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Genetics and the Manipulation of Life: The Forgotten Factor of Context

By Craig Holdrege

Hudson, NY: Lindisfarne Press, 1996.

This book is currently out of print, but copies are available from online booksellers such as abebooks.com and amazon.com. You can also view the complete book online.

cover of Genetics and the Manipulation of Life

This book offers a unique perspective on genetics and genetic engineering that cannot be found elsewhere. David Suzuki, co-author of Genethics, said that “all budding geneticists, indeed, all biologists, ought to read this important work.” Wes Jackson, President of the Land Institute, wrote, “I am tempted to shout that this may be the most essential new book of our time.” And Lynn Margulis, co-developer of the Gaia hypothesis, remarked that the author cuts “through hype and nonsense to the crux of the matter — that our fundamental humanity develops in context.”

“With a wealth of interesting examples he shows how genes (DNA) alone cannot ‘determine’ traits, much less organisms, because their effects are always qualified by the contexts within which the organisms live. He thus offers an antidote to the current mechanistic thinking about genes as causes of health, disease, and behaviors. But the special contribution of this book is that it details, simply, and with fascinating examples, how scientists’ ways of conceptualizing organisms and manipulating them and their parts are at the heart of the formulations they offer about how organisms and their molecules function. The reader can thus observe how scientific observations and their interpretations fuse in the creation of systems of scientific explanation.”

Ruth Hubbard, Professor Emerita of Biology, Harvard University, and author of Exploding the Gene Myth

“This essay by Craig Holdrege is for all of us who want to understand the biological revolution of the late 20th Century. Passionately interested in the intellectual sense and utterly disinterested financially, this knowledgeable explanation is the single most accessible source not only of information but of knowledge and wisdom. Cutting through hype and nonsense to the crux of the matter-that our fundamental humanity develops in context-Holdrege uses responsible and friendly language to expose the co-option of scientific curiosity, industrial greed, and objectification of flowers, embryos, affection.”

Lynn Margulis, Distinguished University Professor, University of Massachussetts, Amherst; co-founder of the Gaia hypothesis.

“Deny the importance of context ... and we pay. Is it ignorance or denial? Reading Craig Holdrege, I am tempted to shout that this may be the most essential new book of our time.”

Wes Jackson, The Land Institute, author of New Roots for Agriculture

“In our search for universal truths disconnected in time and space, we lose all sense of the context that made the problem interesting in the first place. All budding geneticists, indeed, all biologists, ought to read this important book.”

David Suzuki, Broadcaster, environmentalist, and co-author of Genethics

“In this readable book, Holdrege provides a lovely exposition of living organisms not as objects but as process and of heredity as a blending of ‘potential and plasticity’ with ‘limitation’ and ‘specificity.’ With a wealth of interesting examples he shows how genes (DNA) alone cannot ‘determine’ traits, much less organisms, because their effects are always qualified by the contexts within which the organisms live. He thus offers an antidote to the current mechanistic thinking about genes as causes of health, disease, and behaviors. But the special contribution of this book is that it details, simply, and with fascinating examples, how scientists' ways of conceptualizing organisms and manipulating them and their parts are at the heart of the formulations they offer about how organisms and their molecules function. The reader can thus observe how scientific observations and their interpretations fuse in the creation of systems of scientific explanation.”

Ruth Hubbard, Professor Emerita of Biology, Harvard University, and author of Exploding the Gene Myth

“Holdrege writes beautifully in a simple style avoiding technical terms as much as possible. Thus the book can be read and understood not only by university students but even by advanced college or high school students. Yet, in spite of this simplicity, the book offers profound insights for research scientists in biology, especially geneticists. I therefore strongly recommend this book to biologists and lay persons. Since the book addresses a profound lack in our present-day culture, namely the forgotten context and wholeness, it is a book written for our age. If taken to heart, it might be a cure from the ills and dangers of destructive manipulative genetics.”

Rolf Sattler, Department of Biology, McGill University, Montreal (Review in Canadian Botany Association Bulletin, October 1996)

To view this book online, click here.

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