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Epigenetics: The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  448 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
"The potential is staggering. . . . The age of epigenetics has arrived."—Time, January 2010

Epigenetic means "on the gene," and the term refers to the recent discovery that stress in the environment can impact an individual's physiology so deeply that those biological scars are actually inherited by the next several generations. For instance, a recent study has shown that m
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published June 13th 2011 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 2011)
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Jun 23, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: evolution, biology
Absolutely fantastic introduction to epigenetics, albeit much shorter than most books. He introduces all the usual studies but I didn't feel bored at having heard all of it before. Francis did a really nice job of explaining various techniques for the epigenetic modification of genes-- those during transcription (e.g. methyl and acetyl groups) as well as translation (e.g. awesome microRNAs, which I love like crazy).

Francis also killed it when explaining imprinting. There exist differences betwee
Jul 22, 2011 rated it it was ok
Why aren't identical twins actually identical? Why are genetic clones not identical? Do stressed moms bear stressed children? Why is the product of a cross between a male donkey and a female horse different from a cross between a female donkey and a male horse? Why do some cancers appear to regress without any obvious reason? Questions like these are addressed in this book as it attempts to introduce a curious but uninformed audience to some fascinating discoveries in genetics. Epigenetics is a ...more
Elena (For Books that Matter)
A Gone Bookserk Perspective

I read this book to brush up on my favorite science biology topic, Epigenetics. It's by far the most spectacular field of science, probably after Immunology, in my opinion anyway. It's meant to be for the layman person, but there are definitely some parts of the book that might fly past you if you are not of a science or biology background. Nevertheless, if you want to know what Epigenetics is all about this is the book you can to start with.

This book actually starts
Kerry Cunningham
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-other
Once upon a short while back in history (mid-19th Century), it was not uncommon for people to believe in stories such as this one about the giraffe's neck:

Because for the longest time giraffes made their living reaching up into trees, stretching for all they were worth to get those last sumptuous leaves, during the lifetime of each giraffe its neck would gradually be stretched and (here's the important part) they would pass on these gradual improvements in neck length to their off-spring. Eventu
Epigenetics is one area of science that just delights me — even the fact that it really irritates people because of potentially Lamarckian interpretations kind of amuses me. It’s based on solid research about the large scale effect observed from the ‘Dutch Hunger Winter’, and the impact it had on the gene expression of not only children of those who went through it, but grandchildren as well. Given the solidity of that research, it always weirds me out when people want to claim epigenetics is ju ...more
Elizabeth Robinson
A quick note on the subject of this books:
-Epigenetics is, as the title claims, the study of how our genes interact with the environment around us. This new subfield of Genetics has been developing ever since we realized that our genetics expression can change without mutations. In my own words, an individual (such as you) can evolve based on the environment that you're put in. Not just on a psychological level, but your environment actually changes your genetics. My personal favorite experimen
Sep 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
Intriguing findings, just giving readers a taste of several discoveries and applications in this new field, whetting their appetite to go find out more. I found particularly interesting his discussion of preformationism (that the entity exists in its entirety at the start of conception and grows) vs. epigenesis (that an embryo evolves through the process of cellular division and specialization into a type of entity that wasn't pre-existently there at the beginning of the process). The popular id ...more
Michael Vagnetti
Aug 04, 2013 rated it liked it
An extended essay on the fascinating subject of how the environment affects genes without changing the DNA sequence. The argument is that genes are not always in executive control, but work, "improvisationally" within the biochemical environment of the cell. Social inheritance, for example, is discussed: how our cultural decisions end up making an imprint on who we are as biological humans.
Dec 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hörbücher, sachbuch
Epigenetik, als Student habe ich sie gehasst, denn sie ist ein Teil der Biologie, den ich als deskriptive Grabsteinbiologie beschreiben würde. Damit ist gemeint, die Epigenetik beschreibt diverse Phänomene, bei denen sie im besten Fall noch grob beschreiben kann was Ursache des beobachteten Phänotyps ist, sie ist aber weit davon entfernt, erklären zu können, warum und was passiert. Die Namengebung der beobachteten Effekte werden für gewöhnlich nach dem Wissenschaftler, dem Patienten an dem man e ...more
Eddie Dovigi
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
I was at the public library in the biology section looking for another book to keep my mind busy during slow bouts at work and came across this book by Richard Francis. Although the cover of the book looked familiar, likely from previous searching on Goodreads and Amazon, I couldn't remember how other people rated and reviewed it, but I picked it up anyway because it looked like a quick read, and it was.

