In his essays for the New York Review of Books, Richard C. Lewontin writes about ideas expressed in books about science, especially books about biology. I first came across his writing in a collection of these essays called It Ain’t Necessarily So: The Dream of the Human Genome and Other Illusions.
The following piece, It’s Even Less in Your Genes describes how persistently we subscribe to the idea that our biology is determined by our genes, despite ever-growing evidence to the contrary. In this essay, Lewontin imaginatively frames the recent and very disappointing results of genomic research into who is at risk for disease. Popular science writer and lamented hero Stephen Jay Gould has this to say about Lewontin: “Lewontin is simply the smartest man I have ever met. His knowledge and broad humanistic perspective – so rare among working scientists – and his incisive and stylish writing give us the precious gift of access to his insights, his warnings, and his distinctive view of life.” Brilliant praise from a brilliant man. Richard C. Lewontin is Alexander Agassiz Professor of Zoology and Professor of Biology at Harvard University. He has been a contributor to the NYRB since the 1970’s.