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The X in Sex (thoughts)

September 7, 2008

Book Blogger Appreciation Week(Note from Eva:I originally wrote this on Friday. But, um, then I spent the rest of the free time I had trying to find the file where I had typed out all the important/cool passages. When I couldn’t find it, I was disenheartened. So now I’m finishing it up!)

I know, I know: I was going to review Anatomy of a Boyfriend today. But I’m at school, and I forgot my copy of the book, so I’m waiting until tomorrow so I can quote all the juicy details. ;) In the meantime, I found out this morning while reading Chris’ post that I’m a finalist for best non-fiction book blog. How crazy is that?! Y’all know I’ve been out of touch with the blogging community while I moved, so I didn’t really know anything about Book Blogger Appreciation week. Anyway, I feel very touched, and I thought just in case anyone decides to come visit, I should review some non-fiction!

Awhile back, I decided to make alphabetical review directories, and of course as soon as I did I became focused on the missing letters. I know a lot of people do Joy’s alphabet challenge, so I popped over there for some ‘x’ title suggestions, but nothing really caught my eye. Then, I opened up my library’s catalog and did a title search w/ just the letter x. And sure enough, The X in Sex by David Bainbridge popped up. Now, at first I was a little skeptical. And the cover increased that skepticism; I mean, it might be the back, but that’s still a naked woman! Fortunately, that’s when the subtitle caught my eye: How the X Chromosome Controls Our Lives.

Awesome!!! I read Matt Ridley’s Genome a few years back (awesome book, btw), and the chapter about the sex chromosomes hinted at X-Y rivalry. He said he explored it further in his earlier published The Red Queen, but when I finally read that earlier this year I was disappointed to find it didn’t focus on the chromosomes. But this book, The X in Sex is only about how the X and Y chromosomes came to be and how they affect people. I had high hopes.

The X in SexAnd it turns out, Bainbridge is a wonderful popular science writer! The book is rather short-224 pages-and it feels like a fascinating lecture series with an intelligent and charismatic professor. As I read it, I could almost see him pacing in front of a chalkboard, making wild hand gestures. ;) Now, the book has very long chapters, which usually drives me insane in a science book, but there are lots of subsections that provide natural breathing points. And quite honestly, I didn’t put this one down too often: it was just too interesting.

At this point, you’re probably thinking: what could possibly be so interesting about a chromosome? (And if you’ve never been here before, you might be thinking this Eva girl must geek out on biology.) But for the record, I haven’t taken a science course since high school, so obviously I only read science books aimed at a general audience. This one wasn’t technical so much as anecdotal; sure, there were some detailed parts, but Bainbridge talks you through them like a pro.

In order to convince you that the book is worth your time, I’m going to tell you some of the most interesting things I learned. Like when I was reading Death By Blackhole, I’d come across passages and think “Gee, that’d be a good cocktail conversation starter!” Here we go:
(Sidenote: OMG!! I spent forty minutes typing out all of my favourite passages from the book before I returned it to the library last month, and now I can’t find them! agh!) (This is where I’m finished it today, Sunday)
*While everyone associates hemophilia with royalty, and thus thinks of it as something resulting from incest, it actually isn’t. It’s attached to the x chromosome, and since men only get one x chromosome, if they get a diseased one they don’t have a healthy one to cancel it out (are you with me so far?). Soooo the reason so many European royal family members had hemophilia was that Queen Victoria’s father passed it along to her, and her children spread out to lots of different European families.
*Do you know why calico cats are almost always female? This is really cool, but it requires some backstory. Ok: women have two x chromosomes-one from their mother and one from their father. But these two x’s are different, so the body has to figure out a way to decide which x chromosome to ‘listen to.’ And so, not completely randomly but close enough, in a female fetus each gene will ‘switch off’ one x chromosome. With calico cats, that means that some of their x chromosomes have the gene for orange/marmalade/whatever you want to call that colour and some don’t. And the ‘patchiness’ of x chromosomes switching on and off is what makes their fur patchy!

You know what? I don’t think I’m explaining this very clearly; this is why I took all of those notes, lol. I don’t know where they could have gotten to. But I’ll just say this: I found this book fascinating and easily understandable, and for anyone curious about how genetics affects people, I think you’ll really enjoy this one! The funny stories were actually funny (which is surprisingly rare in science writing) and Bainbridge’s intelligence shines through. I highly recommend it.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. September 7, 2008 12:53 pm

    I am gradually reading more and more nonfiction of the science type (I mean, not about animals). Although biology is (to me) really boring to read about, you’ve this book sounds so well-written I’m going to have to check it out!

  2. September 7, 2008 8:54 pm

    this one sounds great!

  3. September 8, 2008 7:49 am

    That is really interesting! I think genetics and genes are pretty fascinating in general and I’ll have to read this book since you said it’s pretty understandable for a non-science person to get. Thanks!

  4. September 8, 2008 10:15 am

    Hey – just wanted to stop by and say congrats on the nomination! :)

  5. thosesleepyeyes permalink
    September 8, 2008 2:09 pm

    haha you do sound like a geek! =p
    but the excitement in you when describing the book makes me want to read it anyway! =)

  6. September 19, 2008 9:32 am

    Jeane, I was going to say-you read a ton of non-fic already! And this one definitely isn’t boring; it helps that it’s shorter. ;)

    Jessica, I really enjoyed it!

    Amanda, I think you’ll definitely enjoy it if you’re interested in genetics. :D

    Iliana, thanks!

    ThoseSleepyEyes, well then I succeeded! hehe

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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