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Mutants: On Genetic Variety and the Human Body

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  2,751 Ratings  ·  212 Reviews
Visit Armand Marie Leroi on the web: effortlessly from myth to cutting-edge science, Mutants gives a brilliant narrative account of our genetic code and the captivating people whose bodies have revealed it—a French convent girl who found herself changing sex at puberty; children who, echoing Homer’s Cyclops, are born with a single e ...more
Paperback, 448 pages
Published January 25th 2005 by Penguin Books (first published 2003)
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Etta Mo
Oct 29, 2007 Etta Mo rated it it was amazing
i've now read this book twice and all i can say is that leroi has a rare skill; he is able to present dense scientific facts in a way that borders on poetic. his fascination with genetics is apparent in the loving detail with which he writes. i particularly loved the way he started each section with a tale from the annals of history, giving a very personal voice to each of the "disorders" he describes.

Oct 30, 2007 Ryan rated it really liked it
It took a little while to get into this book. What I thought would be the most interesting mutations - like conjoined twins - were actually the least, which is perhaps why the author chose to put that chapter first. Honestly, the most compelling studies were of things that are not as obvious mutations, like size, skin color or aging. The scientific jargon can get a little intense at times, but it eases up as the book continues, and is worth slogging through. The author treats the subject manner ...more
Jul 05, 2011 Rebecca rated it it was amazing
All my life, I have groaned inside (and sometimes outside) whenever someone spoke about the "miracle" of giving birth. How miraculous is it, I would ask cynically (and overly confident of my cleverness), if flies and jellyfish do it? In fact, it's only one of the most basic functions living organisms perform, along with eating and pooping. After reading this book, however, and learning about so many things that can happen during gestation that will render the fetus unviable, I am truly amazed, f ...more
Aug 26, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it
Near the end of this book the author pulls out the quote per molto variare la natur e bella--Nature's beauty is its variety--and it could be a motto for the book itself. Given that most of the book is about the human body developing dramatic abnormalities, usually during development, beauty is an odd word. I found some accounts difficult to read. But the ability for human biology to survive and sometimes prosper in so many different forms was just amazinga.

The book is a discussion of various con
If you are interested in biology in general, and genetics in particular, this is a must read. The science is explained with just enough detail to make it accessable to the average reader with a modest scietific background.

The premis of the book is that we are all mutants, to one degree or another. The relatively small percentage of genetic mutations that cause catastrophic deformities are the focus of the early part of the book. At all times, the author treats those who have genetic mutations a
May 22, 2011 Chip rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, science
4.5. Extremely interesting look at mankind, what is "normal", and what is not. Chapters include: embryos, limbs, skeletons, growth, gender, skin and even aging (e,g,, mutations resulting in accelerated aging; query whether issues related to/resulting from aging are in fact the result of mutations not breed out of us by natural selection due to them, by definition, only becoming issues after people have typically already had children). Even the epilogue, focusing on "racial" variances and beauty, ...more
Aug 01, 2007 Beth rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written book that examines western societies' understanding of genetic mutation, balancing historical interpretation through a lens of faith with modern science that was interesting enough to make me angry when I got interrupted while reading. Honestly, this book is so much better than my review would have you believe.
Oct 21, 2015 Nathan rated it it was amazing
Life is beautiful, but the process of creating life involves variation and some of those variations have horrified and fascinated people through history. This book alternates historical with contemporary understanding of mutants, to powerful effect. A book purely of ancient misconceptions (heh) of science gets dull quickly. A book purely of how we understand biology to work also gets dull quickly. The author's explanation of historical understanding, and the elegant science writing makes this bo ...more
Jul 19, 2014 Lo rated it it was amazing
Trigger warnings!

There are some things in here that aren't in your average book on genetics, so I'm going to make a little list of things to watch out for if you read this. If I've missed anything, let me know and I'll add it. The book as a whole is not offensive at all, see my note after the list.

- fetal development and ways it can go wrong... This is discussed AT LENGTH, and it's not a bad thing, but I could imagine this being a TERRIBLE read if you're pregnant or have been lately.

- discussio
Audacia Ray
I'm not a dumb lady. But science hasn't really ever been my thing (which is why it's funny that I teach my human sexuality course in a biology department). I've been wanting to read more science stuff but also a little apprehensive about it, so a book about genetic mutations with a cover as awesome as this one was just what I needed. There were pieces of the book that lost me a little bit in their attention to scientific detail, but overall the writing was sharp and often funny, as well as thoro ...more
Apr 07, 2014 Megan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, science
The subject of this book cannot help but be interesting, and it has enough real science to actually feel as though you're going in depth into the topic of genetic anomalies.

At a certain point, though, the voice slipped from that of a narrator leading the reader through interesting historical individuals and their accompanying genetics differences--such as conjoined twins and gigantism--into something more akin to a curious scientist dabbling in anthropology. By the end he's wondering whether, d
Anita Dalton
Jan 14, 2011 Anita Dalton rated it it was amazing
I am decidedly a liberal arts kind of woman. I managed to cram enough science into my head to make it (barely) through college and then promptly forgot all of it. Much science seems like magic to me, a sentiment that makes me sound really dumb, but I’m okay with that (though I do need to mention that I understand how magnets work). So it was a little bit of a shock when I realized this was not a book about carny folk and old side-show acts that featured “freaks.” I was intimidated by the book an ...more
Jul 05, 2013 Cj rated it did not like it
This has to be one of the most boring books I've read in a long time.
I'm fascinated by mutations, evolution, DNA etc, and even spent last semester cutting and making recombinant DNA, but this book just bored me to tears.