After reading the book, I felt kind of deflated as it didn't satisfy my curiosity about epig
Kerry Cunningham
Aug 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: genetics
I've read a good deal of the popular genetics stuff, and I've had a class in micro-biology, so I've had a pretty good base for this book. Even if I hadn't, though, I think this would be pretty accessible. I'm not a great judge of that, though.

One of the biggest surprises in recent scientific history was finding out that humans do not have an exceptional genome. The stuff that makes humans human is very similar to what makes everything else whatever it is. Our genome isn't necessarily bigger or
Candice Carpenter
Apr 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, genetics
A great primer on the astonishing new developments within the arising field of Epigenetics. Beware, a solid background in college biology, genetics, and immunology is necessary to read this book with understanding. A definite recommendation for bio majors, pre-meds, and geeky non-science folks who like to dabble in science from time to time. But in a nutshell, what is epigenetics? Essentially, everything that happens on TOP of and AROUND our actual genes, or our individual genomes. For instance, ...more
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, science
A Great Introduction to Epigenetics, but...,


When I was but a young man, so many moons ago, I used to delight in annoying my oh-so enlightened scientistic brethren by doubting that the current Darwinist Settlement (Blessed be Its Name!) had given a final account of evolution. I leaned in the direction of some sort of Lamarckian materialism, of course never really settling on the physical mechanism of cultural-inheritance because there were no obvious contenders.

By 'cultural inheritance' I
Jan 01, 2018 rated it liked it
This book has good introductory information about epigenetics, but there's lots of room for improvement in the book's organization and presentation of that information. One chapter spent a lot of time summarizing The Deer Hunter, which wasn't necessary in so much depth and gives away the ending of the movie. That chapter could have spent more time on the epigenetic phenomenon it describes and less on the summary. Near the end there also seems to be too much of a focus on pitting epigenetics agai ...more
Sep 07, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
This book is an excellent introduction to the field of epigenetics. This area is going to help define the biological framework on which will be built a more comprehensive medicine. It is providing the important linkage between environment (physical and psychological)and physiological outcomes that can be transgenerational.

The Dutch famine of WW II provided a natural experiment on the effects of maternal nutrition on fetal development. The Dutch Famine Birth Cohort Study is ongoing and stud
Christine Edwards
Quite interesting. This was my first adventure into epigenetics and I am certainly intrigued. There are a few parts that were a little hard to follow, but I imagine someone with a more scientific brain or background would breeze through it without issue. After reading this, I would like to venture further and find out more about the topic. Any recommendations are welcomed!
May 06, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This one is probably a better introduction than the previous epigenetics book I read, which is of course a tradeoff for depth. Since this is a new field for me I still learned a bunch of random things, though.
Anthony Cleveland
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Not for the nonscientist. I slogged through it because I'm interested in the topic. However, I think this one could be "redone" with the general population in mind to facilitate better understanding of an important topic.
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
I retract my previous statement about this book. Having just finished 'The Violinist's Thumb' and 'In the Home', the standards for entertainment from popular science were temporarily much higher than necessary.

Things have been uphill since Francis started talking about the making of mules. It is rather a paradigm changing book, if you consider our high school genome-centric biology curriculum as paradigm. However, I believe if one does not have at least a college level understanding of genetics
Jul 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science, 2013
I think 3.5 stars would more accurately reflect my opinion of this book, but as that is not available, 4 seems fairer than 3.

In this book Francis provides an introduction to the subject of epigenetics - how not all heritability is due to DNA. The book's strength lies in its selection of interesting case studies to illustrate the science being explained, they really do capture the interest, making you want to find out just how the science works in these cases.

