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A slower kind of bang

Steve Jones, 22 April 1993

The Diversity of Life 
by Edward O. Wilson.
Allen Lane, 424 pp., £22.50, February 1993, 0 7139 9094 5
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... I have a friend, a fellow biologist, who lives in California. He once wrote (only half-jokingly) to the Sierra Club suggesting that to reach their conservationist goal they should change their rules. The first statute ought to oblige all members of the club never to go into the wilderness again, and to devote their time to persuading as many other people as possible to stay at home ...


Steve Jones, 10 September 1992

The Rise and Fall of the Third Chimpanzee: How our animal heritage affects the way we live 
by Jared Diamond.
Vintage, 360 pp., £6.99, August 1992, 0 09 991380 1
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... It is fatally easy to read into the animal world what we would like to see in our own, to explain the human condition as an inevitable consequence of our biology. Even Charles Darwin was at fault. Hidden in his unpublished notebooks is the damning passage: ‘Origin of Man now proved – metaphysics must flourish – he who understands baboons will do more towards metaphysics than Locke ...

Triumph of the Cockroach

Steve Jones, 23 April 1992

Extinction: Bad Genes or Bad Luck? 
by David Raup.
Norton, 192 pp., £13.95, January 1992, 0 393 03008 3
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... Time and chance, as the Good Book says, come to us all. We all know that each of us will soon disappear from the Earth. David Raup’s book compounds our pessimism by pointing out that – if humans are anything like other animals – the fate awaiting our species as a whole is also an almost certain annihilation. Very few creatures persist for long in evolutionary time ...

Data Guy

Andrew Berry: Almost like a Whale by Steve Jones, 3 February 2000

Almost like a Whale: ‘The Origin of Species’ Updated 
by Steve Jones.
Doubleday, 402 pp., £20, September 1999, 0 385 40985 0
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... In the introduction to Almost like a Whale, Steve Jones calls The Origin of Species ‘without doubt, the book of the millennium’. Jones is an evolutionary biologist, so this judgment could merely reflect disciplinary bias. But not only did The Origin of Species disabuse us of the notion that we humans are in some way set apart from the natural world, it also provided a mechanism, natural selection, to explain how the exquisite fit of organisms to their environment can arise without divine intervention: man deposed, God disposed of, and all in a single volume ...

Don’t flush the fish

John Whitfield: The End of the Coral Reef?, 3 July 2008

Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise 
by Steve Jones.
Abacus, 242 pp., £8.99, July 2008, 978 0 349 12147 5
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A Reef in Time: The Great Barrier Reef from Beginning to End 
by J.E.N. Veron.
Belknap, 289 pp., £22.95, February 2008, 978 0 674 02679 7
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... are going to find their habitat disappearing, as warmer climates rise up to engulf them. And Steve Jones and J.E.N. Veron warn that climate change may well bring about the end of coral reefs – if overfishing, disease, invading species and pollution don’t get them first. The surface waters of the open tropical ocean are poor in nutrients and ...

Flavr of the Month

Daniel Kevles, 19 August 1993

Perilous Knowledge: The Human Genome Project and its Implications 
by Tom Wilkie.
Faber, 195 pp., £14.99, May 1993, 0 571 16423 4
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The Language of the Genes: Biology, History and the Evolutionary Future 
by Steve Jones.
HarperCollins, 236 pp., £16.99, June 1993, 0 00 255020 2
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... race, access to medical care, and the moral implications of scientific and technological change. Steve Jones’s The Language of the Genes devotes some space to the Genome Project and its implications but treats it as part of a broad disquisition on ‘what genetics can – and cannot – tell us about ourselves.’ ...

Homeric Cheese v. Technophiliac Relish

David Cooper: GM food, 18 May 2000

... sanguine attitude towards genetic engineering in other areas. One sympathises with the geneticist Steve Jones, who has described his bewilderment when, after he has explained to his students the serious moral issues surrounding research in human genetics, their only response is, ‘That’s all well and good, but what about GM food?’ His ...

Blame it on Darwin

Jonathan Rée, 5 October 2017

Charles Darwin, Victorian Mythmaker 
by A.N. Wilson.
John Murray, 438 pp., £25, September 2017, 978 1 4447 9488 5
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... grief over the death of his first daughter at ten years old, and Darwin’s Island (2009) in which Steve Jones connected Darwin’s curiosity about the natural world to his delight in his family. Worst of all, it passes over Ruth Padel’s Darwin: A Life in Poems (2009), which is everything that Wilson’s book is not: deft, reticent, witty, scrupulous ...

Is R2-D2 a person?

Galen Strawson, 18 June 2015

Staying Alive: Personal Identity, Practical Concerns and the Unity of a Life 
by Marya Schechtman.
Oxford, 214 pp., £35, March 2014, 978 0 19 968487 8
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... way things are in reality. Philosophy, like physics, is one of the great sciences of reality. When Steve Jones proposes that ‘philosophy is to science as pornography is to sex, I mean it’s cheaper and easier and some people seem to prefer it,’ he makes a great mistake. (He’s like someone who inadvertently reveals that he believes that masturbation ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Pole-Vaulting, 2 September 2004

... build-up to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, all the talk among the boys at my primary school was of Steve Ovett and Sebastian Coe. Clued-up children – in other words, those whose parents were more interested in athletics than mine – knew all about the rivalry between ‘the Tough and the Toff’, as Pat Butcher calls them in his new double-subtitled ...

Big G and Little G

Paul Laity, 6 February 1997

The British Electricity Experiment 
edited by John Surrey.
Earthscan, 329 pp., £40, July 1996, 1 85383 370 3
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... crush the NUM – particularly in the wake of Thatcher’s own showdown with the miners. This, as Steve Jones points out in one of the essays here, is what the Government had in mind when referring to the advantages of ‘diversifying’ fuel supply. Timing was also crucial. At an exploratory meeting to discuss electricity privatisation held at Chequers ...

I’m being a singer

Andrew O’Hagan: Dandy Highwaymen, 8 October 2020

Sweet Dreams: The Story of the New Romantics 
by Dylan Jones.
Faber, 663 pp., £20, October 2020, 978 0 571 35343 9
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... New Penny in Watford, the kids in their mother’s pussy-bow blouses were getting into what Dylan Jones calls ‘a decade of cultural deregulation’. ‘We all wanted to escape into something that wasn’t really there,’ says Marco Pirroni, one-time guitarist with Adam and the Ants. To begin with, it was a southern English thing, but it spread like a rash ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Stop-Loss’, 8 May 2008

directed by Kimberly Peirce.
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... the main character in both movies called Brandon. In the Valley of Elah centres on Tommy Lee Jones as a father, himself a Vietnam War veteran, looking for his son, who has gone missing after a tour of duty in Iraq. What he discovers is the pathology of an army lost in the world, unable to explain to itself its rage or its failures. Redacted is even ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Is it just me?, 1 December 2005

... a pre-publication copy of Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit? The Encyclopedia of Modern Life by Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur (Time Warner, £9.99). Some of the entries in Is It Just Me . . . ? that have also – or at any rate might well have – appeared on Spoons are: Tony Blair, chick-lit, city breaks, Sofia Coppola, Alain de Botton, Eats, Shoots and ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: What’s your codename?, 23 June 2005

... the man allocating the code names would choose to call himself ‘Danny Boy’ (I’m reminded of Steve Buscemi’s character in Reservoir Dogs, complaining about his nom de heist being ‘Mr Pink’). One possible reason is that Hordern’s character’s imagination has run dry, and all the good code names have already been used up. That wouldn’t be ...

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