and divide without mishap, as part of the routine maintenance of our bodies. If a cell makes a mistake in copying its DNA during the process of division, p53 stops it in its tracks, summoning a repair team before allowing the cell to carry on dividing. If the mistake is irreparable and the rogue cell threatens to grow out of control, p53 commands the cell to commit suicide. Cancer cannot develop unless p53 itself is damaged or prevented from functioning normally.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, p53 is the most studied single gene in history.

This book tells the story of medical science's mission to unravel the mysteries of this crucial gene, and to get to the heart of what happens in our cells when they turn cancerous. Through the personal accounts of key researchers, p53: The Gene that Cracked the Cancer Code reveals the fascination of the quest for scientific understanding, as well as the huge excitement of the chase for new cures - the hype, the enthusiasm, the lost opportunities, the blind alleys, and the thrilling breakthroughs. And as the long-anticipated revolution in cancer treatment tailored to each individual patient's symptoms begins to take off at last, p53 remains at the cutting edge.

This timely tale of scientific discovery highlights the tremendous recent advances made in our understanding of cancer, a disease that affects more than one in three of us at some point in our lives.

Thoughts

This is a very interesting book, of which just the first few pages proposes new questions I had not thought of such as "Why so few?". Generally we assume that there are so many people with cancer that it is very common, but when you look into what actually causes cancer it is amazing how so few people get it in the first place. Billions of cell divisions go on in your body every day, and it is very rare that any of these will turn cancerous. This book explores this idea and the help that p53 provides in preventing cancers from spreading. To put it simply using an analogy this book uses a lot more proficiently than I can, p53 is a checkpoint in the synthesis stage of interphase in the mitotic cycle. It prevents damaged DNA to duplicate.

As well as explaining how p53 works and what it does, it also gives some insight into the researchers in this field and their struggles against large businesses, such as the Tobacco industry when research was published about smoking causing cancer. It almost turns into an espionage novel at that point! Overall this is a very good book, and one I would strongly recommend.

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology

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I know I said I would do books two at a time, but this one took me about 20 days to read (due to circumstances out of my control), and so I am going to do it standalone.

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology.

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Price (As of writing): £13.60 in Amazon (reduced from £20)

Publishers Synopsis: 

Life is the most extraordinary phenomenon in the known universe; but how does it work? Even in this age of cloning and synthetic biology, the remarkable truth remains: nobody has ever made anything living entirely out of dead material. Life remains the only way to make life. Are we missing a vital ingredient in its creation?

Like Richard Dawkins' The Selfish Gene, which provided a new perspective on how evolution works, Life on the Edge alters our understanding of life's dynamics. Bringing together first-hand experience of science at the cutting edge with unparalleled gifts of exposition and explanation, Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe Macfadden reveal the hitherto missing ingredient to be quantum mechanics and the strange phenomena that lie at the heart of this most mysterious of sciences. Drawing on recent ground-breaking experiments around the world, they show how photosynthesis relies on subatomic particles existing in many places at once, while inside enzymes, those workhorses of life that make every molecule within our cells, particles vanish from one point in space and instantly materialize in another.

Each chapter in Life on the Edge opens with an engaging example that illustrates one of life’s puzzles – How do migrating birds know where to go? How do we really smell the scent of a rose? How do our genes manage to copy themselves with such precision? – and then reveals how quantum mechanics delivers its answer. Guiding the reader through the maze of rapidly unfolding discovery, Al-Khalili and McFadden communicate vividly the excitement of this explosive new field of quantum biology, with its potentially revolutionary applications, and also offer insights into the biggest puzzle of all: what is life? As they brilliantly demonstrate here, life lives on the quantum edge.

Thoughts: 

This is possibly one of the best written books I have ever read. It is written in a nice easy to read manner that still pushes across the complexity of the topic. It is a relatively large book (not as long as some, but certainly longer than The Sixth Extinction and Nothing) but I felt a sort of conciseness while reading it - it never appeared to drag on any longer than it needed to. The chapter on photosynthesis and others had nice analogies and anecdotes to go along with them such as the anecdote about the MIT Researchers trying to make a Quantum Computer. This book really opened my mind to biology and the interlinking of the sciences. It also explains the Quantum stuff very well to someone who may not have read about it before. I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys biology or physics.

The Sixth Extinction - An Unnatural History & Nothing

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Apparently I am far too lazy to keep this up to date, and therefore I will probably be coupling books up. Coulomb is slightly delayed, largely because I got bored with it - I will post the source code on github in a few days should anyone wish to look. S.E.R.O. is coming along well and I am tying it into Elora, which is basically Hermoine reinvented - it learns from me and the internet.

In the mean time I have been reading a bunch of books, namely 'The Sixth Extinction' by Elizabeth Kolbert and 'Nothing' by the NewScientist people. I am moving on to now read 'Life on the Edge - The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology' by Jim Al-Khalili and Johnjoe McFadden. Onto the reviews I suppose;

The Sixth Extinction

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Price (As of writing): £8.99 on Waterstones.

Publishers Synopsis: 

Over the last half a billion years, there have been five mass extinctions of life on earth. Scientists around the world are currently monitoring the sixth, predicted to be the most devastating extinction event since the asteroid impact that wiped out the dinosaurs. Elizabeth Kolbert combines brilliant field reporting, the history of ideas and the work of geologists, botanists and marine biologists to tell the gripping stories of a dozen species - including the Panamanian golden frog and the Sumatran rhino - some already gone, others at the point of vanishing. The sixth extinction is likely to be mankind's most lasting legacy and Elizabeth Kolbert's book urgently compels us to rethink the fundamental question of what it means to be human.

Thoughts: 

A very nice book. Covers some very interesting topics in very accessible ways and the author has a nice way of moving between topics - it all seems very fluid. Would prefer it if it went a bit more indepth into some areas, and some sections drag on a bit, but both are easily solvable - you can google for more information if necessary and the sections aren't so long that it gets unbearable if you aren't so interested in one. My favourite section was probably 'The Original Penguin'. I would recommend this book to anyone interested about biology, extinction, and ecology.

Nothing (2013 edition)

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Price: £6.39

Publisher's Synopsis

Zero, zip, nada, zilch. It's all too easy to ignore the fascinating possibilities of emptiness and non-existence, and we may well wonder what there is to say about nothing. But scientists have known for centuries that nothing is the key to understanding absolutely everything, from why particles have mass to the expansion of the universe - so without nothing we'd be precisely nowhere.

Absolute zero (the coldest cold that can exist) and the astonishing power of placebos, light bulbs, superconductors, vacuums, dark energy, 'bed rest' and the birth of time - all are different aspects of the concept of nothing. The closer we look, the bigger the subject gets. Why do some animals spend all day doing nothing? What happens in our brains when we try to think about nothing?

With chapters by 20 science writers, including top names such as Ian Stewart, Marcus Chown, Helen Pilcher, Nigel Henbest, Michael Brooks, Linda Geddes, Paul Davies, Jo Marchant and David Fisher, this fascinating and intriguing book revels in a subject that has tantalised the finest minds for centuries, and shows there's more to nothing than meets the eye.

Thoughts: 

The book covers a lot - from the physical concepts such as the vacuum (and energy stored within) to animals doing nothing. It covers each in a nice amount of detail, and due to the multitude of authors writing it ends up being a very nice reading experience - you never have to 'put up' with the same author for too long. I would recommend it to anyone who wants to get into any sort of science.