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The triumphs of recent biology – understanding hereditary disease, the modern theory of evolution – are all thanks to the fruit fly, the guinea pig, the zebra fish and a handful of other organisms, which have helped us unravel one of life's greatest mysteries – inheritance.
Jim Endersby traces his story from Darwin hand-pollinating passion flowers in his back garden in an effort to find out whether his decision to marry his cousin had harmed their children, to today's high-tech laboratories, full of shoals of shimmering zebra fish, whose bodies are transparent until they are mature, allowing scientists to watch every step as a single fertilised cell multiples to become millions of specialised cells that make up a new fish. Each story has – piece by piece – revealed how DNA determines the characteristics of the adult organism. Not every organism was as cooperative as the fruit fly or zebra fish, some provided scientists with misleading answers or encouraged them to ask the wrong questions.
Jim Endersby is a Research Fellow at Darwin College, Cambridge. Hewon the Jerwood Prize, for first non-fiction work-in-progress, for A Guinea-Pig's History of Biology.
"Try to skim this book and you'll find yourself drawn into reading every word. Eye-opening and entertaining, this is cutting-edge history of science that everyone should read [...] Throughout his gripping narrative, Jim Endersby shows how today's right answer is almost always tomorrow's wrong one."
– New Scientist
"Endersby's technique is a wonderfully roundabout way of telling some of the great stories of modern biology."
– Daily Mail
"Jim Endersby has come up with a fresh and rewarding approach. He illuminates the story of our understanding of life since 1800 [...] easily readable account of the remarkable progress biologists have made over the past two centuries."
– Sunday Telegraph
"A highly entertaining and original book [...] Endersby provides a new perspective on the history of genetics."
– Sunday Times
"With an enviable lightness of touch, Endersby weaves his scientific threads into a much broader tapestry of cultural history [...] [an] accessible and engaging account to find out how we got here."
– The Guardian