For people just looking for a 'freakshow' or whatever, look elsewhere, this book is not full of pictures, and isn't geared towards that type of crowd anyways, it's geared towards people (like myself) who are fascinated with how DNA works, and how errors in DNA can happen through
Feb 02, 2010 Katia rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, non-fiction
This was a fantastic book about the neverending variations in human genetics. Although the subject matter could have come across as prurient or voyeuristic in another author's hands, Leroi treats each case with dignity and class. The actual "mutants" are not the focus of this book - instead, it is an in-depth examination of the scientific basis of each mutation and the variability that makes us all human. Highly recommended for both scientists and science book I've read since A Sho ...more
Mar 03, 2013 Andy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a beautifully written elucidation on the effects of variations in the development of the human body. It is by turns technical, philosophical, moving and terrifying, given that the small variations in proteins, cells and enzymes driven by genetic variation can have such startling effects.

I came away from this book with a renewed awe about the complexity of life and the incredible details and hazards of an individual human being built successfully in the womb: the amazing thing for me is n
Sep 18, 2007 Brittany rated it really liked it
Fascinating book (very science heavy) that examines things that go wrong with the human genome, often with the intent of learning how normal development occurs. Leroi discusses a huge range of genetic abnormalities in a very humane way while also providing fascinating historical accounts, at times both uplifting and depressing. Illustrations and pictures throughout were both illuminating and heartbreaking, but always serve to illustrate his material. Considering the astronomical number of ways t ...more
J.F. Penn
Sep 05, 2013 J.F. Penn rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Fascinating deep dive into the genetics and environmental impacts on the human body and mind. Definitely a little too technically scientific for a non biologist as myself and I did skip over some parts, but the mutations were so interesting, I persisted. Don't read if you're pregnant or wanting to be, I think this would give some people nightmares. It does me feel that life is a miracle though, when so much can go wrong in the creation of it.
Sharon Ryan
Aug 03, 2015 Sharon Ryan rated it it was amazing
I bought this book because of my interest in the old sideshow/freakshow culture and wanted to learn more about the how and why these things happen. I feel it promotes critical thinking, and now especially with wild propaganda photos running rampant on the internet and social media, and increases one's ability to distinguish between fact and undocumented, un-researched, "shocking" propaganda posts.
Dec 29, 2010 Courtney rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-for-class
This is a great book for someone with a little bit of background in genetics, or possibly none at all. Leroi is fabulous at describing the biological processes that result in a variety of mutations. I took issue with the chapter on sex and gender, which treats those with mutations related to sex and gender as freaks to be pitied, while the rest of the book is much more respectful of genetic variation.
Jul 03, 2013 Katie rated it liked it
This broke my bum streak with woefully simplistic and anecdotal popular science books. Where other writers might be content to just drop a string of funny stories about weird scientists and odd conditions, Leroi also takes the trouble to explain the underlying science.
Sep 30, 2013 Troy rated it liked it
Shelves: science
A very interesting look at mutations and genetics. Lots of cool anecdotes throughout the book which adds greatly to the understanding of the various mutations that are discussed. The topics are discussed in a manner which is respectful while still being intriguing and insightful.
Beth Barnett
May 29, 2007 Beth Barnett rated it it was amazing
Fascinating. I just wish there were more illustrations or pictures. It made me want to go back to visit the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia.
Jul 15, 2012 Destiny rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. It was impressive, eye opening, had great perspective and clear writing. I really couldn't ask for more. This book inspired me to study developmental Biology.
May 03, 2008 Jessica rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
This sounds right up my alley.

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This was amazing - review coming, once I've gotten some sleep.
Sep 07, 2013 Liz marked it as stopped-reading
This is the kind of book I think I want to read but actually read two chapters of and never finish.
Sep 06, 2007 Robert rated it liked it
Maybe I'm just getting old, but mutants just don't interest me the way they used to do.
Having read his recently published book on Aristotle, I wanted to read this one. It is also as lucidly written and as humanely written as his Aristotle one. If you do not know anything or much about genetics (other than there are genes and there are mutations), that does not matter because Leroi is able to explain how mutations happen in general terms. The volume is illustrated with a number of line drawings taken from mss. of the 15th and subsequent centuries and, in the past two centuries, pho ...more
Joan Concilio
Jan 01, 2017 Joan Concilio rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction-read
There is a lot of truly fascinating information here about embryology and genetics, and some of the examples of the "mutants " of the past are exceptionally well done. I was expecting more story and less scientific paper, which is why I'm only rating it three stars, for being a bit dense to read in some parts. (I rate myself no slouch in the science department, so if I say it's dense, I really mean it.) But I have to be clear that it's a great piece of work on this topic and well worth the effor ...more
Lauren Staniford
Jan 02, 2017 Lauren Staniford rated it liked it
Great book for anyone interested in genetics and biology. Fascinating subject. I wish there had. Even a. It more information on the psychology, background and life of the subjects.
Jenna Hill
Oct 13, 2016 Jenna Hill rated it really liked it
The book I have read for my independent non-fiction reading book is Mutants by Armand Marie Leroi. This book is about multiple studies and research on genetic mutations. It tells stories of people with genetic mutations and scientists who study genetics. The book explains how the genetic mutations occur and how it affects the person who has the genetic mutations.
I would recommend this book if someone has an interest in biology or science in general. I liked that the book went into detail on how
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