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The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture

4.03  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,727 Ratings  ·  105 Reviews
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-
Paperback, 352 pages
Published July 6th 2004 by Harper Perennial (first published 2003)
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Seán Hudson
I feel bad giving this book a rating, since it has been one of those rare ones that I decided to stop reading despite having only managed a few chapters. I did skim through a fair bit of the rest, and saw that the interesting facts and historical figures associated with the nurture-nature debate persist throughout the book. Those were the bits that made it informative and interesting. But I had some serious issues with some of Ridley's opinions disguised as fact, as well as some technical choice ...more
Sep 09, 2013 Jennifer rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
While I agree with the central theme of the book, the author struggles to find the balance between an academic publication and a book for the general public. This book assumes knowledge of psychology, neurobiology, genetics, cultural anthropology, and sociology that are likely to be found only in people who have at minimum a BS degree and supplemental reading, or work experience in these fields. Reviews of pertinent studies in these fields are boring to those with this prior knowledge and insuff ...more
May 26, 2007 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Nicely written examination of a subject which everyone should understand. He does his best to put the "nature vs nuture" debate to rest. Informative without being dry.
Jurij Fedorov
Nov 19, 2015 Jurij Fedorov rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A really good book.

I takes a centrist view of things. It is basically science with no personal views or observations. This is the middle ground in the nature-nurture debate. Well written and short enough to not get boring. Basically all the basics on the debate and a great book.

Ridley knows a lot. He is a scientists. I would imagine that 90% of the non 5 stars reviews here are by people who got a bit stuck on the paragraphs talking about the studies and how they were done. It explains th
Soren Maleficus
Nov 07, 2007 Soren Maleficus rated it it was amazing
My other favorite writer, next to Pinker. Ridley sets out to tear down the wall that has divided the "Nature vs Nurture" debate for centuries. Readable (as always from Ridley) and engrossing, this explains how environment can trigger genes, and how genes often determine which environments we choose.

If you entertain any notion that humans are unique, this book will seek to change your minds. By far my favorite parts are in his descriptions of Bonobos, Gorillas, and chimps.
عمر الحمادي
الطبع البشري ينشأ عن تفاعل الطبع مع التطبع، ويكون الطبع عبر التطبع، فالجينات هي خلاصة المشاعر، و الجينات ليست محركة دمى ولا مجرد ناقلات للوراثة، بل هي تنشط أثناء الحياة وتوقف بعضها البعض وتتفاعل مع البيئة، وهي من يتيح للعقل البشري أن يتعلم ويتذاكى ويتشرب الثقافة و يعبر عن غرائزه.

يقول داروين أن الاختلاف بين الإنسان والحيوانات هو في الدرجة وليس في النوع، فمن قال أن الإنسان الوحيد الذي يمارس الجنس من أجل المتعة أصبح مخطئاً مع وجود قرود البابون التي تمارس الجنس عند الاحتفال بالطعام، أو أن الإنسان هو
Aaron Michaux
Mar 19, 2016 Aaron Michaux rated it it was amazing
The best book I have ever read on the nature-nurture debate. Ridley is an engaging author who weaves a tapestry of science, politics, history and anecdote. The binding thread is famous scientists and philosophers who have framed the nature-nurture debate over the past few hundred years. All of them have introduced profound insights, and if you were to put them all in a room together, then surely their bushy beards would all get tangled up.

Apart from the human and political element, I loved Ridle
Cassandra Kay Silva
Aug 19, 2011 Cassandra Kay Silva rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I love this author. He is direct with his examples, moves quickly and yet you never feel like you miss a step. It's always very fluid and easy with Ridley. I preferred both the Genome and the Red Queen to this however, if you have yet to read much on the subject of genetics those would be a better start. Not because anything in this one is incomprehensible in the least bit without any other knowledge, but more just because if you had to pick any one of these awesome texts those would be a better ...more
Gerald Berke
Jan 22, 2009 Gerald Berke rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A detailed, readable and witty treatise on how life is controlled by genes (nature) and how life controls genes (nurture). The research, the ideas, the roots of various theories of understanding from 100 years or more to studies that are quite current are all layed out.
I've listened to audio tapes of the book for a couple of years, and am now going carefully through the book, to locate and home in on specific details that I need to study to fully grasp.
The book is a marvelously readable compendi
Mar 01, 2012 Elphaba rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
GREAT BOOK - lots of science and even though it was published before the Human Genome project was finished, we (my book discussion group) could find nothing out of date about the data - basic premise: that Genes are not static but are an active and varying and incredibly wondrous part of the development of homo sapiens from conception to death. Many genes change sometimes as often as every second and sometimes as often as once in a lifetime and sometimes never depending on DNA switches that resp ...more
Yasser Mohammad
May 01, 2014 Yasser Mohammad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I do not remember enjoying (which is very different from liking or learning from) any book more than I enjoyed reading Genome. This is a real sequel and in many ways it has the advantage of being focused.