On the whole the author does a good j
Jul 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Most writers and commentators on the subject seem concerned with how epigenetics has the potential to 'alter the way we view evolution,' which is why I picked up this book. Sadly the only compelling argument I found regarding epigenetics was for 'social inheritance,' in which one generation does have the ability (usually through a fetus in the mother's womb) to pass down stress-related tendencies, weight-related tendencies, etc to children based off of the mother's current environment. Francis u ...more
Mar 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Nice overview of what's known about an emerging subfield in genetics, with interesting examples, and aimed toward the general reader. Some parts are more interesting than others. Science types may want a bit more specificity; non-science types may want a little less. Francis' underlying (or overarching) perspective is that not all character traits (phenotypic expression) are due to the nuclear genes, and that other intracellular processes can and do contribute.

His first example of this has to do
Feb 12, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-science-y
Weirdly short, especially considering how much padding there is. I wanted to hear more about the evidence of its existence; but mabe that's asking for too much statistics?

He says some about where the evidence comes from (like the famine in the Netherlands at the end of WWII), though mostly in non-human species, but not enough of what it is. Learned some things, like the cancer that is communicable in Tasmanian Devils; and the fact that females with XX have one X in each cell 'turned off', but i
Jul 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book is surprisingly easy to understand for the layperson. The author uses real-life examples and narratives to illustrate the information he is relaying to the reader. While most science books tend to read very dryly, like a tech manual, this book is more than the facts. It is thought provoking. I learned a lot from this book and intend to use some of the author's examples to help my biology students understand some of the basics of DNA, genes and chromosomes. I am not sure if my students ...more
The Book : An Online Review at The New Republic
THERE HAS BEEN a revolution in the world of genetics. It is called epigenetics. The Greek prefix “epi” implies something that comes in addition to something else; epigenetics adds to the study of genes the study of how they get turned on or off. Although a Martian eavesdropping on conversations about genetics in the popular media would surely conclude that genes and traits correspond in a one-to-one ratio, in reality the twenty thousand to twenty-five thousand genes in the human genome do not au ...more
Jan 13, 2013 rated it really liked it
A basic background in genetics necessary to get the most out of this book, but otherwise it's written with interested laymen in mind. Epigenetics is the fascinating study of gene regulation that goes above an beyond the DNA base pair sequence that makes up the genes. Can your cells tell which chromosomes are paternal and which are maternal? Yes! And does whether or not your grandmother suffered through a famine when pregnant with your mother effect you? Yes again! Epigenetics- the newest scienti ...more
Jul 08, 2011 rated it liked it
Other reviewers weren't kidding when they said "brief introduction." Brief it was. And that's probably a good thing since the writing just didn't reel me in. On the bright side, I got the basics and now I can move on to other things. Though I'm probably going to worry about Tasmanian devils for some time....

I did enjoy the chapter on X inactivation but probably because it evoked memories of a book I once enjoyed on the X chromosome (X in Sex).

As far as reading it on my Kindle, I really, really d
Jul 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excelente livro introdutório sobre o tema.
Francis foi bastante cuidadoso em desenrolar as noções básicas necessárias para o entendimento da hereditariedade epigenética, bem como as mudanças de paradigma na biologia que levaram a essas descobertas.
Recomendo fortemente a todo mundo que se interessar por biologia, que quiser se inteirar das novidades no campo da epigenética e da biologia evolutiva, e que gosta de boa divulgação científica.
Jan 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Fantastic book written in a very accessible style, though not an easy read. Done for a lay audience with a basic science background. Now I feel I understand what epigenetics is. I didn't have a clear sense of that before. I was even able to hold my own in a discussion about epigenetics the other day. The book just scratches the surface but I finally have the foundation to go out and research it more.
Oct 06, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Francis' book provided a fresh insight into the field of epigenetics. Being a biomed major, I was already familiar with a few of the concepts presented in this book. Nonetheless, the information was presented in an appealing manner. This usually consisted of a story, a concept of epigenetics, and then how the concept and story related to each other. Overall, a nice refresher to an intriguing field of biology.
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Richard C. Francis is a writer who has a PhD in biology from Stanford University. He is the author of Why Men Won't Ask for Directions. He lives in New York City.
More about Richard C. Francis...

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“Al tempo della sua fondazione non c'era neppure un somaro in tutto il paese; presto però gli Stati Uniti ne furono pieni. Da dove saranno mai vennuti, tutti quei somari?

L'Ultimo Mistero dell'Ereditarietà
cap. 9 "Asini e Cavalli”
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