Genes : A Very Short Introduction  |  Jonathan Slack  |  Nonfiction, Science  |  2014

I was recently introduced to a series of books titled Very Short Introductions, a collection of concise, 100-200 page books that cover a wide variety of topics ranging from cosmology to psychology to the Old Testament.  They’re apparently written by experts pertaining to each individual subject and the series, which started in 1995, currently has over 400 titles.

I was quickly drawn to Genes for a few reasons; one being the hype that genetics carries in current news and sci-fi media; another being the fact that both my parents have worked in the field of molecular biology, which raised my awareness of the subject at a very young age.  However, as someone who doesn’t have an in-depth knowledge of genetics, I was eager to learn from a gene ‘specialist’ and clear up some of the misunderstandings I had about the field.

People throw around the term ‘gene’ so often that the true meaning can be misconstrued.  The truth is there is a lot of information about genes that is still unknown or shrouded in mystery and many scientists work hard to unlock the secrets.  What is known has come about through a lot of dedicated work and many years of study.

Quick summary

I won’t attempt to reproduce much of the information in fear of stating something incorrectly, but I thought this book was very concise and focused on relevant knowledge.  Genes begins by taking you through a brief history of genetics and textbook definitions of what a gene is (essentially, a small part of DNA that encodes a specific protein or RNA).  After you get a basic understanding of that, it goes on to discuss mutation, gene variants, and genetic diseases that happen because of those.  You learn about genes as markers (used for things like forensics and ancestry), a bit of quantitative genetics, and finally about evolution and natural selection.


I had originally thought because it’s such a short book I’d finish it in a snap, but it took way longer than anticipated.  If you are a really careful reader you’d be able make your way through this book in no time at all, but as I tend to read quickly and sporadically, sometimes the concepts just don’t stick and I find myself doing a lot of backtracking and re-reading of the same passages for clarity.  Whilst reading, I did think that some of the topics were a bit wordy and you really need to have a high level of comprehension as you go through the chapters.

Is it for you?

Overall, I enjoyed this book and feel as if I have a better understanding of genes and what they do.  It’s quite an exciting subject once you realize the implications of current completed research and it makes you think about how this information will be used in the future.  As stated earlier, so much is unknown about genes and it’s a slow process in new discovery.  If you’re not really interested in genetics, this book is probably not for you.  But if you have even the slightest interest in this subject or a passion for knowledge, I would fully recommend reading this book.