The main idea expressed in this book is that Genes are the underlying mechanisms for BOTH nature and nurture and as such these two are not in a fight they are collaborating factors. No matter how common-sensical this may be, many people for long time were against it.

Selmoore Codfish
This is essential reading for anyone interested in the debate of free will versus determinism. The author approaches the issue mostly from biological and psychological points of view, so he frames it in terms of nature and nurture.
This book is very interdisciplinary. It covers areas of anthropology, sociology, biology, philosophy, and psychology. Also, it has implications for religion. The conclusions he reaches are drawn from all of those areas. He emphasizes how nature and nurture work togethe
Astha Garg
Jun 02, 2014 Astha Garg rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my first science book that I read for leisure and I must say it has got me hooked on the genre. I loved Ridley's style - the humor, logic, experiments and his own thoughts. I wish there were more authors writing not-so-technical science books in my own area of expertise.

John de' Medici
Mar 13, 2016 John de' Medici rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Quite a fascinating and an informative read.
Brandon Clark
Aug 19, 2008 Brandon Clark rated it really liked it
Good book on the role played by genetics and experience on psychology and biology.
4 Stars.

Nature and Nurture, Nature vs Nature, Nature via Nurture.

It astonishes me that there should be an argument against what seems so obvious- that nature and nurture are interchangeable and intimately linked.
Granted people will often hijack which parts they think relate more to our psychology, our health, our heredity, etc... And it doesn't seem so odd to say- well of course the content of a persons character falls into the 'nurture' category where health and 'instinct' fall into the nature
Nov 17, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Ridley is quickly becoming one of my favorite science writers yet. The Agile Gene was a nice follow up to Genome, exploring the nature-nurture link more in depth. He does a wonderful job summarizing the latest (and not so latest) research findings in the field and painting a pretty accurate picture for the layman with great analogies.

He gives a summary of the major 20th century trends in psychology: including the usual (mostly deserved) jabs at Freud (he also gives Freud credit for his emphasis
Jul 09, 2012 Rob rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Basic question - were you born with your personality/talents, or are you the product of the environment in which you were raised? The author argues it's not a nature or nurture debate, but a combination. The book is a great refresher course on many classic experiments (Pavlov's dog, teaching fear in animals, imprinting parents onto newborns, etc). I found the chapters on human instincts, and whether they are taught or innate, the most fascinating.

I found the theme of the book best expressed by
Jul 16, 2013 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book is successful at what it touts to do: Show how nature and nature are not opposed, but interact in exceedingly complex ways to produce our variable phenotypes. Yet, I probably would've been more impressed with the work had I read it five years ago. I was already familiar with just about every study Ridley discussed, and I was more than familiar with his thesis. But it's still a great book for reconciling the whole nature/nature divide.

If I had to criticize it, I would say that he brushe
Henri Hämäläinen
Oct 11, 2012 Henri Hämäläinen rated it really liked it
The Agile Gene is book from Matt Ridley about genetics, evolution and how people are people. It starts form really early in first studies about human and behaviors. It tells a full journey to the latest genetics researches.

The main question in the book is the long lasting debate on nature, meaning the DNA and inherited things and nurture, the things that environment effects on people. It goes trough studies from both sides and digs deep in to the main pillars of the both explanations.

