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Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes
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Shrinking the Cat: Genetic Engineering Before We Knew About Genes

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  98 ratings  ·  21 reviews
In this timely and controversial work, Sue Hubbell contends that the concept of genetic engineering is anything but new, for humans have been tinkering with genetics for centuries. Focusing on four specific examples — corn, silkworms, domestic cats, and apples — she traces the histories of species that have been fundamentally altered over the centuries by the whims and nee ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published December 12th 2002 by Mariner Books (first published 2001)
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3.55  · 
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 ·  98 ratings  ·  21 reviews

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Max Renn
Oct 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
What a fine book. The result of a relentless curiosity about the world around us and a keen mind. It seems that Hubbell has built a dream life where she spends much of her time exploring and thinking about the natural world and it is our fortune that she writes so well and is willing to share her observations...about cats, apples and err.. silkworms.

Like it or not this is the stuff genetic engineering is made of and Hubbell seeks to reconcile our inner edenic impulses with the seductive razor o
Nov 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: prehistoric
To heck with the cats, they made a rabbit glow in the dark!

I read this so hard I almost ate it!
Ginger Bollinger
Feb 21, 2012 rated it it was ok
This book comes from the perspective that genetic engineering has been going on for all time and therefore, perhaps it is not as frightening a prospect in and of itself as the newspaper headlines might lead us to believe. The author notes that as a species, we are the "fiddlingest animal the world has ever seen" and that we are just now at the point of questioning how all of our meddling is impacting the rest of the planet. The question of limits is provacatively explored, and caution is urged. ...more
Elizabeth K.
May 18, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2004-new-reads
This was cute, and one of those books I read because I like to pretend I understand science. In complete laymen's terms, this book looks at four species (house cats, silkworms, apples, and corn) that were "created" by humans. The writing is very anecdotal, which is entertaining, although I could have gone for a little more real scientific information, maybe a little more contrasting what people thought then, and what we know now. But really, what do I expect when I pick out a science book based ...more
Oct 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book is not a bestseller, and probably not well known, but it is one that deserves to be. As an author of similar books, like “Waiting for Aphrodite”, Sue Hubbell created this book at a time of controversy, when the talk of genetic engineering was at its highest. This book was written to explain that the concept of genetic engineering is not as harmful as it sounds—we’ve been doing it for thousands of years! “Shrinking the Cat” is a fairly brief text that describes the human, and natural, p ...more
Apr 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Another interesting read from Sue Hubbell. I have thoroughly enjoyed every book of hers I have read--and I have read most of them. Like any good science writer, she has the knack of taking complex technical material and making it accessible. She does extensive research, so her claims definitely come off as accurate. This particular book is a response to the furor over genetic engineering; she makes a rather compelling point that humans have been doing genetic engineering for centuries, albeit le ...more
Sandy D.
Jul 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
A collection of long essays on domestication and more modern genetic tinkering on selected species: mainly corn, silkworms, cats, and apples.

Not as compulsively readable as Hubbell's other collections of essays, but interesting and thought provoking. She covers some of the same material that Michael Pollan does, and just as well, with a 'further reading' section at the end and a good index.

Did you know that cats' brains have shrunk over 10% in the last 1000 years?

Hubbell says they're not necessa
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
A light and interesting examination of how people have and continue to shape the world we are a part of. Most recently this is genetic engineering, but throughout human history, people have shaped the world around us through domestication and selective breeding, with positive, negative, unintended, and unpredictable consequences. It also touches on some of the less than well-defined yet seemingly fundamental areas of science; for example, what is a species? The big upshot is not a ringing condem ...more
Oct 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Hubbell's book is fascinating and absorbing. I loved the cogent explanation of ginger/not-ginger cat genes in the formation of calico cats. I liked the section on apples too, though Hubbell's description of John "Johnny Appleseed" Chapman diverges wildly from other sources I remember reading long ago. I'm more than half-tempted to pursue that story...

All in all, a lovely, compact treatise on how homo mutabilis (as she dubs us) interacts with its world.
Margaret Sankey
Jul 23, 2011 rated it liked it
Long before we knew how it worked on the DNA level, people have been manipulating plants and animals--this book explains how we refined silkworms to work for textile producers, made Central Asian trees into the familiar apples and somewhat unsuccessfully domesticated cats. Johnny Appleseed was not who you think he was--the settlers wanted apples for hard cider, not pies, kids.
Corinna Bechko
Jun 13, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, zoology
Nicely written and enjoyably breezy, this is a lovely introduction for anyone interested in the genetics of domesticated lifeforms. It's packed with interesting tidbits about how familiar plants and animals came to be, and the ways that humans "fiddle" with everything around them.
Jan 12, 2011 rated it it was amazing
This is my all time favorite casual science read. If Sue Hubbell could write about every topic like this... I would know about everything. :) I LOVE this book. I used it as a backdrop to teach high school biology students about genetics and they were enthralled.
Karen Walker
The author makes a fair argument that genetic engineering is nothing new. Humans have breeding and creating hybrids and new breeds since humans first realized they could influence nature but doing the selecting for it. The book is well-researched and well-constructed.
Chas Bayfield
Apr 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
A really good book. Hubbell demonstrates that genetic engineering is nothing new - we've been at it since before we could write. A clear voice of reason in amongst all the chatter. Read this for a fresh point of view.
Anna George
Jun 04, 2009 rated it liked it
Covers four stories of humans tinkering with nature: corn, silkworms, cats, and apples. I liked the history of what's been done, but would have preferred a bit more of her analysis of what it means to continue down this path. Because genetic engineering *is* different from artificial selection.
Feb 18, 2009 rated it it was ok
Although this book is interesting, it is very clearly advocating for less regulation of genetically modified organisms in products. By the end, that angle gets a bit tiresome.
Bruce Carr
Feb 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
With all the talk of GMO modified corn and chickens Sue Hubbell examines our role in altering genetically four different species, cats, corn, apples and silkworms. A very good read.
Dec 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Fun to read. A set of chapters about the human influence on the silkworm, corn, cats, and apples. Lots of interesting information
Text Addict
An excellent and beautifully-written work, full of interesting and entertaining details. Lots of very good history as well as history of science.
Kim Denise
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Sue Hubbell is a graduate of the Universtiy of Southern California. She received a master's degree in library science from the Drexel Institute of Technology and was a librarian at Brown University. In addition to her books she has written for Time Magazine, Smithsonian Magazine, The New Yorker, the New York Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She currently resides in Maine.