One by one
Igor Korousic
I've accepted the fact that nature combines with nurture to shape most things that constitute life. Matt repeats this like a communist parole in this book. Ok, i got that. But he has filled me up with so much information that i feel that i should read this book again and write down the essential stuff and then look at the extract and try to figure out the rules. Although i learned a lot from this book, i don't know much more about how nurture influences nature than i knew before i started readin ...more
R Hazman
Oct 30, 2013 R Hazman marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bilim, evrim
Bir Bölüm:
"Pavlovvari deneyler günümüzde meyve sinekleriyle yapılır fakat ilke aynıdır. Test tüpünün içine kokulu bir kimyasal püskürtüldükten sonra sineğe ayaklarından bir elektrik şoku verilir. Sinek kısa zamanda kokunun ardından şokun geleceğini öğrenir, o yüzden şok verilmeden havalanır: İki olayı (başlangıçta sürpriz olmuştu) bağdaştırmıştır. Bu deney ilk defa 1970'lerde Chip Quinn ve Seymour Benzer tarafından California Teknoloji Enstitüsünde yapıldı. Sineklerin koku ile elektrik şokunu ba
Igor Faynshteyn
Sep 06, 2013 Igor Faynshteyn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read "Genome" by Matt Ridley (and liking it very much), I am somewhat disappointed in this book. Ridley's thesis is clear: he believes that the conflict between nature and nurture is a false one, because in fact nature is expressed and manifested through nurture and therefore there is no conflict, but rather only the interaction of the two. In going about to support his thesis, he demolishes many strawmen along the way. Ridley also appears to embrace demoloshing what is often regarded as ...more
Toni Daugherty
Jan 15, 2011 Toni Daugherty rated it really liked it
Our genes and the promoters that switch them are what determine many of our decisions and physical outcomes. The dominant theme of Ridley's book is that the human genome is not simply a blueprint that will determine what an animal ends up physically, but rather, a flexible entity that also affects the processes of daily life and choices. He argues that environment also plays a role, and the nature v. nurture debate is a ridiculous one, once one sees this. When one studies the effects of genes, p ...more
Jun 04, 2015 Marc rated it really liked it
This is a very good book, not THE GOOD BOOK, but an even better good book. Together with the endless debates on Science v. Humanities the Nature v. Nurture is one of the intellectual arguments that garnered gallons of ink (Science v. Religion can not be called an intellectual argument).

Matt Ridley summarizes the positions, and their historical context right up to the present. The result seems to be what any evolutionary biologist already knows, provided they work on anything other than humans. G
Mar 25, 2016 Rochelle rated it it was ok
While I have an extensive knowledge in the subject matter, much of my undergraduate dealt with similar things, I found this book a little dry. It is written in a more scientific paper format than as a novel. This makes the book quite difficult to read in a small length of time. At one point I even had to stop reading this and come back to it around a month later.
Feb 14, 2016 Alex rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: other
It's an incredibly interesting read, with allusions and examples that can be understood regardless of your scientific background, but be warned that unless you have some solid understanding of the basics of genetics, it can be hard to understand at times. However, he makes some very valid points and was fun to read as well as being intellectually stimulating.
Apr 11, 2015 Jason rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel bad giving this a low rating but it really didn't hold my interest... I rarely stop reading books but this was one of those rare occasions where I threw in the towel halfway through. What a snoozefest.
Gaëtan Mertens
Jan 28, 2015 Gaëtan Mertens rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A good book that describes a lot of interesting experiments. Although by now it might be a bit outdated given recent research on epigenetics.

Also sometimes a bit patronizing (talking about the GOD gene) and some ridiculous personal comments (parenting is like vitamine C, a minimum is required, but extras are without effects) which make the book less scholarly than it could be.
Dec 30, 2011 Randy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
More in-depth than other Ridley books I've read (and that makes it more satisfying somehow).

In a nutshell, Ridley is discussing the nature vs. nurture argument: are organisms the product of their genes? or their upbringing?

He spends a chapter examining the history of the argument from Plato through Darwin... then the rest of the book on the pendulum swings since Darwin.

In short, he holds that the answer is "Yes." Genes help determine development, but are affected by events and chance.

Lots of t
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Matthew White Ridley, 5th Viscount Ridley DL FRSL FMedSci (born 7 February 1958, in Northumberland) is an English science writer, businessman and aristocrat. Ridley was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford where he received a doctorate in zoology before commencing a career in journalism. Ridley worked as the science editor of The Economist from 1984 to 1987 and was then its Washington cor ...more
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“It is genes that allow the human mind to learn, to remember, to imitate, to imprint, to absorb culture, and to express instincts. Genes are not puppet masters or blueprints. Nor are they just the carriers of heredity. They are active during life;” 1 likes
“They may direct the construction of the body and brain in the womb, but then they set about dismantling and rebuilding what they have made almost at once—in response to experience.” 1 likes
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